Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What to Say and Do for Those left Behind

A note came home from school the other day. It was sent out to all of the parents at my daughter's school. A mother died of breast cancer last week and since it is a small school many of the children know the family of the deceased. I personally did not. It really doesn't matter though, I cried anyway. Another mom lost to this disease. On the way home from school my daughter asked me what the note was about. I couldn't talk about it so I said, "Oh, it is nothing. Just something for grown ups to read." I couldn't bear to think about it so I put the envelope aside hoping the topic wouldn't come up again.

When I was at school later on that day, one of the mom's asked me an interesting question. She said, "What can we do for this family? They have been very private about her illness and now that she is gone we aren't sure what we should do. We just want to help them so much." I had to stop and think hard about this for a minute. I know how this family feels in one way and yet I know nothing about what this family feels in another way. I am still cancer free at this time but the whole question gave me pause and made me think long and hard about what it is that helped me through my battle.

What helped the most was the support of friends and members of my community. Many people didn't even ask me if I needed something, they just did it. They took the children for the afternoon so that I could sleep, they bought Christmas presents for my children, they made chocolate chip cookies and left them on my doorstep for me to find. They were thoughtful in so many ways. This situation is a little different. A father is left to parent his children without a mother. How will he manage? How will the children manage? My guess is that they will do it exactly the way that I did, they will get by with a little help from their friends and family.

Last night my daughter asked me if I knew about the mother who died. I started to cry. "Yes," I said, "That was what the letter was about." She looked at me a little bit puzzled. "Did she have cancer like you, mommy?" My mind was racing as I tried to figure out what to say. "Well, she had the same cancer but it was a worse one." I fudged. I have no idea about this woman's diagnosis but I want to believe that hers was different from mine. For all of us. She wouldn't let it go. "Mommy, are you going to die when I am a teenager?" She continued, "Because that would be bad. Daddy wouldn't know what to do." My heart felt heavy as I assured her that no such thing was going to happen to her mother. But all I can do is hope.

I imagine that the best thing that this mother can do for this family is to watch and wait. There will be time to help. Grieving is a long process and in time, I am sure that this family will reach out to the community. They will get there when they get there. I would say, just be ready "to do" when the time comes.

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