In 2009 I sat in Shelly’s chair to get my hair cut and ended up crying with her as she told me she was fighting cancer. You can read that story called “It’s Just Hair” here.
I will never forget the time last year when I found out within the same week that blog and real life friends Vern, Elaine and Amy were battling cancer. You can read that story here.
Over the years, God has enriched my life as I have watched Him give and take away.
He gave me much needed closure only He could orchestrate with my childhood friend Jen’s mom Patsy, who I thought hated me, just days before her last moment on earth ended from cancer.
He blessed me with a night to watch over and care for then 1-year-old sweet chubby-cheeked Kaden Pauli before he went to sit on Jesus’ lap at the tender age of 3.
He steered me with perfect timing into the life of fellow blogger Melanie Dorsey, just months before her 12-year-old Andrew was diagnosed with brain cancer.
He allowed me to be part of a prayer team for fellow blogger Lisa Smith. Something I got to hear about this summer way after our bedtime in a hotel room in North Carolina that would forever change my life.
And in that same hotel room on that same night hugged and cried with fellow blogger Tammy Nischan as I realized she was the Mom of Nick. A young boy I had prayed for at the request of Melanie, who lost his 6 year battle with cancer at the age of 13.
Or the spring when He allowed Gene and I to be in the room visiting the beautiful, young single Mom, Charity when after being unresponsive for 2 days woke long enough to sing herself into heaven. You can read that life-altering witnessing of God’s sweet mercy here.
He introduced me to Joy, my beautiful Canadian friend through blogging then in real life in 2008 at She Speaks, who is in battle with ovarian cancer as I type.
Only God would have me double-check a bill at work before I mailed it out to some tenants. Only to find out when the landlord Stacia called me that the bill didn’t make any sense. Only to reveal the real reason for the billing mess up was that God wanted us to meet. Stacia too was fighting for her life and lives right here in my city. She has become friends with Amy mentioned above-same ages, same cancer. Divine set-up.
Last year my friend of over 30 years, Patti, was in the ring boxing it out with a rare cancer in her neck. So rare she was #15 to get it. She is now in remission. Praise God.
Then I recently shared of Michael, a young father and marine fighting the biggest battle of his life against the ferocious brain cancer.
What the heck Lord? Why am I crossing paths with so much pain?
When I’m faced with battles such as these…
The nursing care taker in me wants to fix them.
I’m desperate to find the cure that has yet to be found.
I want to give their bodies back the strength that weakness overpowered them with.
I scramble for words and want to make sure the right ones find their way from my heart to theirs as I search for the perfect scripture.
Have you ever found yourself in this position?
Over the course of life we will find ourselves in a place that we are on the outside looking into a world that has been rocked. Natural instinct wants to comfort the hurting and hopefully say something that will embrace them through their pain.
But often times, we accidentally offend instead of comfort. We cause anger instead of provide peace.
So what do you say to someone who is walking a path they themselves can’t believe they are traveling?
And what does one do when the battle you found yourself in the trenches fighting on behalf of someone comes to an end? What do you do or say when your friends’ child exhales their final breath of life?
A few years ago, I stumbled upon a beautiful blog called Bella Mella written by Melanie Dorsey. She posted daily advice on how to dress and always had pictures of herself in outfits she had put together for next to nothing. I had been visiting her blog for just a few months when suddenly her fashion advice was pushed aside and her main subject was her son Andrew. Her gorgeous 12-year-old who was diagnosed with brain cancer. In August 2009 when he should have been in school, he was in hospitals. Before Christmas the Dorsey family celebrated his life a few weeks before the day marked to celebrate their Savior’s. The pain of seeing another Mom say goodbye to her child in person or through a blog is really unbearable.
A year before I got married to Gene, God introduced me to my forever love, little brown-eyed Matthew DeBoer. I fell in love with his smile I saw in pictures of him in his wheelchair at the pumpkin patch his Mom Dena proudly showed her co-workers back in ’98. Matthew went to heaven before he made it into the double digits, but cancer is not what took his life.
I include him in this post not only because I love him, but when he died, there was no hug tight enough I could give Dena to express my sorrow that she lost her sweet Matthew. There were no words of comfort for Kristin that I could put deep enough into her heart when she lost precious 3-year-old Kaden. And there was nothing I could say to Melanie that would bring life back into her Andrew.
I certainly could not relate to the pain these women felt. I mean, my children’s bodies still house a beating heart. I don’t know their sorrow nor do I pretend to, and I hope it’s never an understanding I know first hand, but I still wanted to say something to them. Do something for them.
I have never been told of a diagnosis that can leave my family without me like my friends with cancer have heard. That is a fear I have not had to grope my way through the dark hoping to find some understanding.
But watching a friend in battle for their life or standing in battle with them as they fight on behalf of a loved one is a hard place to be. Nobody wants life to change for the worse for anyone, so when death takes from their family circle, we have to know what to say or what not to say.
Recently, Melanie wrote something that I found really helpful called Suggestions for Friends of a Grieving Parent and I want to share it with you.
In August 2009, our beautiful 12 yr. old son, Andrew Christopher Dorsey, was diagnosed with brain cancer. After 4 surgeries and in less than 4 months he left this world for Heaven.
I have written a few suggestions for friends of a grieving parent.
- Realize that the grieving parent may be able to do things in the first days of loss that she will not even imagine doing a month from now. So don’t expect that “healing” will be an incremental process. It’s often one step forward and two steps back.
- Realize that emotions are often stronger than knowledge. It may not be the right thing to say, “He’s in a better place.” Of course he is in a “better place” but a parent wants her child with her.
- Realize that in the grieving process, laughter and tears coexist. They are each a gift from God.
- Follow the lead of the grieving parent regarding talking about her child. She does not want him forgotten. He still lives…just not with her anymore. (It was very difficult to hear my son talked about in the past tense so I often used present tense and often still do almost a year later.)
- Realize that the grieving parent will do things in her time and in God’s time. Friends and family so want the parent to “feel better fast” but that feeling of being “rushed” is another burden placed upon the parent.
- Please DO NOT compare the loss of an elderly parent to the loss of a child. It IS NOT the same at all.
- Please DO NOT compare the “grief” experienced when a child goes off to college to the excruciating loss of a child.
- If you are unsure what to say, just say you are sorry and you are praying. Often an embrace and sharing tears is better than offering a trite or pat phrase.
- Don’t feel you need to offer suggestions for the grieving parent to get back to “normal” or to find a “new normal.” (I, personally, detest the phrase ‘new normal.’) Grieving is a process (hate that word, too) and it takes a lot of time. A THOUSAND things every day and night are bitter realizations that you no longer have your child with you.
- Realize that every relationship is changed when a parent loses a child because the grieving parent IS changed forever. I, personally, felt “marked” and different. The first few times I went to the grocery store, I cringed when an employee casually asked, “How are you today?” I would usually mumble, “Ok” when I really wanted to scream, “My son just died!!!”
Regarding #6, My heart goes out to those young women I personally know who both lost their mothers. I think, other than losing a child, that the loss of a parent at such a young age is so tragic and a deep loss.
The next time you find yourself in a place that you want your words to bring comfort and not add to their pain, take these helpful tips from a Mom who knows what her heart needs to hear. And don’t ever close the door for her to stop talking about her child, because he or she will always be just that. Her child.
And if you have a friend fighting for her life with breast, ovarian or whatever other kind of cancer has tried to take her out, and her battle has crossed the bridge into Survivor Island, don’t stop the encouragement and prayers.
She may just need you now more than ever.