In this week’s episode I have the privilege of talking with Michelle Horton, a certified biblical counselor, a woman full of grace and wisdom. Listen in as we have a live Q&A discussing a range of questions submitted from women in The Joyful Mourning Community, real women who have walked through pregnancy or infant loss. We discuss questions like: “Is it ok to grieve miscarriages and early losses” and “How do I respond to hurtful comments after loss” and “I feel so much guilt and shame over the loss of my baby, what do I do?”
Today’s episode is incredibly helpful to woman grieving as well as friends and family members of those grieving.
MEET MICHELLE HORTON
Michelle Horton has been on-staff with Heart Song for seven years. Prior to moving to the Tampa Bay area, she served as a counselor for Heart Song in Washington, D.C. She has a B.A. in Speech and Communication Studies from Clemson University and her M. Div in Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle counsels a wide variety of issues with a special interest in counseling those who struggle with PTSD, survivors of sexual abuse, grief, eating disorders, addictions, relational and emotional issues.
CONNECT WITH MICHELLE
Email Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Heart Song Counseling click here.
Ashlee: 00:00 Hi friends welcome to this week’s episode of The Joyful Mourning Community. This week Michelle Horton is joining me. She is a trained professional biblical counselor who has really spent a lot of time with me and I am so grateful for her expertise and the good things that she’s going to share with us today. So welcome to the podcast Michelle.
Michelle: 00:20 It’s good to be here. Thank you.
Ashlee: 00:23 I’m so grateful that you took some time to spend with us today. So what we’re going to do today is going to be a little bit different than our podcast with other moms. Today we’re going to just do a little bit of Q and A from the women who are in The Joyful Mourning Community who have submitted questions questions that are applicable to their life. Kind of after a loss and according to their journey with grief. So we’re going to be all over the place so yeah that’s the nature of a Q and A. But first before we kind of jump into the Q and A, Michelle will you just tell us a little bit about who you are and the kind of work that you do. Absolutely. So.
Michelle: 01:02 I am what they call a local counselor which means that not only am I caring for individuals who are going through things like that loss but you know I’m caring for them not only practical but also spiritually taking a look at what’s going on with their heart bringing things for the Lord and just really walking alongside him down. And I’ve had the joy of being able to walk with women through all sorts of issues in life all sorts of struggles and hardships and so it’s just a beautiful thing to see the Gospel at work.
Ashlee: 01:30 That’s awesome. And I can attest to Michelle’s giftedness and her wisdom. I think we spent almost two years together. It was a long time. I was I was quite the project.
Ashlee: 01:46 It was just a really amazing thing to spend some time with somebody different than a girlfriend. I’m speaking into my life and into my problems which led me to my actual first question which is tell us what you think the difference between strong friendships and then a professionally trained counselor. So like why both are important and what roles they play. I think a lie that I believe for a long time was that because I had community who were who’s walking through my grief I didn’t need expert help.
Ashlee: 02:25 So maybe tell us what you think about that.
New Speaker: 02:28 Yeah I think you know I think a scripture when it says that we are at war with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. And I think that’s where our community is huge. And so when it’s really important for women to have those solid godly sisters the ones that aren’t trying to just give them cliche biblical answers but that just cry with them and and be with them and walk with them and I think that’s absolutely the first step. I think way before a trained counselor can get in there and really assessed that need needs to be met. And so you know I think that is huge because your friends know you while your community knows you well they’re walking with you and they can practically be there in a way that a professional counselor cannot. However that being said a professional counselor one of the benefits is that they are objective.
New Speaker: 03:16 They are not in your family they’re not your friends circle and so you can face some pretty hard things that you might be worried sharing with say your spouse because maybe you’re concerned with how your spouse would be carrying that burden. And of course I’m a huge advocate for talking about things with your spouse. But I think a counselor can help you to have some structure can normalize some of the struggles and you know just provide a little bit more was down from an objective viewpoint. And that can be helpful. But I think more than anything just having that safe space to be honest and share with that counselor is really important in the healing process.
Ashlee: 03:53 Yeah I agree. And I saw that firsthand in my own life because we knew we were in and still are strong community and have strong friendships. We were just really blessed by the friends who chose to dove into our grief and they loved us really well. But there is just a big difference. I have a friend who was who went through a really hard divorce. And I remember her explaining to me just the value that her counselor brought to the table and how different it was than her best friends because she said her best friends would come and just let her almost swallow.
Ashlee: 04:34 Her friends loved her so much that they didn’t want to like push her cause her any more pain whereas her counselor was the one who is objectively like ok girl it’s time to get up. It’s time to get move in an hour.
New Speaker: 04:47 You know like I said I like your best friend just me never want you to feel any more pain or to make it any harder. So that having an objective person in conjunction with those friends and community I think is just really helpful for sure.
Ashlee: 05:03 Yeah I agree.
Ashlee: 05:05 OK so let’s switch to some of these questions that were submitted over on the joyful morning community. I’m going to read it exactly the way she wrote it and I definitely understood and could sympathize and empathize with her but she said for earlier losses in pregnancy. Is it OK to grieve.
Ashlee: 05:25 And she knows the answer to that is yes. But she feels like I’m in a culture where there was no nobody else knew this baby nobody else maybe even saw her you know her body physically change and there was no you know tangibly they never saw this life. Is it OK to grieve. She said I feel like so many women feel like they’re overreacting to miscarriage and other early losses especially within the first trimester. It would be nice to hear professional affirm that we’ve been through what we’ve been through is worthy of our grief.
Michelle: 06:03 Absolutely. It is. And you know the thing I think about is when we’re talking about windows life began. So if we’re going to hold to that place of life begins at conception then is that not a life worth grieving and. And so I think it’s really one of the common things that I see women do is we look around and we compare ourselves to other people and we say well OK I’m putting this in quotes because obviously this is not accurate but I lost my match out at two months and here this woman over here lost her seven months she has a reason to grieve not me and or we feel ridiculous. And then the really hard thing is if you have people in your life who just want you to be OK. And so they sort of brushed aside. Well it was just a miscarriage but it wasn’t just a miscarriage.
Michelle: 06:51 It was a life that the were knitted together in your womb and to not Grieg’s that will be to ignore those sweet moments too that you had even if you didn’t carry that child long enough to feel kicks and things like that. There is a sweetness in that and that needed to be mourned so absolutely these women need to be grieving and they need to get that care for themselves whether you know professional and community wise to help them walk through that process. But yeah I think that temptation to minimize our pain. It’s straight from the enemy it’s not from the war.
Ashlee: 07:28 Yeah. And I think what you said about if their family members around as her friends who are kind of pushing along trying to push a longer griefer push aside or grief that can lead to a lot of hurt or even guilt and shame because what am I doing something wrong.
Ashlee: 07:48 How I feel like there were sorts of questions they were kind of ordered along these lines. But how would you how how should we talk to family members and friends who are who we feel like might be pushing Assad aside our grief or maybe trying to rush us along in that process.
Michelle: 08:08 Yeah I think I would appeal. I would believe the best in them to understand that they’re really I mean people are uncomfortable with suffering. My job is to walk alongside of people my ministry is walk alongside of people in suffering and have always want to just end it. But I would love to be able to say that a thing like so you don’t hurt anymore and so I think acknowledging that with the family member I know you love me. I know you want me to be OK. But for me to truly be ok I need you to give me the space to process this and to understand that it doesn’t look the same for each person because that’s something else that well-meaning family members can do. They can say well Sally over here you know she had the same thing and she’s OK and she’s just moving on and it doesn’t mean that Sally necessarily grieved properly or maybe the way Sally’s wired she grieved in a different way.
Michelle: 08:58 But I think just acknowledging the good of what that family member is going for. And then you know but then asking for space. And I think also just directing them to websites like yours enough to joyful mourning and saying you know giving that family member to read some of the other women’s stories. I think that really helps people to enter in to that suffering and to understand just how hard that is because I think it’s especially hard if you have friends or family members who have not gone through a miscarriage. I’m not saying you have to to fully understand it because I haven’t and I try to understand it. I know I can’t do that. But there are some people that are like well what’s the big deal. Just move on and they just haven’t really entered into that kind of pain before. So you know something like joyful mourning can help them to do that.
Michelle: 09:45 And it’s huge and just another side note I was thinking of Jesus that Lazarus’s tomb. And it says that he went there just to get nerdy for a moment and that that word there that Greek word is actually the sound that a person. It’s a combination of wailing it’s snorting it sobbing. It’s this. It’s what a person does when they hear the worst news of their life. And that’s what Jesus did. And what’s important about that is he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. And so we talked to Jesus the way we talked to ourselves were saying get it together buddy you’re going to raise him from the dead. Just a second what’s your deal. But Jesus entered into that pain knowing that it was going to be gone in a moment where and training that pain because it’s not going to be gone in a moment.
Ashlee: 10:37 Yeah that’s good. That’s really good. I think a lot of times we can be hurt by family members or friends by through things that people have said.
Ashlee: 10:47 I have talked a lot about what does it look like to show grace to those people in helping them understand because like you said they if they haven’t walked through it they may not fully be able to grasp. But we can instead of going into it very almost self-righteous or you know with a chip on her shoulder like nobody can understand. So I’m just going to be hurt by everyone around me. Just asking yourself what does it look like to show grace when the people say really dumb things. And I loved what you said just like Hey I know you love me and I know that you probably just don’t want me to feel or be in this pain anymore. But this hurts right now. And just having the guts and bravery to say something like that I know that’s so hard.
Ashlee: 11:43 I know that’s so hard but just being willing to dive into that world. It shows the person grace in that you’re not going to grow bitter towards them for saying the wrong thing and you’re all. It also shows them Grace because you’re teaching them what it looks like to mourn with somebody who’s mourning. You know you’re you’re educating them on what it looks like for to minister to someone who’s hurting. So I loved what you said about just signal edging in that and believing the best in people just because they say the wrong thing doesn’t mean they don’t love you or they don’t care. And I think if we choose to believe the best it will help her it will prevent. It will help prevent her hurts from becoming extra bitter.
Ashlee: 12:27 Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve any thoughts anymore thoughts about that. I would agree with that.
Michelle: 12:31 And I think one thing to just to say to people is you know a lot of times people will use scripture and they’re trying to be helpful. But I call it Job’s friendliness you know and so Job’s friends were trying real hard and a lot of the stuff they were saying about God was true. However the application was all over the place and it was wrong. And so I do think just you know letting people know. So say you do have that family member that is trying to wrap everything up in a nice little bow are you shooting scriptures at you and it’s hurtful before you even share with them to say hey I want to talk about this with you. Would you. It would really bless me if you could just listen them today and just know how to be praying for me. And so I think letting them know expectations ahead of time can be good too. But I know that for the people that we are purposefully communicating with there are going to be people that we run into in the community. I mean we can’t be proactive like that because we don’t know. But yeah I love what you said about it protects against bitterness and that’s that’s a biggie.
Ashlee: 13:33 You know it’s so interesting about that you mentioned Job. I recently read a book called “Walking with God through your pain and suffering” I think. And he talks about Job and I never realized that in the book of Job at the at the end after his friends have just like tortured him to death with these like you said there were truths about who God was but they were misapplied. And you know my husband talks a lot about we can have truth. But when it’s given in the wrong timing and without grace it is not in love. It is not helpful in job actually calls these friends miserable comforters like towards the end of job which is so funny because I think anybody who’s worked through grief knows we know we can like point or hurt people and say that was a miserable comforter not you did. I hope my heart moves at all and we can do that even with truth like we can just you know it’s just not loving. Yeah. So yup. Totally agree. Which is a good segue into one of the questions.
Ashlee: 14:43 It was more of a statement but just kind of how to handle the when people say things like you or you but you’re still young you still have time on your side or it just wasn’t meant to be your be patient. Your time will come. And she she literally said it’s like fingers fingernails on a chalkboard. But it just hurts her hurt so badly. So my question is twofold how should a woman who is grieving respond to those types of comments. Do we respond. Should we say anything in those moments. What should a response be. And then on the other side if you are listening and your friend of someone who’s grieving maybe what’s an all a better thing to say or why should we not even say those things. Like I’m thinking off the top of my head your time will come. You should never we shouldn’t say that like that may be true. So that’s two different questions. I love your thoughts about ours.
Michelle: 15:46 Yeah I think it goes back to when people say things like that. You know I think it depends on the closeness of that relationship. I think of it’s a really good friend and a family member. I think again that’s where we go back to them and say hey I know you’re wanting to encourage me and I love you for that. That’s actually not helpful. And here’s why I think that’s huge. Now if it’s someone let’s say you run into somebody at the grocery store or at church and they say something like that I think if it’s if it’s a one and done situation I think that’s a moment where we can take it to the Lord and you know and just talk about it with another safe. Brown but just hope that that stops. What if that person has a pattern of doing that.
Michelle: 16:26 Again I think we should go back to that idea of I understand that you’re trying to encourage me. I appreciate that. But grief is grief no matter how old we are. You know we in the same way that we went out and say to the daughter of 30 year old woman who loses her mother. Well at least you were 30 when you lost your mom. That’s way better than you know if you had been five and it’s like oh yeah but my heart still hurts and I see people do this a lot with things or you know it’s a 19 year old that was engaged and I broke it off and is like oh well there’s other fish in the sea. It’s like. But this is a heart that is hurting. And you know so if we’re if I’m the friend of someone who’s going through this I need to be asking the question how is God looking at this person’s heart.
Michelle: 17:10 And God does not dismiss our emotions even when our emotions are angry towards him. You know we see that God engages with that and he has patience and he’s abounding and steadfast love. And so I think you know recognizing we’re doing things like oh you’re young and your time will come. I mean like you said that’s not a promise for a lot of people yes there will be other children but for some. No. And we also don’t put our hope in things beyond our circumstances change and we put our hope in God who walks with us in that healing process.
Michelle: 17:44 So again it’s just people are so uncomfortable with suffering they’ll do anything. And it’s one of the first things I pray for when I have a friend that loses an infant as I pray against the well-meaning you know dumb dumbs. Going to say some things that are just not and their heart is beautiful and trying to help but it’s just oh I pray against that because it’s so devastating. And the tongue has the power of life and death.
Michelle: 18:11 And when people say things to that to us like that it does make us feel ashamed that you were referencing earlier and that can really delay the healing process.
Ashlee: 18:21 I love what you said that you pray for them. I likewise. I actually I pray for the moms who actually have are experiencing this loss that they would be able to have grace for the people who are going to say they’re really dumb things because it just adds this like bizarre layer of grief there.
Ashlee: 18:42 I mean like deal with these like yucky conversations that it make makes you relive pain. And I don’t say that to say that we don’t want to dive into conversations that are hard. That’s not at all what I’m saying. So I don’t want to just want to throw that caveat out. What do you think is a better a better way.
Ashlee: 19:04 Like how how would you advise a friend or family member of somebody who’s grieving to kind of talk about these things like what. Instead of saying things like you’re oh you’re younger you have time on your side or it just wasn’t meant to be what are you what are better ways to engage grief because we know that they’re probably saying those things because it’s hard. It’s messy. And we like you said you just want to say something that will take the pain away or something that will help alleviate how hard it feels right now. So we know that’s why they’re probably saying those things. They just want to make it better but it doesn’t. So what would be a better thing to say?
Michelle: 19:46 I think being honest and saying gosh I just really I want to be I want to say the perfect thing that would make you feel better but I know I can’t. It sounds like you’re really hurting today and I think just meeting them at you know emotionally where they’re at. Or you know if they walk up to their friend and today that grieving friend is anger or angry at God or angry at other people who seem to have it so easy or whatever and just seem to like me. Yeah I hear you. And you know I know I don’t know how you feel but I’m angry too and just entering into that emotion with them and acknowledging where they’re at instead of trying to fix them. And and I really do think one of the best things we can say is I don’t know how you feel but I am trying so hard to put myself in your shoes and I am hurting for you because I love you. But I am one of the worst things that people say when they’re trying to enter into suffering as I know how you feel.
Michelle: 20:45 When I lost my dog last week blah blah blah blah blah and it’s like yeah but you know what we could have gone through the same exact situation and I still don’t know how you feel because we’re going to process it differently but I feel like those words I know how you feel have done more damage to people and the healing process than probably anything else because it’s insulting.
Ashlee: 21:08 Yeah and you know what’s interesting is that it takes. It made me think about what you said earlier about how we compare so if someone says I know how you feel then all of a sudden you’re like oh we’ll you know how I feel then I processing this the same way you did. Am I doing this correctly. Like now we have this like strange gauge of how we’re supposed to be doing. And it just it puts these expectations on us that are just false expectations. So yeah I agree I agree with the. I know how you feel is not helpful. I was doing an interview with one of our guests a few weeks ago and I was talking about what it looked like for people in her life to just show up you know and and to gracefully interrupt in a way that was just really helpful.
Ashlee: 22:01 You know they would just show up at our door and I was telling this story about a young she was a college freshman. And so we had I would have literally just met her in August or September and my son died in October and November. And she showed up at the door. I didn’t know her very well. She was probably 18 or 19 years old and she just when I opened the door she just wept and I just thought what a beautiful picture of morning with those who mourn because she didn’t fully understand she was in a totally different season of life and yet she put herself in a position to say I love you and I’m hurting with you. And I’m I’m here and forever like she probably has no idea you know what that meant so much. But that was more helpful than anybody trying to counsel me in those days. Yeah. Just. Sure.
Michelle: 22:58 Yeah. And I think you’re absolutely right, it goes back to mourning with those who mourn. Just kind of as an asterisk to the side of that though for any family members and friends that are listening to this right now and they’re walking with them. I do think though it’s also an important balance of mourning with them in those early stages but not to the point where they are then having to turn around and comfort you. They have. And it sounds like the way that woman you know mourned with you was beautiful. But I have heard situations where family members or friends would be like just sobbing nonstop and to be a month or so later. And so every time the person who had lost her child was going to be with that family member she was then or that friend she has been having to comfort them and tell them it’s going to be OK and it’s like she doesn’t have the bandwidth for that.
Michelle: 23:49 And so there is a balance of also knowing when and it’s OK as a friend and a family member it’s ok also to say you know I need to go get a little professional counseling to know how to work through this myself because they do need to work through this. They’re watching their friends or their loved one. Go through something horrible but if it’s getting to the point where they’re being comforted by the person grieving we’ve got a problem. So I think that’s that’s very helpful.
Ashlee: 24:17 Yeah.
Ashlee: 24:19 Yeah I have lots of thoughts we could talk about that again, might be a good topic in the future.
Ashlee: 24:25 I think the biggest thing if your friend or family member just being really mindful that the other person is if you’re feeling that weight of emotions the other person who has lost this baby is feeling more weight of that. And so I’m just being aware that carrying that much emotion into a situation into a conversation just adds to their burden that they’re currently carrying on. And sometimes I think that can be if there’s like familial things that happen and there’s people who might be thinking more of themselves than others and that sort of thing in those situations and so just being cognizant one of the most helpful things in in relationships when there’s somebody grieving is is putting their needs above your own in whatever it looks like.
Ashlee: 25:27 And that’s how people people loved us so well. You know even bringing a meal over is is putting my need above theirs because it’s inconvenient to bring people food and you know it’s not easy it costs money and it takes time and that’s just like a simple thing but praying for us in the middle of the night when they would get woken up and be so hurting for us like that was putting our needs above their own. And so even a situation like that where if somebody is if the if the you know friend or family member is crying and wailing and just so upset to the point where the person who’s grieving is having to comfort that person that they’re not really putting their needs above their own in order to minister to the one who’s grieving. I don’t know if that made any sense.
Michelle: 26:13 That absolutely makes sense. And I think it is it’s totally that reminder of if they are at that place then they do need to go and get some professional help to help them work to their grief and they’re also not failing as a family member as a friend but they need to understand they can be honest with the person that’s grieving and say you know what I’m realizing that my grief is probably not blessing you at this point. And so I’m going to go talk about it with somebody so if I’m not around as much know that I love you and I’m praying for you but I just don’t want to add to what you’re going through. But again I don’t want to devalue the beauty of crying alongside of someone and I think you know you really word that while there’s a difference in mourning alongside of someone and then for lack of a better term you know taking control of the emotions in the sense of now they’re comforting you. You know so now you’re overwhelming their emotions. So yeah.
Ashlee: 27:08 I think we have we have a little bit of time for another question. Terminus switch gears a little bit. One thing that I knew there were several women who commented and I know from my own experience just most women who experience the loss of a baby no matter what the circumstances were feel a massive amount of guilt and shame over that you know. Could we have done something different. Should I have done something different. And then you know people aren’t exactly helpful in that it was heartbreaking. There were women in the from one community who were talking about family members even saying like just the dumbest things like oh you drinking that soda led to losing that baby. Which just adds to that guilt and shame that we already are experiencing. But I guess what would you tell a mother who’s experiencing the guilt and the shame.
Michelle: 28:10 So ultimately I go to job 42 to so job says to God I know that no plan of yours can be thwarted and it can’t. So that means our bodies cannot change God’s plans. And David even talks about that before he was ever even born. God had numbered his days.
Michelle: 28:31 And so remembering ultimately that God had already numbered that sweet baby’s day.
Michelle: 28:39 And so there in this woman’s body mom’s body or the activities she did and those kinds of things couldn’t change that plan. This was always God’s plan. Now why God allows us to experience that kind of loss. You know. It’s still mind boggling to me except that he’s got any good and we walk with him. But. But you know remembering that part but I did read an interesting article in The Washington Post actually that was talking about Christian women stop shaming me. And it was written by a Christian woman and she was saying OK great you could breastfeed. Awesome. My body wouldn’t let me. OK great. You have the body. The baby naturally. Awesome. OK great. You actually carried your baby full term and mine when it stopped telling me how I’ve failed as a woman and I thought wow for that to make it to the Washington Post is huge but that’s the kind of thing that well-meaning people say you know I can think of women who had miscarriages and they were told Oh you just wouldn’t work out this would have never happened. And so then they are literally paralyzed. Am I not supposed to workout anymore. Am I the reason why my baby didn’t make it. And there is just that guilt and shame that is there that is not of God.
Michelle: 30:01 You know I think just knowing, you could not change this plan if it was God’s always.
Ashlee: 30:08 So we need to I’m like tattoo that verse all over her body because it’s a constant battle.
Ashlee: 30:15 You know my son died. It will be 10 years in November and so that’s a good thing. Even as of you know this recent Friday somebody said something to me about how he died. And I thought oh my gosh. I like I’m the reason. And it was just it was heartbreaking. And I had to just like take that those words and I thought about it for a few minutes. And I talked about it with my husband and we were like We know the truth and the truth is is that we do not control life or death. And we do the best we can to steward what God’s given us and we make the best decisions with the information that we have. But yeah job 42 42. That’s right. Is that what you said 42.
Ashlee: 31:06 Super helpful. I think I think that’s it for today. My last little thought would be if you could just tell a grieving mom. One thing one encouragement one hope.
Ashlee: 31:22 What would you say to her. I would say that though the pain will never completely go away.
Michelle: 31:29 That’s not the promise that but God does heal and walk with them and there will come a point where you are in the new normal where you are able to. Yes. You know I know a major fear for moms is that they’ll forget that baby that somehow the memories and and time will make that distant and God does not want that for you and so that’s what I mean when I say that you won’t ever forget the pain or get over the pain. You love that child. How could you get over that. But there will come a time and a season where you’re able to give them a new normal and you will have a joyful moments again and there’s peace in that. But give yourself a break. Give yourself space don’t let other people’s expectations. And don’t let your own expectations define how long it needs to take you to heal.
Ashlee: 32:20 That’s good. Thank you so much for joining us today Michelle. And we will have Michelle’s contact information listed in the show notes for this show. So thanks for joining us and until next time. Have a great day.
The full transcript is provided by an online app and while I do my best to catch any transcription mistakes it is highly possible that a few may have been missed. If something is not clear please refer back to the audio for reference.