When you’re comforting someone, do you say, “I know how you feel”? I recently realized that a person really doesn’t know how another person feels when my sister told me of the sad story of a mother whose two sons were among the victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 which crashed and burned in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
Samira Calehr’s 19 and 11 year old sons were flying to Bali for a fun-filled holiday with their grandmother. Samira recalls how her 11 son, Miguel was nervous about the flight. “He hugged me really tight,” she told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. “And he told me like, ‘Mom, I’m so afraid to take this plane. You know, I’m so afraid what happen when the airplane will crash?’ I told him, ‘Miguel, come on, you’ve been on flights many times. You are with Shaka. Everything is going just to be fine.’ He said, ‘You promise me?’ I said, ‘I promise everything will be okay.'”
According to Global News, as Samira watched her sons walk away, Miguel kept looking back at her. His big brown eyes looked sad. That was the last time she saw him alive.
I lost my 11 year old son last year to a medical condition. While my heart breaks for this mother, I can’t honestly say that I know what she was going through because I don’t. The only thing we have in common is our loss. Our experiences are different. She lost two out of three boys while I lost my only son.
On 60 Minutes, Samira was really cut up about promising her “baby” that he was going to be okay. “But I feel like I lied to him,” she said. “Who am I to give him that guarantee? It’s been like hell. I feel emptiness. I feel sadness. There is a hole in my heart. It will always hurt. And I miss them every day.” In her interview with CNN, she shared her regret for not taking her youngest son’s fears about the flight more seriously. “If I could just turn back time. I didn’t listen to him. I don’t know, I have no words to say…”
She wonders how could Miguel have known. How could she have known? How could I have known that my son would die in the summer of 2019?
He died on the afternoon of the first day of my vacation in August which we were looking forward to spending together. My vacation turned into a tragedy and I had to go on short-term disability. There wasn’t anything my husband or I could have done to prevent his death. Yet, I went through a period of self-recrimination, what ifs and if onlys.
It’s inaccurate to tell someone who is grieving, “I know how you feel,” because you really don’t. It would be better to say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Only God knows how the person feels.
You can be there for the person, let them cry. You don’t have to even say anything. Hug them. Be there for them. Comfort them as best as you can. Give them space if they need it.
Sometimes we wonder why we go through the tragedies we do. We are reminded of the kind of world we live in–where there is so much suffering, pain, violence and hatred. Sometimes, life is treated so contemptuously and with little regard. In some parts of the world, people think nothing of taking lives. Just recently a judge lost her only son when someone showed up at the house and shot him when he opened the door. Although we both lost our only sons, I can’t say that I know how this poor woman feels. My heart breaks for her because I know how I felt when I lost my son. Losing a child is the most unimaginably painful thing that could ever happen to a parent. Parents shouldn’t be burying their children.
When we go through loss, we often wonder why. What can we learn from our tragedies? The apostle Paul answers that question. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1 Corinthians 1:3, 4).
As long as we live in this sinful world, we will have to deal with death, loss, grief, etc. but we have a God who comforts us so that we can in turn comfort others.