Losing a Child...Grief Beyond Measure

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

When one of our kids had to leave the Village a few months back, I was sitting next to a little guy who had tears in his eyes. He said to me "You know Grandpa Hank". "Tony" is not my brother but he is LIKE my brother. That's why I'm so sad that he has to leave. It's like someone dropped a coin down a deep,deep well and you could hardly hear the coin drop at the bottom. That's how sorry I am that he is leaving.

I had to marvel at the old soul that spoke through the boy. He cared for his friend and expressed his grief in a way that sent shivers to my own soul. Such empathy in a little kid was almost eerie. Leave it to a child to teach the rest of us how to love and how to grieve the loss of a friend.

We have had to say goodbye to a number of kids at the Children's Village. Some left us under happy circumstances, re-united with their families or adopted into a foster family. A few have left because they needed more help than we could provide. But no one left the Village without leaving a piece of themselves with us. No one departed without us feeling their loss. One day, he or she was one of us, one of our kids. The next day we had to deal with the emptiness.

In the musical version of Les Miserables, the chorus sings of their young comrades who were killed in battle in one of the plays most moving songs, "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables." The lyrics say in part:

"There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain that goes on and on
Empty chairs and empty tables
My friends are dead and gone"

Fortunately for grandparents and other staff at the Village, we know that the young people who leave us are not dead, not really lost at all. Thanks to the providence of a loving God and the resilience of youth, many of our kids will turn out fine. But it's part of human nature isn't it, to be haunted by some regret as we bid farewell?

We wish we could have done more for them. The "woudas and couldas" come to the fore. We had our opportunity to help the kids grow. Now they are in the hands of their parents or other caring adults to give it their best shot. Ultimately,it's up to the kids themselves to make good on their promise, their talents. That's just the way life is.

Those of us who have ever been parents know exactly what I mean. As our kids left home to take on the adult world, we realized in our gut, that there were times we could have done better, opportunities missed, loving words left unspoken. Flawed, imperfect parents? Of course we were and are. But we owed it to our kids and to ourselves to go on living and forgiving and loving. That's how God made us.

The plaintive words of Les Miserables tell us of "a grief that can't be spoken, a pain that goes on and on." At the Village, we beg to differ. Grief can and should be spoken. The little kid I mentioned who expressed his sorrow at losing a friend, both with his tears and his words, was right on target. No one is ever really lost, as long as he is held in our hearts.