The Hardest Death of All

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Death is an inevitable part of life. Every death hurts. Seldom does one occur without pain and unhappiness, without changing our lives.

It is not wise to compare one death to another or to rank losses on a scale of which is most difficult. For one thing, each loss is different. No one knows how a death will affect the survivors. The death of a brother may be more devastating to one person than the death of a mother is to another. Grief is hard. We should avoid comparisons.

There is one exception to that rule: the death of one’s child is in a league by itself.

When Shauna Stuewe died several years ago on Valentine’s Day, something awakened in me that is not likely to change. An articulate, beautiful young Christian cheerleader, she slipped to the floor in the practice gym and could not be revived. What awakened in me was the realization that such a death stands alone on the scale of heartbreak.

I had been close to other such tragedies where children had died—car accidents, suicide, drunk drivers, even murder by a father. All were tragic beyond words. But Shauna’s death, for some reason, opened my eyes. I regret that I didn’t realize years earlier the enormity of the death of someone’s child. I saw so much more clearly that those deaths were much more tragic than I had previously realized. I am deeply apologetic for my lack of sympathy and empathy.

The death of a child is so wrong. Children are not supposed to predecease their parents. They are supposed to grow up, enjoy life, laugh, learn, love—live. Someday they are supposed to “lay their parents to rest,” not the other way around. Every father and mother carries that timetable deep in their heart, and when a child dies there is no capacity to fit in such a reversal. It is not the way life is supposed to be. It is wrong. Hopes, dreams, plans, and joys lie shattered with no hope of revival. They are ended.

Faith Crisis

But when Christians experience such tragedies, they are in a different place than others. On the one hand there is usually the strong assurance of their young one’s being safe in the arms of Jesus. But that is not where they want their child. They want their child in their own arms. Still, there is profound comfort in Jesus’ promise. This comfort is more of a valued belief than a true anesthesia for parents’ broken hearts. The pain is not lessened. It will never be gone.

Sometimes the death of a child is harder for Christians than for others. It can be spiritually very confusing, even enraging, if God is seen to have allowed or been the author of this terrible, untimely death. Some people, when a child dies, turn their backs on God and never return. Others find it possible to accept the death as God’s will, as heartbroken as they are. And there are a few for whom the only comfort they can find is the conviction that this unwanted disaster is in the plan of God.

Leaving Healing to God

At our church cemetery there is a steady trickle of people coming to visit gravesites. Most of them, by far, are parents who have lost a child. That underscores the main point here, that the death of a child stands alone and far beyond other deaths.

My observations are limited, but the truth seems to be that most who lose a child survive, regain their strength and spirit, and live again as productive and even life-enjoying people. The pain never goes away. The loss is always felt, but a meaningful life can go on.

That, I believe is the healing of God. God does restore the crushed, but the pain endures forever.

Believing that God heals is essential for those who love and care for those who have lost a child. Embracing that conviction allows, and declares, that caring people are not expected to try to make this incredible heartache less awful. Caring people will leave the healing to God and concentrate on love and compassion. They will not endeavor to fix things when they put their arms around the brokenhearted. They will shelve their remedies and answers and concentrate on lovingkindness.

I have spent many hours with grieving parents. I am convinced there is nothing I have said, other than a prayer, that has ever made a difference. I am also certain that my time with them has been appreciated and helpful. My presence is love. Love contributes to the healing process.

When someone loses a loved one, people respond with calls, visits, messages, help, food, prayers—for a few weeks in most cases. But when a parent loses a child that help should be multiplied many times, and instead of lasting for a few weeks it should go on for a few years.

Another theological perspective, other than the traditional, is to believe that God’s heart breaks with those parents whose child has died. What Jesus says, slightly paraphrased, is this: “Inasmuch as it happens to the least of these my children, it happens to me.” What an amazing help it is to see Jesus weeping with us in our sorrows.

The family of God can adopt the same posture, surrounding the brokenhearted and being brokenhearted with those who have lost a child. “Weep with those who weep,” says the apostle Paul. That is where Jesus is, and more than anything else, that helps.

About the Author

Jim Kok is director of care ministry at the Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, Calif. He is also a clinical pastoral education supervisor and author of several books, including 90% of Helping Is Just Showing Up.

See comments (14)


I couldn't agree with you more Jim. My sister died at age 47 and my mother's first comment was, "I wish it had been me instead of my daughter to die." That was much harder for my mother than when her husband/my father died even though they had been married for over 40 years.
Thanks for sharing those thoughts.

Jim: Thank you for the timely article. This month we will be celebrating the birthday of our grandson, Bryce, who, at age four, now ten years ago, was called to his heavenly home. While Joan and I firmly believe that God had a purpose, we have not fully come to terms with his "home going"at such an early age. I will pass your article on to our son and daughter- in- law. I think they will appreciate your sentiments and insights. Herm Fransen

Jim, you are so right. September 2011 will be 38 years since my young son was killed in an accident. There are times I still break down in tears when a certain song is sung or on his birthdate,or when I place flowers on his grave in May. I still miss him.
Life does go on. God's loving gift of grace continues.

You said it well, God can restore the crushed but the pain does indeed last forever.

On March 3, 1973 our 5 year old son was killed in a car accident. Not only do we have one less child but we have one less family and I often wonder what his life would have been like. Several years later, I wrote an article in the Banner entitled " A Mother's Thoughts on the Death of Her Child" and I still get requests for this article. I know Dann is with Jesus but often I have longed to have him here with us. The acute pain goes away but there is always a part of you missing.

I write this on the evening before Easter morning - the Saturday known to some as the "harrowing of hell". We lost our daughter to cancer a year and a half ago. Jim, your article, like so much else in life these days, brought tears of pain and sadness. I do believe Jesus shares our sorrow - even though he's got Sarah with him. I can't say I think her death was our Father's will, though I believe that he will work it for our good. Liz and I confess that his lovingkindness endures forever; we trust in the middle of the pain. We cry a lot, and by his grace we keep trusting.

Within the last year I've lost my dad and a grandson, but those losses have not left me grieving as the loss of our son nearly 7 1/2 years ago. Jon a recent college graduate and newly-wed died suddenly on New Years Eve of 2003. While friends talk of today, my wife and I remember of what was and our hope of one day seeing Jon again. Thank you Jim for your eloquence.

Thanks for this article. My husband and I experienced the death of our little daughter at the age of 6 months in 1979. Nicole was diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman syndrome, experiencing muscular atrophy.

It's true that healing does take place. But we continue to grieve that we never could never experience her life as a teen-ager or adult. We grieve the son-in-law we will never have the joy of knowing and loving. We grieve the fact that our other daughter can't experience the joy of doing things with a sister. Our son now only has one sister.

We continue to serve our Lord. But yes, there are questions we would love to have answered!

Thank you Jim for this poignant article.

On Easter Monday, March 27th, 1989, our son Ryan Peter was born. A day of hope. Diagnosed weeks later with major congenital heart issues, he was transferred to Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto. He died intra-operatively at 3 months of age. He was
buried beside his grandmother.

It’s very difficult to say in words the anguish that we as parents experienced and how all hopes and dreams for this little guy vanished the day the Lord took him home.

When one loses a parent, one loses a part of one’s past.
When one loses a child, one loses a part of one’s future. (Anon)

Although we as a family have moved on, our heart strings occasionally pull at the sound of a baby’s cry, a special song, and still acknowledge milestones that were never witnessed. God has been gracious to us
and has '...turned our sorrow into healing'.

I just got the call about a friend's 4 year old grand-daughter who was hit by a car and died. I sit down and pick up the Banner to continue reading and this article by Jim Kok was the next one. It was a comfort and I have shared it. Our God moves in mysterious ways, ours not to ask.
Thanks Jim Kok for timely message.

Thank you for writing this so eloquently. Our beautiful 14 year old daughter, Hannah, went to heaven 21 months ago after an 11 month battle with the cancer beast. (I thought having a child with cancer was tough!)
I know only the Grace of God can help us with this journey through life without her. And am very grateful for that.

Thank you for writing this so eloquently. Our beautiful 14 year old daughter, Hannah, went to heaven 21 months ago after an 11 month battle with the cancer beast. (I thought having a child with cancer was tough!)
I know only the Grace of God can help us with this journey through life without her. And am very grateful for that.

I've waited almost a year to respond, finding strength
day by day and what to say. Today is a good day and I
would like to share my security statement, which is
2892? what is 2892; is it my pin number on my debit
card, no, is it a code to my locker or entering my
computer? no, well what is 2 8 92? It's a date,
2-8-92 the day my daughter accepted JESUS and got saved
not only is that security to me (besides GOD's word)
but a celebration day every year. while I still morn
her passing August 16th,2009, GOD's promises superseeds
and comforts me. We have started a web site for the
public to view and obtain more information on ovarian
cancer, "" I pray that you all
will find strength in GOD's word and let Him give you
security in something you can hold on to until we all
can reunite with our loved ones in HEAVEN. David

This is a very good article.  My husband and I lost our 37 year old son to an heroin overdose on March 25, 2013. I sometimes feel that my heartache will never go away.  I have been going to a great grief support group.  It has helped tremendously.  I know my husband and I have a long journey ahead of us but with the help of God I know we will get there.  My hear reaches out to all of you that have lost a child.  No matter how old or the reason why.