When Kenzie girl died and grief cast its dark shadow over our lives, the kindness of family, friends and strangers brought rays of sunshine and hope to our lives. To this day, I remember and treasure all the acts of kindness that was shown to us, it was humanity at its finest.
Over the years, I have spoken to other families who have walked this really tough journey discussing some of the wonderful support and things that have helped us through, and also some of the stupidest and careless things people have said.
With this in mind, I thought I would share a few tips and examples of what to, and what not to say to a parent that has lost a child.
Top of the list of things not to say is to say that a higher being loved their child more and they are in a better place, i.e.
"God loved them more," or "They are in a better place now."
While that maybe your belief system, for most parents, they could not love anything more than their child, and the place their child should be, is with them.
Much better to say, "I wish I knew what to say, just know I am here for you."
This way, you are recognising their grief, distress and offering unconditional support.
Another clanger that we often hear is, "There is a reason for everything," or "It's God's plan."
Again, a big no no. There is no higher reason for a child to be faced with a life threatening illness, invasive medical procedures and their young lives cut short. It's a devastating result of genetics and DNA going awry and a body not doing what we need it to do. A cruel twist of biology brought on by no one.
Empathy and compassion can be articulated by saying, "You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers," or "I'm so sorry for your loss, I am here for you."
Another notable example of distressing words uttered is, whenever we loss a partner, parent or sibling we would never think to say to a person, "Sure, you'll soon find another one," but for some reason, when we lose a child, people will often say, "At least you can still have another child..."
Idiots....you can't replace a child with another... just like you can't replace your partner, mum, dad, brother, sister.
This statement gets rolled out time and time again, and all of the families I have walked this journey with have had it said to them at one point.
Which brings me to another example of stupidity, one which is an example of the thinking that a positive mind can beat cancer and death from cancer is a failure in the fight against it.
This one, I heard from a Dale Carnegie representative who had been reading "The Secret." I had just presented to an audience about Kenzie and my journey with cancer, and she asked to me, "So why are you here?"
I knew exactly where this was going as I had heard many platitudes from The Secret on how we could wish our futures to be just so...in some way implicating we were responsible for our cancer, survivorship or passing.
She then proceeded to say, "You are here because you choose to be here, Kenzie choose to die," someway implicating if Kenzie had been tougher and fought harder, she could have chosen to survive....arrrggghhhhh.
This is also similar to stating, "They came here to do what they needed to do and it was their time to go."
Much better to say nothing at all than say these type of things. Give a hug and just be with the person instead. There is support in silence too.
One final example of things to say is, while wanting to articulate solidarity with someone who has lost a child only say, "I know how you feel," if you've lost a child. If you haven't, its best to say, "I don't know how you feel, but I am here for you," this way, you are recognising their grief and offering support.
It is tough not knowing what to say, for fear of saying the wrong thing. We understand and know that is hard, it takes courage to be there for friends and family through tough stuff. But being thoughtful about your words, being supportive and being there makes a huge difference. It made a difference in our lives through all the trauma.
So please be there for friends, show empathy, kindness and solidarity.
Don't try to fix it, you can't. You can be the support through the tough times. Recognise the feelings, don't try to change them, this is a long term journey with grief and it's not time limited. Remember to recognise the loss, admitting we can't make it better. Talk about the loved one and share memories, this is part of their legacy and indeliable footprint they have left behind.
Always remember, a moments kindness can carry someone through their darkest hour.
Thank you to everyone for their moments of kindness they have shown to us.