Listen: Nancy Guthrie speaks to Laura and Duncan.
If anyone’s qualified to speak about walking through grief, it’s Nancy Guthrie.
She was a mum to two children who both died at just six months of age, from a rare genetic disorder. She and her husband had to say goodbye to not one but two precious little ones, who barely got to live.
Nancy caught up with Laura and Duncan recently to share her story.
Two Lives Cut Tragically Short
“We had a daughter named Hope born with a rare metabolic disorder,” Nancy recalls. “We found out on her second day of life that she’d be with us for just those six months. Her life was difficult, but it was also rich and meaningful. After she was gone, I was flat and empty, and so sad, thinking my life would never be good again.”
Knowing she and her husband were carriers of a rare and deadly condition, they took steps to make sure they didn’t fall pregnant again—but nature took its own course and they became pregnant with a second child.
Nancy says it was “scary and confusing”. “I was like, ‘Really, Lord, you’re going to ask us to go through this again?’ This time I was going through the whole pregnancy and then giving birth, knowing that this child would be with us just a short time too. We had a son named Gabriel, in 2001, and he too was with us for just a short six months.”
The experience changed their lives, made them think more deeply about things like God, prayer, eternity, and the purpose of life. And it also changed Nancy’s direction, setting on her a path to help others who are grieving too. She established a ministry called ‘We Have This Hope’, and now travels the world speaking to audiences about how to navigate grief, how to continue to trust in God, and how to help others who are grieving. With her husband David she also hosts retreats for parents who have lost a child.
The Two Best Ways to Help a Friend Who is Grieving
For those who have a friend who is grieving and want to know how to help, Nancy offers the following advice:
“If was to summarise it in two short things, it would be, ‘show up, and speak up – say something’,” she said.
“Sometimes you see someone’s gone through a loss and it can be easy to think ‘I’m not really one of their close friends, they probably want their privacy’, those kind of thoughts. So we never say anything, we don’t show up. And the thing is, grief, at its essence, is an incredibly lonely experience.
“It means so much when people acknowledge it, whether it’s with words, or with touch, or with a note or a phone call. Simply showing up.”
There is no ‘right thing’ to say to acknowledge someone’s grief. But just saying something, is better than pretending your friend isn’t suffering at all.
“When we don’t acknowledge the loss of someone else, the best way I know to describe it is, it’s like a hurdle has gone up between us and them. And we can never expect to have any kind of normal relationship with that person, until we acknowledge it,” Nancy said.
“They just want you to recognise that they’re hurting deeply, and that this person was valuable to them.”
“We tend to think we’ve got to come up with this perfect thing to say. We often think it’s got to be spiritual, meaningful, wise, helpful…[but] the person who’s grieving, they’re not really looking for or expecting any of those things. They just want to know they’re not alone. They just want you to recognise that they’re hurting deeply, and that this person was valuable to them.
“So sometimes one of the best things to say is, ‘I don’t know what to say’, or ‘I’m so sad with you’.”
One word that a grieving person longs to hear, is the name of the person they have lost. Mentioning your memories of the person who has died, is one way to bring some comfort and acknowledgement of your friend’s loss.
“Maybe your instinct is to ask them how are they doing; then they feel like they’ve got to give a report on how they’re doing with this grief thing. So it may be better to say, ‘Hey, I just wanted to tell you, I drove past that coffee shop where I used to meet Sam…it made me think about how much I miss him…I just want you to know that I’ve been thinking about you, and I’m still so sad with you.”
“One approach asks for a report and the other says ‘I miss that person too’, and that’s something a grieving person really longs to hear, that they’re not alone.”
Hope For Parents who have Lost a Child
For mums and dads who have lost a child, Nancy says she only offers her comfort or advice if they ask for it.
“When you’ve lost a child there’s a sense you want to connect with other people who’ve lost a child, but there’s another part of you that thinks ‘I don’t want to be part of that club’, and I don’t want anyone to think they completely get my loss, because this was my child.”
When speaking to other grieving parents, Nancy’s main message is that ‘it gets better’.
“Sometimes I just look them in the eyes and say ‘It’s going to hurt a while, and it might get worse before it gets better, but the truth is God is a healer, and as you turn to him with all your hurt and questions and pursue him in the midst of this loss, he will do a healing work in your life, and the day will come when grief won’t have the power over you it has over you right now.
“It’s not going to hurt this much forever.”
She said that it has only been the work of God’s spirit that has healed and restored her heart, and enabled her to laugh and have joy again.