What do you say to the parents?

Andy_JapanFebruary 14, 2005

My brother who is 52 is suffering from cancer and is not expected to live long. I will be flying to the U.S. for the funeral but I am at a loss as to what to say to my parents. The main problem is my brother and I were never close. There was no animosity - but we had little in common. And what about my parents friends? They were not close to my brother either. What can they say? Of course, you listen and offer support, but isn't it awkward when the grieving parents cared so much while others didn't. Won't everything that anyone says sound false, or insincere? I'm afraid that anything less than an enthusiatic outpouring of love and praise will make matters worse and just serve to upset my parents and alienate them from the people who want to help.

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Hello Andy,I am the 52yr old mother of a 30year old son who is losing his battle with cancer. The only thing I can suggest to you is to focus on your parents grief. Let them know that you are so sorry that they are suffering like this and that you know how much your brother means to them. Just hug them and hold them if that is something you are comfortable with. I know that there is absolutely nothing anyone can say to make it any better but I know I grab onto any positive comments people make about my Glenn. I have a need to talk about him and I imagine it would be awful if people felt they could not talk about him when he is gone. You may be able to say, I wish we had been closer but we are two very different people who love you both very much and I am so sorry that his life is ending so soon. It is better to say nothing than to say anything negative about your brother. (I have 5 brothers and sisters and get on very well with 2, distant with 2 and little to do with the fifth, so I can understand having nothing in common with siblings although wishing them no ill.)
You cannot be responsible for what others say - if they are your parent's friends they probably know a lot of family history and hopefully they will know how to act.
Is there any possibility of returning to the US for a visit while your brother is still here or would that be too difficult? Have you thought of writing a letter to your brother - not out of guilt because you have no need for that - but just to express your thoughts. I know my son doesn't want people fussing over him but he has really appreciated notes from some people and I in turn appreciate that these people have made the effort. Maybe a letter to your parents as well, again not apologising for your relationship with your brother but expressing your sympathy and love for them.
Best wishes to you, Elspeth

    Bookmark   February 15, 2005 at 3:05AM
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Nell Jean

I'm sorry you and your brother didn't have the rapport that some siblings do. It's very hard to infer your agenda from a short post. It really doesn't matter.

Why would anyone want to say something insincere or false? There are many kind phrases that are truthful:
"This is a very sad time.
"He meant so much to you, I know.
"It's not in the scheme of things that you outlive your children.
"Remember how he used to _________ when he was a little boy?
(fill in the blank with something with meaning to the parents)
"He was always good at _____________ (some positive skill).
"He'll be missed so much (without saying by whom).

It usually isn't necessary to say a lot to grieving parents. They have plenty to say, and you can nod and agree with whatever they say, just for this one event. Try to draw them out to tell more of things they bring up about the deceased without becoming argumentative or hostile. If they say he won a prize for being the best at something and you know that isn't true, just say, "Oh, that's something I must have forgotten about, (or never knew or something)."
Tell them that you love them. You're not expected to 'take your brother's place' -- you have a place of your own in everybody's heart even if you don't realize it.

I expect your parents' friends are mature enough to have been through similar experiences in the past and have enough social skills to do the right thing. From my point of view, as the parent of an adult child who died, there was nothing that anybody could have done or said that really made a tremendous difference but kindness was certainly appreciated. Simple acts of caring go a long way. The ability to graciously just be there is an admirable skill.

I'm sorrry for your loss, too.


    Bookmark   February 15, 2005 at 2:08PM
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I cannot even imagine the pain of losing a child. But I do know the pain of losing parents, and I know that people don't even have to say anything. Their presence alone is indicative of support and caring. Don't worry about saying anything. If family friends express their condolences to you, a simple "thank you" is enough. As for your parents, if they need to talk about your brother, the best thing you can do is just listen.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2005 at 10:24AM
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Thank you all for your responses. I've been busy trying to get ready to leave for the U.S. - organizing things at home and at work, but now it looks like I won't be going so soon since the time is not as near as the doctors had thought.

Elspeth, what a beautiful name. I am so sorry about your son - he is so very young, You said some important things. First I did write him a letter but he wouldn't let my father read it - he was too angry with me. I suppose he is no different from anyone who has a terminal disease - they are full of anger. But still, it was a shock, making me feel helpless and upsetting my paretns a lot.

As far as returning home, yes, that is very hard, but I don't think he wants to see me, which seems contrary to everything I've read, that dying people want to reconcile before they go.

Nell, you gave me some good ideas. I'm not worried that friends of my parents will say anything bad, it's just that they won't be able to say how much they loved him or what a great guy he was or something like "Remember when we all... and wasn't that fun"

    Bookmark   February 17, 2005 at 8:43PM
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I'm sorry that you are going through this...and I know what it's like to be a surviving sibling...it's so hard to see your parents go through something like this. The only thing I can suggest...is be there for them. Listen, tolerate their mood swings, and let them know that you love them. Nothing is going to take away the pain...nothing.

Also, take care of yourself. You may not be that close with your brother...but realize that this may be more difficult for you than you think. It may not hit you right away...but one day when you're driving down the street, or dusting your house, or hear a certain song on the radio...it will hit you. Make sure you are willing to accept your feelings and to reach out to others. I made the mistake of trying to be the "strong one" for my parents...I wanted to take care of them. As a result, I cut off my feelings, I became withdrawn with my husband...and it almost cost me my marriage.

I guess what I am trying to say is, take care of your parents...they will need you more now than ever. BUT remember that you need to good to yourself and try to practice "self care" in any way you know how to.

Good luck and my thoughts are with you and your family.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2005 at 8:21PM
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Andy, I agree with the others who say that you should focus on your parents' grief.
I wish so much that you and your brother could reconcile before he leaves. I would think that it would be even more important for you to go now rather than to wait until he is gone if traveling twice would be a problem. I also would think that it would be a great comfort to your parents for you and your brother to be reconciled when he leaves. I wish you the best and I know this must be so difficult.
Please meet my 19 year old daughter, Christin.

Here is a link that might be useful: Christin Cosby Memorial Web Site

    Bookmark   February 24, 2005 at 12:09PM
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