please stop talking :: my friend john lost his daughter

October 9, 2010

Little Autumn went home to be with Jesus on September 28, 2010.  She was weighed 1 lb., 3 oz. when she was born, after only 25 weeks in gestation.  Autumn lived for 3 days before she went home.


Autumn’s funeral was one week ago now.  Today, John posted a raw and honest note to his friends on Facebook.  With his permission, I’m reposting it below.

I wanted to share this here for two reasons:

First of all, so that you might lift up John and his wife Mindy in prayer.  He has faith that God is a loving God and wants the best for him, but John is deeply hurting, and has major league questions.  I would, too.  Please remember these good friends in your prayers whenever they come to mind.

Secondly, this was a good reminder to all of us who want so desperately to say the right thing when someone we love is grieving.  My advice: please stop talking.  You do not know what it is like.  You have not been through it before.  Your experiences are your experiences.  We do not have to SAY anything to love someone well.  Beyond, “I love you – you can talk to me any time – what do you need?” we often try to hard to “fix” what cannot be fixed.

And with that, I’ll let John’s words speak to you.  Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for your prayers.

how do we do this?

I’ve heard about the term “new normal.” I’ve been told the phrase “God only gives you what you can handle.” Some people have said “at least you had a baby, you met her, held her, and can probably have more.” I’ve even been told indirectly, (meaning someone told me someone said this to them about our loss), that maybe we shouldn’t have children. I also have struggled with my faith.


How do we do this? How do I not go absolutely ballistic on people for their rude and inhuman behavior? How do I tell people that I have FAR exceeded my limit of what I can handle? How do I not break down into tears every time I think of Autumn’s sweet innocence, her perfect little hands, her long legs, her beautiful face while I’m describing her to people and look into their big puppy dog eyes?


How do I not freak out about how grave Mindy’s condition was during her time leading up to Autumn’s birth? People think that they understand how sick Mindy was; they even tell me about themselves or girlfriends or whomever that had what they think Mindy had, and act like all she had to do was gut it out. MY WIFE ALMOST DIED, YOU INSENSITIVE PRICKS!!!! OUR DAUGHTER DIDN’T SURVIVE BECAUSE MY WIFE HAD A VERY RARE FORM OF HELLP SYNDROME AND HAD TO BE DELIVERED SO EARLY!!!! Her lungs didn’t have time to develop and that was what ultimately lead to her demise.


I want to eat. I want to stuff my face full, my belly full, and run from my feelings. I want to get absolutely disgustingly, puke on myself drunk. I want to get more screwed up than I can imagine. I want to take a fistfull of oxy and drink myself into oblivion.


I want to hold our baby. I want to smell her clean skin and touch her hair. I want to snuggle with her, talk to her, hang out with her, change her diaper, tickle her little chin, make her laugh, feed her in the middle of the night, watch football and hockey and wrestling and Deadliest Catch with her. I want to play my saxophone for her. I want to go on rides in the middle of the woods on a beautiful fall day with her. I want to bundle her up in pretty pink pajamas with little footies and show her off and tell people about her while she sleeps in the car seat next to me. I want her to grow up, live a long, happy life, get married, go to college, have kids. I want to die an old man with beautiful memories of Autumn: her life, her family, her love.


I want my wife to stop hurting. I want her to never have to feel what she is feeling right now. I want her to sleep easy. I want her wounds to heal. I want her to smile and laugh and giggle and sigh and be happy. She is still sick, still recovering, still devastated by our loss.


I want to be the best husband I can be. I want to be the best father I can be. I want our life to return to the “old normal” it was a few weeks ago. I will accept our “new normal” as Autumn coming home and living with us Happily Ever After.


Not gonna happen.


God, I can’t do this. You’ve given me too much. I’m drowning.


Please help.



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“please stop talking :: my friend john lost his daughter” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

20 responses to please stop talking :: my friend john lost his daughter

  1. Thank you for sharing this Josh.
    Side tangent – I get so p!ssed when well meaning christian’s say things like “God only gives you what you can handle.” YES HE DOES! How else can we grow? Why would we run back to God if he only gave us what we can handle ourselves?
    Thank you for sharing John’s words, as followers of Christ we need to hear what John is saying on his and Mindy’s behalf. It is ok to not say anything at times, don’t turn an uncomfortable silence into a God blamed a-hole statement. Reminds me of a lyric from the David Bazan song Foregone Conclusions – “You were too busy steering the conversation toward the lord/To hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the f up” (bad music but I think a good lyric).

    My thoughts and prays for John and Mindy.

    • Thanks Mike. I just want to help people understand that it’s better not to say anything if you don;t know what to say… And even if you do… sometimes better not to.

      I basically invited John to call me anytime. Shared some scripture that has been helpful for me. Other than that, he’s in the deep deep water, and my place is to listen – unless he asks for my opinion or my thoughts. So I’m praying for John and Mindy – often.

      That is enough, until they ask for more.

  2. I think the need to “say” something to a friend facing tragedy comes from a potentially selfish place. I think as human beings we have an innate desire to want to comfort others (not selfish), but we somehow feel like our words are going to be exactly what the other person needs to hear. How presumptuous to think that we could even identify with another’s tragedy and have the perfect words to say? Their experience is their own, no matter how similar it may seem to someone elses. Comforting someone requires that we step out of ourselves and listen. To see what the person needs instead of jumping to what we think we should do or what we think will comfort the other person. Sometimes we do what we think will comfort someone instead of listening, which in turn makes us feel good about ourselves more so than comforting the hurting person.

    John’s agony is overwhelming just to read “on paper”. In spite of clueless comments by well meaning, caring Christians, I hope John and his wife are surrounded by loving supportive people who are in tune with what they truly need. There are very rare occassions where words can even soften the blow of tragedy, but in the context of crisis and tragedy simply being available, checking in on someone, supporting someone with the daily tasks that seem unbearable may be a tremendous help. Josh, your suggestion to listen is essential. No one will truly know the agony this family is facing, but a loving ear to share the torment with may be helpful in supporting them.

    Thanks for posting this Josh.

    • Thanks Heidi. I agree with you – we must listen, because what people need may not be at all what we *think* they need. I’ve talked to a handful of people in this past year that have gone through hard hard things, and universally, they expressed frustration with people’s need to “say something.” I hope this helps us all love each other better.

      God bless, Heidi. Thanks much for getting in on the conversation.

  3. re: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

    It’s not Biblical at all. No where in the Bible does that phrase exist. I think people often mistake that concept for what Paul writes about temptation in 1 Corinthians 10. “…He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” ( That passage is clearly talking about fighting sin, not enduring trials and suffering.

    God allowed suffering to happen to Job that was far beyond what he could truly bear. Yes, he honored God through it, but it was definitely hard for him to handle.

    Thanks for sharing this and for the good perspective on how we can truly care for people going through very difficult situations.

    • Ryan – yes, exactly. Thank you for bringing this important point to light. I think you’re right… I bet most people who share the “more than you can handle” message are misquoting I Corinthians 10:13, and you are exactly on point: This passage is about temptation to sin, not our circumstances.

      If someone has been devastated by a personal loss, PLEASE don’t tell them what they can or can’t (or should be able to ) handle. What you intend to be an encouragement will very possibly have to opposite effect. Grief is deep and personal and different for everybody. I’ll just repeat the mantra here: be quiet, listen, let them know you really care and you’re available. That’s it. Unless someone going through hell like this ASKS for more, you do not need to try to say the right thing. Because, most likely, you won’t be able to.

  4. Josh… I remember John from BSU. I watched him play his amazing sax many times. And I sit here in tears, only having an INKLING of what he & Mindy are going thru.

    Our own infertility journey – when people also told us we hadn’t prayed hard enough, or weren’t supposed to be parents, or that we were playing God by pursuing IVF…

    My cousin who delivered her son at 24 wks – I visited Baby Samuel in the hospital and remember SO CLEARLY what a child of that gestational age looks like… She had gotten pregnant, miscarried, then delivered Sammy before her original due date. The fear involved with a child who is born so very, very early – I have an inkling…

    And yet I don’t. And my heart hurts and I grieve for John & Mindy. There simply are NO WORDS. NONE. Only tears, and prayers, and silent embraces.

    I hope you will share with John that people all over are praying for he & Mindy. Even if he doesn’t want to hear it, he probably needs to……

    Bless you, Josh.

    • Thank you Gretch. I’ll pass along your thoughts and prayers to John and Mindy. And yes, he can make the sax sing.

      I’m sorry you have had to go through the hardships that you have, too. And I’m sorry you had to endure people’s unwanted opinions and advice. I hope this connects. I hope somewhere down the line someone out there will be slower to speak and quicker to pray.

      Bless you and your family, too, friend.

  5. My wife Sarah and I experienced similar reactions when our daughter Emilee Rose was stillborn a few years back. You wanna punch people in the face for even opening their mouths. It was the most difficult thing to deal with, and then we had to deal with others and their nasty cliche’ words.

    I agree with you Josh, pray and just love, usually not with words.

    • Thank you for weighing in here, Mike. Very important, I think, for people to hear this. I love you guys. Bless you and your kiddos and your bride and that great church in Bloomington you serve.

  6. Woo boy. Devastating. As a non-believer, I can’t add value to the struggle with faith. However, I couldn’t agree with you any more that the best thing to do is simply offer a hug and support, in whatever way they may find helpful.

    • Thanks for reading and checking in here Josh. I really appreciate the non-believers who read my blog. They help keep me from slipping comfortably into “christian-ese” and help me think through how I communicate friends and neighbors with a different view of nlife and faith. Josh, I have appreciated your thoughts and perspective (and sense of humor) for awhile now. Please feel welcome to give me a friendly whack when if I am communicating in such a way that seems illogical, holier-than-thou, or otherwise ineffective in connecting with my unbelieving frinds here. I’d welcome the feedback. Thanks again Josh – have a great one.

  7. Josh, We’re praying for your friends here. – Mark and Family

  8. Josh, I think you showed wisdom and sensitivity in the handling of your friends’ devastation. All the theological arguments in the world can’t match the effectiveness of a hug and the offer of a listening ear. As one Christian to another we know the love and kindness of the Father. We understand that things on earth are not done God’s way. “Thy kingdom come thy will be down on earth as it is in Heaven”. This should be our daily prayer. When things are done God’s way the results are found in Revelation 21:3-5 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. (4) And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (5) And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. Until this day of our hope arrives it is likely we will find many occasions that we just don’t have the right words. My prayers are with John and Mindy even though I do not know them. How can you hear of the depth of their hurting and not be moved with compassion?

    • Thank you Paul. And it is OK not to have the right words. We get into trouble when we think we do. I agree with you – reading John’s words, it is impossible not to feel for them – and I think many are responding in prayer for them. I love to see that.

  9. That’s awsome Josh. When I read John’s post a couple of days ago, I just really appreciated how he put it all out there. I remember when we lost Isabella(Our first stillborn just a couple of weeks before my due date), I was feeling just like Johns said. I didn’t care what people had to say about anything. Not anything. Everything was insignificant in comparison for me at that point. What I appreciated most was the friends and family that sat ith mne, and tolerated my ups and downs and crankiness etc. And you’re right, they didn’t always talk. I also realllly appreciated talking to others who have been through it. They didn’t say things like, “We’re not given more thanwe can handle,” and they certainly didn’t use the word, “Closure”. I love what you said about just simply praying and letting them know that you care.

    • Thanks Dani. Your voice in this discussion is really significant. We need to learn from each other, I think. Thank you so much. God bless.

    • CASSIE ROGERS May 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      i know i dont know this guy at all but i can only say im sorry in the deepest meaningful way possible. i could only imagine what the pain is that this couple is feeling. i actually ran across this by looking at tattoos with the name “autumn” in them because i recently had a little girl 6 weeks ago and i am wanting to go and get her footprints and name tatted on me, and i must say of all the tats that i seen on here this one was quite amazing, and the story behind it is extremely sad! IM SORRY AGAIN

      • Cassie, thanks for reading and for your thoughts. John went through a long stretch of anger, deep grief, and was almost ready to give up on God. I’ve never lost a child who was in my arms one minute and gone the next, so there is no way I can relate to this kind of deep grief and questioning. But many have prayed for John and Mindy, and I know he kept reading his Bible and trying to make sense of this in the context of a loving God – which was hard. But I recently read a note John posted on Facebook, and he’s doing a little better. He has seemed to come to a place of more peace with God, realizing that God has walked WITH them through this. Jesus never said we wouldn’t go through the valley of the shadow of death. He just said He would walk through it with us. I think John sees this more now than he did a few months ago. Anyway, I keep praying for him and for Mindy, too, whenever they come to mind. It’s a wound and a loss that will never go away. Hug that little one and enjoy every minute you can with her. God bless you and your little Autumn, too. Thanks Cassie.