Losing a child is one of the most devastating losses. Children aren’t supposed to die. And when they do it is heart-wrenching for all involved, especially the parents. They are often left looking for answers and hope. Elizabeth Brown understands the overwhelming grief that accompanies the death of a child. Her book, Surviving the Loss of a Child: Support for Grieving Parents, was written after the death of her own child.
In this book, she attempts to provide hope to parents who are wading through the deep waters of such a tragedy. But she also writes to guide those attempting to minister to grieving families. The latter is her greatest strength.
Ways the Book Is Helpful
We live in a culture where death is taboo, especially the death of a child. But for the bereaved, they cannot escape it. To grasp what’s going on inside the head of a grieving parent, this is the book. Pastors of church members who have lost children could learn a lot about the mind of a grieving parent in this book. She allows the reader into her family’s story, and it serves her as she writes.
There are two chapters devoted to those ministering to the grieving family titled “If You Are A Friend” and “Word to the Wise.” The former speaks specifically to friends and the latter speaks to nurses, doctors, and ministers. Both are practical and helpful. As someone who has lost a child through miscarriage, I found myself saying “yes” out loud on multiple occasions reading these chapters. Friends and family often grasp for words in times of loss. These two chapters provide a helpful window into how to minister to a grieving friend and avoid insensitive statements that can only compound the grief.
Marriages often fall under attack in the aftermath of a child’s death. Satan hates life and hates marriages. If he can’t destroy the believer through the death of a child, he will work overtime to destroy the marriage. Brown understands this. The death of a child can do one of two things to the married couple, tear them apart or bond them together (62).
For a pastor seeking to help a couple through the grieving process, this chapter provides suggestions for hanging on and insight into how couples grieve differently. I found this chapter to be especially helpful to me, and invaluable for working through the loss of a child. There’s no cookie-cutter way of helping a family through their loss. It doesn’t look the same with every person. In order to minister, you have to know the person, get inside his or her head, and ask questions. Brown provides a starting place for such help. She repeatedly says “this may not be you,” implying that every person has a different story and is at a different place in the grief process.
Ways the Book Could Improve
Unfortunately, for the person in the throes of grief, this book might not be the best choice. While she said many things that resonated with me throughout the book, each chapter left me wanting a little more. I always felt like something was missing. One of the things I noticed early on is that it doesn’t seem like she is writing to believers explicitly. While she and her family are believers, she often makes remarks that indicate she is not necessarily writing to encourage believers.
This is evidenced further in her heavy emphasis on psychology, which is her profession. She talks a lot about self-esteem, coping mechanisms, and forgiving yourself. In the end, these are not the answers that will bring hope to a grieving parent. Brown also sparsely uses Scripture but is heavily pragmatic in her approach to surviving grief. Her practical advice is, at times, helpful. But she loses a prime opportunity to infuse hope into a despairing parent when she doesn’t use the only source of comfort, God speaking to us through his Word, in her approach towards grief.
There are many practical books out there on grief, and some are very good. But most people searching a Christian publisher for a book of this nature are grasping for hope. What we all need in the face of tremendous loss is to know that there is a God who cares, who understands, and who is carrying us through this trial. He faced the death of his only Son on a cruel cross so we could have hope in the midst of loss. Unfortunately, an emphasis of this life-giving truth is noticeably absent from Brown’s book.
While this may not be the book to provide a friend or church member wrestling with the devastating loss of a child, it is a book for a pastor or friend of the grieving. Brown gives us a glimpse into what grief does to a family. We don’t like to talk about death, especially that of a child. But the sad reality is that children die, from the earliest stages of gestation to the senior in high school. Almost all of us will come in close contact with someone who has or will lose a child. We need to know how to respond. Empathy goes a long way in the healing process. Brown can help guide the pastor or church member in that process as she honestly invites the reader into the story of grief. Is this the book for the one struggling to survive the loss of a child? Not immediately. But it can be the book that God uses to aid a pastor as he, with understanding tears in his eyes, shepherds a grieving family towards hope in the God worth trusting.