At a time when I want to express sympathy for someone, those words just don't seem very powerful. I am not a religious person so never offer my prayers to people as that would be insincere, but somehow telling people you're thinking of them doesn't seem to carry the same weight. Two families have been in my thoughts a lot lately.
The first is a schoolmate of my daughter's. I know the parents casually but we are not close. Their son is in 7th grade and has had leukemia on and off since he was 3. Twice after chemo and other treatments the cancer went into remission only to return a year or so later. It recently came back for the third time. This time around they are trying a bone marrow transplant. His younger sister (age 7, same as my daughter) is the closest match in their family and will be the donor. He is currently in the hospital receiving the pre-transplant treatment. She will be going in to the hospital on Friday for the transplant (is it called a harvest when it's marrow, I'm not sure?).
She is in the same Brownie troup as my daughter and we stopped at another Brownie's house this morning to sign a card for the girl. My daughter and I talked for a while about what to write and what was going on with the family. While she is old enough to understand death, so far those deaths have been of older people or pets, not kids. It's been hard to talk about terminal illness in a way that doesn't scare her. Having said that I did encourage her to think about the emotions her schoolmate is probably feeling right now and even if they are not close, it is important to support people in tough times. On the way to the house we talked about what she would write and she settled on, "I am proud of you for being so brave. I hope everything goes well." and signed her name. Simple but sincere.
The family has set up a blog on carepages.com to keep everyone up to date on the treatment and progress, which is great. I can't imagine what the family is going through. I have 3 healthy kids of my own, and I can't imagine having the strength to go through everything they've gone through especially now 3 times, and still manage to take care of their other two children. They have a lot of people praying for and supporting them, which I'm sure helps. At this point I am not ready to leave a comment on their page as I'm not sure what I would say. I'll let my daughter's words be the voice of support from our family for now.
The other family is one that I thankfully do not actually know. I say thankfully because I have absolutely no idea what I could possibly say to them. My husband is a surgeon and occasionally gets called into the ER to deal with traumas. The other night he got a page and rushed out saying that a TV had fallen on a 6 year old kid. I had visions of broken bones, skin lacerations, broken glass, things like that. It takes him just under 30 minutes to get to the hospital. He called me less than an hour after he had left and said he was heading home. The kid had died. He didn't know the full story of how the TV had fallen etc, but it's basically irrelevant. The kid was probably playing before going to bed, knocked into the TV rack or climbed up on it to reach some toy, and the whole thing came crashing down. In this case the kid was most likely dead before he got to the hospital. My husband never spoke to the family. There was no point as there was nothing he could have done, and there were already ER docs and social workers talking to them. I can't imagine what that family is going through right now. There are no words you can say to comfort them. As hard as terminal illness is, there is a progression and in most cases time to prepare yourself somewhat. A freak accident like that, you can't prepare for.
I'll end this by saying if you have healthy kids, go give them an extra hug (and maybe some extra Hallowe'en candy) and be thankful for what you have. If you are dealing with a sick child or the death of a child, know that along with the close friends and family who help you get through each day, there are many more people who are supporting you but maybe can't find the right words.