What do you say when your best friend’s child has been diagnosed with cancer? I didn’t know how to comfort a grieving mother. But these tips helped…
What do you say to a mother, your best friend, who’s 4 year old was just diagnosed with Leukemia? What do you do when you live several states away from her? I don’t know how to comfort a grieving mother, even my very best friend!
From personal experience I know what NOT to say, I know what NOT to do. But all of a sudden I am at a loss for words. Instantly my mind goes to all the cliche terms that used to drive me nuts. Thankfully I am censoring myself, activating my filter and using my best judgement – because I do NOT want to be the person who says something insensitive, rude or hurtful in a vague attempt to make myself feel better about the situation.
(This post was originally published in October 2013. It was updated for accuracy June 2019.)
Automatically any sentence that starts with “well, at least…” has been disqualified. There is no “silver lining”, no “it’s all part of God’s plan” that will make a hurting mother feel better about watching her son endure painful medical procedures just to save his life.
I don’t even think about saying “God only gives us what we can handle” – or any variation thereof. Right now she feels like she is drowning in emotions and information, as waves of the unknown keep knocking her off her feet.
My standard go-to line is “I am so sorry. I am at a loss for words”, when I genuinely don’t know what to say or do. I also send her random text messages or emails throughout the day to let her know that I am thinking of her – with the knowledge that she is overwhelmed and will probably not reply to half of them, but at least she knows that I in her corner of the ring at all times. Every gesture of concern and kindness, every phone call, text and prayer is sent without any expectation of her getting back in touch with me – she will do so when the waves subside and she can come up for air.
I want to ask if there is anything I can do, but I also know that SHE doesn’t even know what to do for herself and her child – so how would she know what I can do for her? Instead, I try to suggest specific things to help her – in this case I have offered to send her warm comfy clothes for her countless hours sitting bedside in a freezing oncology department.
Before you offer comforting words to a grieving parent, please stop and think – “will this comment make ME or THEM feel better?”! Most often we fill the airwaves with random empty sayings in an attempt to shut off the deafening silence.
My friend and I have shared many tough times over the past 20 years. When times get really hard, we have been known to call one another and say “just be there on the other end of the phone, but I can’t speak, and I don’t need you to speak either”.
Sometimes breathing is all she can do – and all she needs YOU to do.
Danielle – I am here, breathing in silence with you.