What it’s Like to Loose a Child


It’s hard loosing a child – especially one you never knew outside the womb.  My memories of Caroline are limited to feeling her move inside my wife – getting kicked in the middle of the night when I was next to her, or putting my hand on her belly to feel her doing the somersaults, and then holding her lifeless body in my arms at the hospital.

People tell me all the time, “I’m sorry – I can’t imagine what it must be like to experience this.”  And they’re honest words – many people really don’t understand.  And, frankly, I hope and pray no one else ever does – but I know that in a fallen world where sin and death currently reign that others will (at least for now).  It was 11 months ago today that Caroline was stillborn; 11 months ago today that we sat in the ER just after midnight and were told there was no heartbeat.  It was 11 months ago today that our joy and excitement as we looked forward to her arrival was turned upside down and we experienced pain, suffering, and loss that so many before us have experienced and I’m afraid many after us will as well.  It was 11 months ago that we joined the club – the club no one ever wishes or wants to join – the club that picks you – the club of parents who have lost a child.  I looked forward to the births of each of my children, but there was something special about Caroline – I was most excited about her arrival – I talked about it all the time, it was like I couldn’t keep it in and I couldn’t wait for her to arrive.  And then she was gone.

Many people don’t know what to say to me (or my wife or my children or…); and, honestly, I get it – there are no words you can say that will bring her back, that will take the pain away, or that will make me feel better – often, I’m not even sure would to say to me (or someone else like me), and I certainly don’t know what I want to hear.

One thing I can do, however, is try to give you a glimpse of what life is like since she died, in an effort to help others have some perspective on what the day-to-day and moment-by-moment struggles are for parents who loose a child.   Unless you’ve walked this road, you probably can’t understand it.  And I hope you never do.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t empathize, listen, and love.  I doubt my experiences are unique to me, and I doubt they are unique to those who have lost a child to stillbirth.  I can imagine (and that’s the best I can do) that they probably apply to just about any parent who has lost a child, regardless of age or type of loss.  And maybe that’s why I’m writing this – to help give a voice to grieving parents who are unable to share because the pain is just too raw, unwilling to take a risk for fear of offending or hurting someone’s feelings, or just uncomfortable opening up about their own pain, thinking it’s “too personal”.

Recently, my wife and I were having dinner with some friends and they asked how we were doing, and they also mentioned that even though they didn’t know us well when Caroline died, they felt like they wanted to come to her Celebration of Life service.  They actually said, “I figured I’d be uncomfortable because I didn’t know you that well, but I wanted you to know that you were loved and cared for, and I would just have to get over my discomfort.”  My response was simply, “Thank you for taking a risk.  I can tell you that as uncomfortable as you were, it was much more uncomfortable where I was sitting.”

We are a selfish people, a self-centered people – that’s what sin has done to us.  And we worry about our own feelings, and we see things from our own perspectives, we fear engagement and think we have to fix others, or we fear engagement because we might say or do the wrong thing.  Yet the truth is we can’t.  So to those who have friends or family that are experiencing loss, what I will encourage you to do is this: take a risk.  Be willing to step outside your comfort zone, be willing to listen to the heart’s cry of someone who has lost a loved one, be willing to be present and just sit with them in the pain – be willing to be uncomfortable.  Because I can tell you this – your level of discomfort is nothing compared to the level of discomfort that person is feeling.  Don’t expect them to make you comfortable – because they can’t – be willing to experience a little bit of discomfort, knowing that when you leave their presence your discomfort will most likely end, while theirs will not.

Caroline died 11 months ago – yet it is still a daily reminder and struggle to keep my focus on what is good and true.  Every night when I put my 2 year old to bed I fear, “Maybe she won’t wake up.”  I struggle to pray over all my girls, “Lord, help her sleep through the night” without adding the phrase “and let her awake in the morning” – because the fear of loosing another one is all too real.  When one of the girls sleeps in, I’m afraid to go into the room because I might find her lifeless body in the bed; when I leave I’m extra conscious to say, “I love you” to everyone, to give them a hug and a kiss, because as I step out the door I hear the words “This could be the last time I see them alive” go through my head.

But it’s not just for my kids – I fear my wife will get in a car accident or be diagnosed with some horrible disease and that she will die, too.  Or that the phone will ring and I’ll hear the words, “________ has cancer” or “Something happened to ________ and they’re gone.”  For Caroline death was quick and short; but for those of us who survive, death seems to linger around for far too long, and creep its ugly head up in so many unexpected places.  You never forget what it was like, and you realize there is nothing you can do to keep it from visiting again.

Now I know these fears are irrational – that they are based in lies that someone else is going to die.  I know that God “has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7).  Yet it is a constant struggle every day and every moment to not give in to such fears.

Recently I was doing some hiking while visiting the mountains – an activity I love to do.  As I walked I found myself thinking about Caroline, and the first thought I had was, “She’ll never get to experience this.”  But before I could dwell on that thought – that negative thought – I was reminded that what she is experiencing is far greater than a walk in the mountains; her vision of reality far surpasses mine; her relationship with the Father is more tangible than I can experience right now.  I’ve learned that when I think of her I can’t think of all that she’s missing – because really, she got the better end of this deal.  What I struggle with is what I am missing…

I was told much about the “year of firsts” – something I experienced when my sister died over 16 years ago.  And, yes, some of the “firsts” have been difficult.  But what I’ve struggled with is what I consider “the lasts”.  One night I was reading my 2 year old a story (Goodnight Moon), and I realized that she was probably the last child I would read it to – even though she wasn’t supposed to be.  I was changing a diaper and found myself thinking, “I’m a lot closer to the end of changing diapers than I had expected – or even wanted to be.  Soon, I’ll be changing her last diaper.”   I realized that at some point in the future (sooner rather than later) I’ll be getting her up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom as we potty train – and I realized that there will be a last time I do that, and it wasn’t supposed to be that way.  As I rocked her I looked forward and thought, “How many more “lasts” are there?  There will be a “last” wedding – even though it wasn’t supposed to be only 3; there will be a “last” grandchild – even though there were supposed to be more; there will be a “last” time I teach someone to ride a bike – though there was supposed to be one more, and a “last” graduation.  It’s the lasts – for me – that are the things I notice and cry over – because the “last” one is insufficient – there was always supposed to be one more.

Then there are the “lasts” I wish would just come – the last time I have to comfort a crying 9 year old at bed time who is “missing Caroline”, or the last time my 7 year old looks up at dinner and just bursts into teachers saying, “I miss Caroline.”  The last time I have to tell someone new that, yes, I have four daughters, and one of them doesn’t live here with me anymore.  The last time someone looks at me with “those eyes” – the eyes that make me feel like something is wrong with me, the eyes that look to me to comfort them because they don’t know what to say; the last time someone avoids me because they don’t want to be uncomfortable; the last time I cry when I hear a song on the radio; the last time I see a parent with a newborn baby and I want to just go up and grab that baby and hold them and say, “Treasure every stinking minute because they go by too fast and, sometimes you never get enough;” the last time I hear the story of someone who is experiencing pain and suffering over the loss of a loved one, the last time someone gets cheated or hurt or sick or afraid or…

Loosing a child is not something one “gets over” quickly – loosing a child is not something one “gets over” ever.  Loss like this hurts for a reason – because it is not supposed to be this way.  We were not created for this.  We were created for so much more; life was created for so much more.

And there is a hope; a hope that says that while death is a really big deal, death is not final, nor is it permanent.  That is the truth I find myself reminding me of over and over and over.  “Oh death, where is your victory?  Oh death, where is your sting?  … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:55, 57)

What’s it like to loose a child?  What’s it like to experience this type of loss?  What does it feel like?

It’s a mess – there are days I can’t even describe how I’m feeling; sometimes there are days where I’m feeling happy and sad and depressed and excite all at the same time.  And, from what I’ve learned by talking with others – this is normal.

Loosing a child is harder than I ever imagined; it’s a constant reminder that we live in a broken and fallen world, a world that is in desperate need of a Savior.  It’s a challenge to see everything in a different way.  There are so many more words I could write of the thoughts and feelings I have, but this is all I’m ready to share right now…. I pray they give some encouragement, some guidance, some sense of what it must be like to loose a child.

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Scripture Verses for Grief & Hope


For Caroline’s Celebration of Life Ceremony I selected and arranged scripture verses; I’ve received several requests for the list of scriptures used in the service, so here is the actual script I developed.  This particular one is for two readers, but could easily be adapted for more (or done by one).  My goal here in arranging these particular scriptures was to explore and display the range of emotions present in scripture, particularly when dealing with the dual themes of grief and hope.

All scripture is taken from the ESV.  When it was read during the service the chapter & verse references were omitted, but I’ve included them here.

Reader #1: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord (Lam 3:22-26)

Reader #2: You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand (Ps 139:13-18)

Reader #1 & 2: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps 116:15)

Reader #1: Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Ps 27:7-8)

Reader #2: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? (Ps 42:11a)

Reader #1: The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. (Ps 116:3)

Reader #2: We do not want you to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.      (1 Thes 4:13-14)

Reader #1: From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps 121:1b-2) For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. (Ps 27: 5) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps 46:1a)

Reader #2: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope (Ps 130:5) For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. (Ps 130:7b) Jesus said. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25-26)

Reader #1: For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)

Reader #2: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor 4:16-5:1)

Reader #1: When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” “O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your string?” (1 Cor 15:54-55) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Reader #2: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35, 37-39)

Reader #1: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom 8:14-19)

Reader #2: Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-3, 6)

Reader #1: So if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31-33) So be still, and know that I am God. (Ps 46:10), and give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps 106:1)

Reader #2: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces (Is 25:6-8)

Reader #1: Behold, I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:2-5)

Reader #1 & 2: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Ps 42:11)