I've entitled this post Pastoral Care because I'm in a sort of dialogue with Mary Potts about pastoral care in times of catastrophic loss, but it might more aptly be titled Spiritual Companionship.
Mary observes that the accompaniment of a prayerful friend might have made a significant difference in her own healing process.
I can vouch for that. I don't think that it's an exaggeration to credit my own life to my spiritual director who, in retrospect, seems to have made up his mind that not only would I not die, but I would again know God's presence in my life.
I don't know why it should be so, but sometimes loss brings with it a deep sense of reassurance and confidence in the ever-present and loving God, and sometimes it pierces the soul with a razor-like precision, excising all sense of divine presence and care.
I was hesitant to articulate that latter experience for a long time, at least in public. I was back in seminary within a few months of Josh's death, surrounded by people who either avoided me or offered thoughtless platitudes, which I think must have been intended primarily to reassure themselves. Of what, I have no idea. Their children were alive. (And so I would say to Mary that a stack of theological degrees guarantees nothing about an individual's comprehension of loss or capacity to be present to it.)
I am not sure that many people comprehend or appreciate the disintegration of faith that can accompany the loss of a child. I think that most people who walk that road themselves don't speak of it; they simply disappear from places of worship and they don't raise the subject with their friends. It comes up only in safe places, hidden from public view ~ as it did at one of the first Survivors of Suicide meetings I attended, where a gentleman said to me, "I'm surprised that you still believe in God." I can't say that I've met many people at those meetings who do.
A pastoral caregiver represents not so much belief in God as a continued hand extended as a representation of God's offer of friendship. Perhaps if those who are in a position to make such a representation understood its profound significance, they would show up and sit down ~ and wait.