What do you say when your best friend’s child is sick? What words of comfort do special needs parents need to hear? What do they NOT want to hear?
I received a text message from my best friend. Her daughter was admitted to the hospital (again) last night. The two of us have been friends for decades. Together we have been through weddings, divorces, miscarriages, births and now this – medical concerns with our children.
I am staring at the screen, my fingers are frozen in mid-air. What do I say? I feel the weight of the world rests on my reply to her. I want to calm her fears, but telling her not to worry is discounting her feelings. I want to say the RIGHT thing, not an empty cliche.
Showing my friend that “I care” doesn’t require money, elaborate gestures or a lot of time. The most impactful way to show concern is as simple as a few words.
I have for the past eight years worked closely with other families affected by pediatric heart disease and various medical conditions. It is through these experiences that I learned (sometimes the hard way) what to say – and what NOT to say.
I have compiled a list of things you should NEVER say to a grieving, scared or sad parent. I also added comforting words that will show your empathy.Words of comfort for #SpecialNeeds parents. What do you say and what NOT to say! #Friends Click To Tweet
Expressions NOT to use when comforting parents:
- “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
- You don’t know this for a fact, so it is really just an empty cliche.
- “Kids are so resilient.”
- Yes, this may very well be true. But it’s not something parents wish to put to the test.
- “He’s in a better place.”
- There is no better place for a child than in his parents’ arms.
- “Special parents are given special children.”
- As parents we rise to the occasion and we love our kids unconditionally, that’s all. It’s not because you are an patient and caring mom that your child was born with a congenital defect.
- “It’s God’s will.”
- Let the parents say this. It is not for anyone else to say this TO the parents. If the parents find comfort in religion, let them express it.
- “As long as the baby is healthy.”
- No, just no! We love our kids when they are healthy and when they not! But we certainly don’t love them any less if they have health concerns.
- Any sentence that starts with “as long as” or “at least”…
- This isn’t something that should be compared with a worse case scenario. This is our reality, there is no “at least” situation that will make my reality less real.
- “My neighbor went through the same thing…”
- Good for your neighbor, but we were talking about me and my situation!
- “What is the long term prognosis?”
- Really?! I am living in the moment. Tomorrow, next week and next year don’t matter. It’s the situation here and now I am learning to deal with.
- “Will he live a full life?”
- Yes, I was actually asked this once!
Use these words of comfort to show your genuine concern:
- “I am sorry. I don’t know what to say.”
- Admitting that the situation touches you deeply is honest and perfectly fine to do.
- “Let me bring you dinner.”
- Some of us feel more valuable if we offer a tangible action or item. Feeding a tired family is always a great idea.
- “Let me take your kids for the day.”
- Helping with siblings is a win-win for the parents and the children. The siblings may need a change of scenery and the parents welcome a guilt-free visit to the hospital or even just a quiet shower.
- “Let me (fill in the blanks with any tangible helpful gesture).”
- Your friend may not know what kind of help she needs. She needs you to take the initiative.
- “I am thinking of/ praying for you.”
- Regardless of faith you cannot go wrong with this statement.
- “Is it OK if I check in with you via phone/ text?”
- A quick text or voicemail is always heart warming. She may not return the call any time soon, but she will know you care.
- “I am here when you need me.”
- “Stay strong!”
- Acknowledging that she is already strong… simple and beautiful.
We say comforting cliches such as “everything will be fine” or “things will work themselves out” – and we say them with great conviction. These statements are used in an attempt to calm and instill confidence in the future – without basing it on anything.
Personally, those empty proclamations have the opposite effect on me. We never know for sure that things will be OK, so reassuring your friend with those words merely discounts her feelings. She may feel brushed off and far from validated.
Instead, LISTEN to her, REALLY listen, and then tell her how the situation makes you feel. It’s OK if you are at a loss for words, scared or sad – chances are, so is she!
A little bit of your time and a chunk of your heart is all someone ever needs to feel your love. When offering support to another parent, remember that you aren’t expected to fix their problems – but it’s the fact that you are present (mentally and/ or physically) and care about her situation that will truly make a difference.
In short: show up, LISTEN and be there for her – nothing further is required! Your presence is the perfect present.
For more ideas on how to “Care for the Caregiver”: “When Mom Gets Sick“, “Build (a Network) and They Will Come” and “Preventing Caregiver Burnout: 5 People You Need on Your Support Team”