My brother was 12 when he was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer.
I was 19– going to college, working part-time, and living at home. It was the first day of my junior year: the day my world turned upside down. I was at a friend’s house when I got a phone call from mom. Something was wrong. “You just need to come home . . . now,” she cried. I prayed the whole way home that everything would be okay, but it wasn’t. Within a few days, he was diagnosed. Four months later, right after the fall semester ended, my little brother was gone.
It’s been almost a decade since I watched my family fall apart and slowly rebuild again . . . without him. In the dark days of grieving, we were blessed to have some incredible people helping us navigate life after loss. To this day, friends continue to offer support.
To the bereaved families, I am so sorry.
To the friends who will stand beside them, thank you.
From someone who’s been there, here’s how to support a bereaved family:
What We Need You to Say
“I’m sorry. It’s not fair.” These simple words bring great comfort. Acknowledge our pain instead of trying to take it away. And sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all. Be angry with us. Be sad with us. Cry with us. And when in doubt, hugs are good.
What We Need You to Do
Make meals, do some yard work, take the dog for a walk, help with family transportation needs, or take the kids out for lunch. Grief is paralyzing. It’s hard to think about doing anything. I remember people leaving meals on our doorstep, neighbors mowing the lawn, and my friend driving me to the mall because I needed a dress for the funeral.
What We Need You to Know
Don’t expect us to be the way we were. And don’t assume we will eventually move on. After the grieving (which never disappears), there is no new normal. We will never feel normal. It is so not normal (or fair) to lose a child to cancer. So we learn to live differently. We learn to live with grief. In reality, grief lives with us.
We Still Struggle
In the seven years since my brother’s death, I graduated college, got married, moved to a new state, and had a baby. My life is filled with joy, but I still struggle with painful memories. My friends text me on my brother’s birthday and send me flowers on the day he passed. They hug me when I cry as I hold my new baby because now I feel my parents’ loss on a deeper level. I am thankful for friends who help me when I am hurt. Your support means the world to me.
Originally published September 2016.