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I remember it vividly. The clock was counting down the final seconds. I was at a friend's house. A group of us was there. It was February 1, 2009. Super Bowl Sunday. The clock hit 0:00 and we were champs. For the first time in my lifetime, the Steelers won the Super Bowl! They'd beaten the Cardinals.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I broke down, crying uncontrollably. How dare I? I thought. How dare I have fun and enjoy myself?
That is what life is like following the death of your child. It had been 34 days since our second child and only daughter, Madison Rae Middleton, had died. She had been 80 days old. Not quite three months. And there I stood, celebrating as if nothing had happened.
It has now been seven and a half years. I still cry when I speak about her. It is a pain that will never go away. Funny thing is, I still want to talk about her.
I was reminded of this pain recently. One of the beloved students in The Bible Chapel's Senior High ministry suddenly passed away. It has left his family devastated and looking for answers. Just like my family in 2008.
This turn of events has led me to wonder how we, as the body of Christ, can help this family. What can we do, or not do, to be the friends, family, and church body that God has called us to be in such a difficult time?
I would love to tell you that all of our memories of the support we received are positive. Most of them are. We are so incredibly thankful for the amazing support we did receive from so many people.
That being said, we also endured our fair share of hurtful comments. In hindsight, we are able to recognize that they were well-intended. At the time, however, some of the comments were like daggers. So I'd like to offer some helpful advice on what to do and what not to do when you're considering how to support a family in crisis:
- Sometimes you just don't know what to say. That's OK. Hugs speak volumes!
- You are not going to remind them of their loss if you bring it up. They haven't stopped thinking about it. It's OK to let them know that you care and are praying for them. It means a lot.
- Don't avoid them, and don't avoid acknowledging their loss. Some of the worst pain my wife felt was when people acted as if nothing ever happened.
- Guard your words. Some of the dumbest and most hurtful things imaginable came out of the mouths of well-intentioned people. Things that were actually said to us included "At least she wasn't old enough to love yet." "You'll just have to have another!" And the one that upset me the most: "I don't know what you did to deserve this, but God is teaching you something."
One of the hardest moments for me was the realization that other people's lives still go on. Our daughter passed on December 29, and we buried her on December 31. After the funeral, we were at my in-laws' house, and I overheard my friends asking each other what they were doing that night. My first thought was disbelief that they were planning to go out. Then I realized that it was New Year’s Eve. And that life was going on. That was very difficult for me because I wasn’t ready to think about things like that.
In 1 Corinthians 12: 24-26, Paul talks about the body of Christ. "God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
As the body of Christ, we honor God with how we react to and support people who are going through these types of tragedies. We can demonstrate concern for them and suffer with them. That means not staying away or staying silent, and it also means not offering careless cliches.
If you are someone experiencing a loss or tragedy right now, we at The Bible Chapel want to help. You can contact our Care Giving Ministry at , or you can complete our Request for Care form, and someone will get back to you shortly.
If you are someone who has experienced tragedy in the past, send us a comment below on the things you found most helpful during that time. We are honored to learn from you and your experience.