It’s September 11th. A day I will never forget. I remember where I was, how we reacted, and every raw emotion from that day and the weeks following.
Another family knows that feeling too. The Vaughn family. Their son signed up for military duty because of 9/11. The Vaughn Family knows more than a little bit about walking through tragedy. Their only son, Navy Seal Aaron Vaughn, was killed in Afghanistan in a helicopter crash August 6, 2011. If you’ve been around this website or ministry for any length of time, you know I love the Vaughns. Karen contributed beautifully in a comment to my article “The Search Is Over” about how we can best help the grieving parents of Austin and Perry.
Since Karen is a woman who has walked through such a tragic loss and has not only continued on in life, but grabbed it by the horns and is someone whose smile can legitimately light up a room, I see Karen as such a beacon of hope when facing such incredible darkness. Not that there is ever a timeline on grief, but when I see Karen and Billy…I know that there can be joy after such horror. And for that, I wanted to share specifically what Karen commented and add to it.
I’d like to add a couple helpful notes:
Never say the word “but.” “I’m so sorry you lost your child, but…” There are no buts. Nothing that follows that word will help. It will only hurt. Please just say you’re sorry and move on.
Simple enough Karen. Thank you for that.
Don’t use their loss as an opportunity to pour your heart out about your similar loss. They are doing all they can to deal with THEIR loss. They can’t handle yours or offer comfort to you at this critical time. Make it about them, not you.
I HAVE SEEN PEOPLE DO THIS TO KAREN! I think they are trying to empathize, but then I hear Karen trying to console someone else…when honestly, it’s just overwhelming. When pain is so raw and so open, try to be a balm.
Never tell someone who’s burying a child that you understand their pain because you lost a parent, unless you lost that parent while you, yourself, were still their dependent. There is NO comparison. None. Adults losing a parent falls within the normal circle of life. Yes it’s painful, but we will ALL lose a parent. Most will NEVER bury a child.
I have gotten so many incredibly helpful comments that help frame the loss of a child. People sharing their heartbreak and it has been an honor to pray for them. One woman wrote that if you lose a husband, you are a widow…but if you lose a child, you really have no description other than survivor…because it is enough to survive that kind of heartbreak. I truly think that unless we have lost a child, we can not possibly understand this kind of heartache.
Never compare their loss to losing an animal. I was actually told by three different people that they “knew how I felt because they’d recently buried their cat.” I’m not joking. Don’t do that. NO animal has the value of a human. Period. And if you try to tell me that your cat meant as much to you as my child meant to me it is clear that you never bore a child. You can buy another cat. You can’t run to the pet store and pick up another son.
Ok, I have heard this too. Now I know to some, their “furbabies” are so very special to them, but a child is a whole ‘nuther matter all together. No comparison. Period.
Don’t ever explain how their child is better off now. Those of us who are believers know in our brains that they are better off in heaven, but our hearts cannot contemplate how there’s any better place for them to be than right here with us.
Ok, for real. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sometimes the hardest thing is to BELIEVE what you ALREADY KNOW to be true. You can KNOW that your child is in heaven. You can KNOW that they are never more filled with joy, loved, or whole than when they are with their Creator. But man, tell that to a hurting parent whose only wish is to hold that child, hear their voice, or smell their head and feed them dinner…and it is not a loving statement, it falls flat in platitude.
Also, don’t try to explain away the death of a child as something God needed. I think we do a big disservice to God when we tell people things like, “God must have needed another angel, etc.” These are hurtful words. God needs nothing from us. Those words must make His skin crawl.
I heard a woman say this a few years back after a drowning death. She said that God must have needed another angel. Let’s talk turkey. Humans do not become angels when they die…angels are created beings that existed before mankind. At least according to the Scriptures, and that’s what I hold to. Why would God end the life of a child? I have no idea. And try as I might to explain away some tragedy, because my mind needs the comfort of knowing it can’t possibly happen to me, the truth is that I have no earthly clue as to why God does things the way He does. All I can say is that I know God is good. I know He is Sovereign. I know He loves us. Past that, I can’t explain or rationalize a single solitary thing. And I say all that knowing that over the years as I have faced struggles, I have at times said more than a few choice words to my Heavenly Father, cried out in anguish and pain words that I am sure would make most preachers blush. But at the end of the day — I kept my conversation with Him going and as I walked through the various trials, I still say He is good. He is Sovereign. He is loving. And He is there for us.
And we must be there for each other as our community continues to walk with families through such loss, trying to love and encourage one another as best we know how.
Thank you Karen for sharing your words of wisdom.
In Honor of the Vaughn Family and their sacrifice on our behalf, through Sunday all profits from the sale of my new book, “Please God Don’t Let Me Screw This Up!” will be donated to their charity Operation 300, in which children who have lost a family member in the service of our military are given an all expense paid trip to camp with mentors and learn skills their fathers would have taught them.