The loss of a parent to cancer is devastating to the children they leave behind. Give InKind sat down with those directly impacted by the loss of a parent (now adults, recollecting) – and with those adults who have offered assistance to bereaved children who lost a parent to cancer.
Sarah Carlson lost her mother to cancer when she was a young adult. Says Sarah:
“My mother was the center of our family. Losing her when I was a young adult was devastating and continues to impact my life daily. Having her friends lend their time to just be with me, even in the most casual of ways – a walk, a dinner date, a hello note with a memory of my mother, was invaluable. It helped to make me feel closer to her and helped to make me feel like a female figure I could look up to was there if I needed them."
Now a mother herself, Sarah regularly offers to help families in her community who are coping with similar loss. In fact, it was Sarah herself who suggested this post.
Kate Kortbus is a mother of four children who makes time to assist bereaved children in families devastated by cancer.
Kate reminds that one of the most important things a friend or family member can do to fill the chasm a parent leaves behind is to start slowly in establishing a trusting relationship with the bereaved child. For example, set aside an hour a week to take the child to do something without any pressure – grab an ice cream cone, or get a pedicure. In other words, find an activity to share where a child can develop a relationship with the person offering comfort.
Simultaneously, one should develop a relationship with the surviving spouse that enables this emergent friend/child relationship. Let them know that you are not expecting any reciprocity. Say that you would just like to help in this way. Be sure to communicate with them regularly. E-mail/text is a great way to communicate information, because it is hard to know when a bereaved spouse has the head space to meet in person or even talk on the phone.
Next, try to anticipate milestones as they approach. This is where developing a trusting relationship will pay off. Says Kate:
“Depending on the age of the child, a parent friend could think about what milestone the child is approaching and offer the surviving spouse help with meeting a need.”
If the death to cancer was that of a mother and she leaves a young daughter, consider helping her to understand what will happen when she begins to menstruate. Think about making a day of taking her bra shopping.
If the death to cancer was that of a father and he leaves a young son, consider helping him to buy male sports equipment such as an athletic cup. Or, talk to him about when and how to begin shaving.
Topics such as these are the reason that the establishment of a trusting relationship between all surviving parties is so critical. Says Kate:
“People might otherwise be uncomfortable with making it all about these sensitive milestones.”
Regardless of gender, talk about emergent interests in all arenas. Engagement in the arts can be hugely therapeutic. Sports teams can build community as well – but all are time consuming. Think about ways to promote extracurricular interests and offer assistance in their execution.
Children who experience the death of parent may have trouble learning to trust that the relationships they rely on will be lasting and sustaining. Adult friends who step up are to be honored – but these adults must understand at the outset that engagement with these particular children is a marathon, not a sprint. Prior to stepping up, they should consider whether they truly have staying power. These children are special. They are deserving of long-term commitment in this regard.
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