Ways you can help

Help the family in practical ways

It is very hard for someone to ask for support, especially as they may not know what they need. Talk to the family and suggest ways you would like to help. This could include:

  • Providing a regular food run

  • Organising a rota for gardening

  • Organising regular house cleaning

  • Walking the dogs

  • Arranging to pick the other children up from school, take them on outings, having sleepovers

  • Arrange regular shopping.

Offer emotional support

Be brave. Don't be afraid to talk about cancer.

Often people feel they don't know what to say or what support to offer. Here are just a few suggestions as to what some families have found helpful.

  • Ask about what is happening to the family and their child. Don't shy away from asking about how the treatment is going, how their child is doing and how the other members of the family are coping.

  • Give the family space. They will need time to be together after hospital admissions, especially if the treatment is intensive.

  • Don't feel the need to offer advice. Sometimes what is needed is a friend to listen to what is happening and how that person is feeling without offering solutions.

  • If you know someone whose child has died it is important to have the courage to talk about this. Don't be afraid to mention the child's name or to talk about them. Share your memories of that child. You may be sharing new memories of their child and they may be learning things about their child they didn't know before. You are not going to be reminding them of something painful as there are constant reminders everday. They havent forgotten their child and it is important that they know you haven't either. To hear you talk about their child brings joy, comfort, pleasure and a knowledge that you haven't forgotten them, that you remember them, that you still hold their child in your heart.

What not to say:

It is often difficult to know what to say to a parent who is grieving the loss of their child and we can't always get it right. Try to check out with the parent how they are feeling and whether they want you to comment or just to listen. It may be useful to know that the following things are often said to grieving parents and that they can make people feel worse, no matter how well intended.

  • "I know exactly how you feel". The death of a child or young person from a life-threatening illness is like no other situation. Try to offer empathy and support without likening it to your situation, unless you have experienced the same.

  • "Well, at least you have another child". Even if a family has more than one child, the death of any child is devastating. Each child is unique and different, one does not simply replace another.
  • "Cancer only happens to children who can handle it". Cancer can happen to anyone regardless of their ability to cope. Some children and families appear to cope better than others. But all will experience feelings of fear, devastation, loss of hope, exhaustion, isolation at some point in their journey. Everyone needs support