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Wording of letter to bereaved parent after loss of child

(9 Posts)
Kr1stina Thu 03-Nov-16 19:23:48

My friend Kate ( not her real name ) has asked me for my advice on her draft letter/ card to her friends Susan and John ( again not real names ) who have just lost their son to cancer after a year of treatment. She's asking me because I've lost a child after a long illness (not cancer ) and she doesn't want to say " the wrong thing" .

I've had a really strong negative reaction to what she's written and I want to ask

1. Is it just me and I'm over reacting ?
2. If not, how can I put it tactfully / logically why this isn't a good thing to say ?

I should say straight up that Kate is a lovely person ,who wants to reach out and support her friend. She is also smart enough to ask for advice . So you can see that she is really great and I don't want to upset her.

Basically the letter is all about how great Susan and John are, how brave they have been , how they and their son have battled and fought against the illness , they are the bravest people she knows and like heroes to her , they just have to go on fighting this pain , that they are so strong and they can overcome it .

I can't relate to any of this stuff and it actually makes me a bit angry. I know it's well intentioned but to me it seems way off the mark . Is it just me?

KateInKorea Thu 03-Nov-16 22:46:31

It doesn't seem very authentic. Have you advised her about what perhaps might be better (e.g. To talk about the son, to commit to being there for them, keeping it a lot simpler)

ScrubbedPine Thu 03-Nov-16 22:56:22

I think most people who have cancer or have been bereaved by cancer find the prevalent metaphors of battle and fighting particularly unhelpful - the logical implication, apart from anything else, is that if you don't recover, you haven't 'fought' hard enough. And surely bereaved parents shouldn't be exhorted to do anything? In the earl stages of horrifying grief like that you don't want to 'overcome' it, because that would mean forgetting your child!

Just try to get her to stop telling them to do things, using battle metaphors about illness, and just talk about their son and express her sympathy for their loss. I think anyone who's lost a child or a spouse knows very well that lots of the time people are mostly thinking 'Thank God it's not me' when they're not avoiding you out of fear or awkwardness.

Sorry for your own loss, OP.

Kr1stina Fri 04-Nov-16 13:45:30

Thank you both. I'm glad it's not just me, I actually felt quite angry and upset but struggled to articulate why .

I find all the " you are so brave " stuff so difficult. Because we weren't brave, our son was. We just kept going with everything, which is all your can do , because what's the alternative ? Give up?

I also struggled when people said " I don't know how you cope, I never could, you are so much braver than me " . Because we WERENT " coping " , we just had to keep on keeping on through his illness and after he died. Because we had other kids mainly. If it was up to me I would have gone to bed , pulled the covers over my head and never got up again . I didn't have the luxury of a nervous breakdown :-(

For me it's like the people who spout the clap trap about " God has chosen him to be a special angel " . We didn't want to be special or brave or heroes, we just wanted to be a normal family and have normal healthy kids.

So this letter just pushed all my buttons and I couldn't trust myself to deal with it appropriately . I asked DH who said helpfully " what a lot of bullsihit, tell her to rip it up " .

Which didn't help me know what to say to her :-(

Lapinlapin Fri 04-Nov-16 13:55:57

I'm sorry for your loss and for that of Kate's friend's

I have lost someone close to me, but not a child. I know it's nowhere near the same.

I do think that the battle image is wrong. As is the bravery idea. And those who say 'I couldn't do it/ cope' etc are spectacularly unhelpful. You have no choice.

Plus they won't 'overcome' the pain. They will have to live with it forever.

I think the letter is too positive, if that makes sense? She is trying too hard to make things better for them, but actually people need time to grieve and to have their pain acknowledged. Nothing anyone can say will make it better, but by trying to look ahead to the future too much certainly isn't going to help.

Surely an acknowledgement of their loss and some nice words about the son would be better? It is nice to hear anecdotes about the person you have lost - memories you may have forgotten, or even just the realisation that he was important to lots of other people too.

Leapling Fri 04-Nov-16 13:58:33

The words I've valued most have been those that use DDs name and share memories of her and how she made people feel. Just simple thinking of you and DD, sending love etc is fine too. Also acknowledge how awful it is but without saying she understands how they're feeling.

Like you, I find mentions of brave annoying. Firstly, because we are not. And also we are sick of being told to stay strong - why should we?! DH has been told to stay strong for me so much and it's frustrating.

If she doesn't know their faith, stay clear of any religious language.

It is kind she wants to write and I would appreciate that along with any specific offers of help.

Sorry for your loss too.

Kr1stina Fri 04-Nov-16 14:42:57

In fairness I should add that Kate didn't say any of the " God has chosen them " stuff. I was just reminded of things that people said to us at the time.

In fact we do have a faith, but in fact none of that is mentioned in the bible at all. I mean about God choosing children to be angels or being on a star or whatever. I think it owes more to Walt Disney than the Bible. If people find these ideas or images helpful ( I don't ) then that's fine for them. But they are not traditionally part of any Judeo Christian belief system .

I'm not even sure if I'm making sense now :-(

Blue2014 Fri 04-Nov-16 14:47:53

I'm so sorry for you loss. I dislike the fight/battle image too with the implication to 'stay strong'. I don't even know what strong really means in such circumstances but it also implies it not ok to absolutely break down (which of course it is). I'm glad she asked you.

GnomeDePlume Thu 17-Nov-16 06:51:12

From my own experience grief isnt one emotion it is a blanket term covering a lot of emotions including anger.

Please dont be angry at your friend. She is trying to find the right words to say. Explain to your friend why the words about battling and courage arent helpful.

So what is helpful?

- acknowledging the pain and loss but avoiding saying that this is not something Kate could cope with. We all have to cope with the things we have to cope with.
- offering support whether it is an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on or a pair of hands to take on some practical task that Susan and John dont want to have to manage themselves right now

Other than that? Encourage Kate to keep in touch with Susan and John not by text so much but by phone or by visiting. Another emotion I felt was loneliness.

This will be hard for you as well.

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