I got an email from a woman whose friend has lost a child about a year ago and who has stopped coming to church. She asked for my advice. I thought the advice I gave her may be useful to more of you out there so I am including an edited copy of my email to her below. I edited it so it would be anonymous as to who the recipient and person of interest in the email are.
I also wanted to share some thoughts from Elder Holland to my fellow angel mothers who are struggling to go to church. I will include those, which were not part of my email, below in a different font.
Now my email:
I am not exactly sure how to advise you. I wish I knew the right thing to say to these mothers that would be the "balm of Gilead" that would heal their souls and bring them back to church. Unfortunately I don't think any mortal can do that.
What I can tell you is to just love her. Tell her you love her and give her a hug EVERY time you see her - EVEN if it is uncomfortable for you or her or both. It will get easier. Just mean it and do it. I have one girl who does this for me. She and I were acquaintances when my daughter died and now she is one of my closest friends and one of the few I feel okay opening up to now - 18 months later- when I have a really down time.
Also, you should know that your friend's not coming to church - while it is not the easiest path through grief in my view - is not uncommon. MANY many people who have lost a child go through a period of anger and many of them direct that anger at God or people at church. Many are easily offended and there are so many things people at church say (unknowingly) that can be taken offensively or that can hurt. It can be anything from any faith promoting story to direct comments of judgement from some misguided individual.
I am not saying your friend has had those experiences. I don't know if she has. But many on the angel blog have. Most have had issue with something said to them by priesthood leaders that has been hurtful to them. It is a hard thing for both parties. It is hard to be the wounded soul who has to grow thick skin very quickly where there is a gaping open wound. It is also hard to be the guide who want to help and yet can't seem to touch the person without wounding them.
I have pretty thick skin to begin with. I am not easily offended. I have had thing said to me by family and strangers that most in my shoes would consider highly offensive. Most of the time I am able to shrug it off knowing the person only meant to help. The couple of times I have been offended I have worked through my feelings and gotten over it. Because I know this is MY problem. I am the one wounded and sensitive. I cannot expect everyone else to know how to treat me. At least not unless I tell them directly.
What seems to help me the most and I feel this is universal and totally safe for all wounded souls, is love and confidence. I told my mother that I needed her to tell me I was a good mother. It sounds silly but I NEED to hear her say that and often - even if she thinks I know it - I need to be reminded.
There is a sense of failure that comes from losing a child. It devastates your self image as a mother. No matter how they died, there is a sense that you failed to keep them alive. That is built into your DNA - Keep them alive. To fail at that, even if it was out of your hands or you know it was God's will for them to go at this time, is devastating.
So be patient with your friend. The Lord knows her and loves her. He is the only one who can give her that Balm of Gilead and heal her soul. And He can only do that when she is ready to receive it. She has to be done with the anger and ready to turn her heart and her hurt over to the Lord. She has to build that trust up again in Him.
Right now the best any of us can do for your friend is just love her and and show confidence in her that she will find her way through grief. And we can pray that she will find the Lord somewhere along the way.
Now for my fellow angel mothers, please read this excerpt from a talk by Elder Holland that appeared in the May 2004 Liahona. The talk was entitled, "Abide in me."
Christ said, “I am the true vine, and … ye are the branches.” 2 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” 3
“Abide in me” is an understandable and beautiful enough concept in the elegant English of the King James Bible, but “abide” is not a word we use much anymore. So I gained even more appreciation for this admonition from the Lord when I was introduced to the translation of this passage in another language. In Spanish that familiar phrase is rendered “permaneced en mi.” Like the English verb “abide,” permanecer means “to remain, to stay,” but even gringos like me can hear the root cognate there of “permanence.” The sense of this then is “stay—but stay forever.” That is the call of the gospel message to Chileans and everyone else in the world. Come, but come to remain. Come with conviction and endurance. Come permanently, for your sake and the sake of all the generations who must follow you, and we will help each other be strong to the very end.
“He who picks up one end of the stick, picks up the other,” my marvelous mission president taught in his very first message to us. 4 And that is the way it is supposed to be when we join this, the true and living Church of the true and living God. When we join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we board the Good Ship Zion and sail with her wherever she goes until she comes into that millennial port. We stay in the boat, through squalls and stills, through storms and sunburn, because that is the only way to the promised land. This Church is the Lord’s vehicle for crucial doctrines, ordinances, covenants, and keys that are essential to exaltation, and one cannot be fully faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ without striving to be faithful in the Church, which is its earthly institutional manifestation. To new convert and longtime member alike, we declare in the spirit of Nephi’s powerful valedictory exhortation: “Ye have entered in by the gate; … [but] now, … after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; … press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, … and endure to the end, behold, thus … ye shall have eternal life.” 5
Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” 6 I testify that that is God’s truth. Christ is everything to us and we are to “abide” in Him permanently, unyieldingly, steadfastly, forever. For the fruit of the gospel to blossom and bless our lives, we must be firmly attached to Him, the Savior of us all, and to this His Church, which bears His holy name. He is the vine that is our true source of strength and the only source of eternal life. In Him we not only will endure but also will prevail and triumph in this holy cause that will never fail us. May we never fail it nor fail Him I pray in the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I pray that each of us will have the courage necessary to follow the counsel of Elder Holland and stay in the "Good Ship Zion" even through this most difficult and scary storm and even though there may be fellow sailors who make the trip even more difficult. It is not easy sometimes to stay in the boat. Sometimes it seems it would be better or safer to just abandon ship. But for our spiritual health it is best to stay in the boat and make it to our "promised land" where our children are waiting. May we all arrive there safely together. My love to you all and prayers that we may all survive the spiritual storms of our lives.