A couple weeks ago, a colleague asked me a personal question. Her friend had heard the worst words that a parent ever will hear…that her son had only weeks to live after his cancer returned, and would need to be placed on hospice. She asked if I had any advice since I had been in that same awful situation just three short years ago as we watched our beautiful 5-year-old daughter pass away from neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer, after relapsing. She wanted to know ways in which she could help but at the same time did not want to be a bother. What they are facing is insurmountable, unthinkable and a parent’s worst nightmare.
Everyone reacts differently in these situations. Some want to feel supported and have people around to help, and some just want to soak up every last ounce of time alone as a family. It’s such a raw time for everyone. Here are five ways you can support a family facing this grim reality at the holidays.
1. Choo Choo! Set up a Meal Train
One way to ease the stress so they don’t have to leave their child’s side is to set up a meal train. They need to eat, but the last thing on anyone’s mind is cooking. Even gift cards to restaurants so they can pick up the food or have it delivered is awesome.
2. Be a Secret Santa
It’s supposed to be a magical time, but no one can even think of sneaking away to purchase presents, let alone wrap them! Have someone organize a gift buying & wrapping party to make it memorable for the entire family so they can focus on what matters most…their loved one! If you live far away, Amazon makes it super easy to set up an account to purchase, wrap & ship them to the family! 3. Flood their Mailbox
Send mail & cards for their child to open! He/she may be unstable, but can still enjoy opening letters, gifts & cards from family & friends…and these will be treasured by the family after their child passes. As hard as that is to write, I still like to look at all the notes, cards, and pictures family and friends sent to us when our daughter was on hospice.
4. Be There
Most importantly, be there for the entire family once their child passes. After the memorial service, everyone gets to go home to their family…and they get to go home to an empty bedroom surrounded by all of their child’s memories & pictures, and it is the most isolating feeling in the world. I was so grateful for friends who called me up to grab a walk or coffee…and just let me cry.
5. Say Their Child’s Name
Last, after their child passes…say his name. Remember her. Talk about funny stories & memories. Remember her on holidays or send his mom a birthday card on his birthday. She carried him before he was born & she will carry the crushing weight of his loss every moment afterwards.