What to write to bereaved parents – Part Two

It’s one thing to write about what to write in general terms. But when it happens to you, and the deceased child is a relative, wow – does that really bring it home.

What to write to bereaved parents

My cousin whom we lost a few days ago aged just 31. What the hell can I say to his parents? What can anyone anyone say to his parents that might help them?

On Tuesday this week I sat in my car after attending an excellent business networking launch of a new group and, feeling in a good mood, I took my phone off “silent” and looked through my messages.

One from one of my favourite cousins, a French-speaking Belgian (my mother was Belgian) began with the words – in French – “I am devasted to tell you that our son was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Philippines on Sunday.”

He was 31 years old. Their only son, although they also have a lovely daughter aged 29. He was working out there.

What I had written in my earlier article really brought it home to me

Choked as I was about his passing in itself (he was exactly five years older than my son: they had the same birthday) I was desperate thinking about his parents, not only cousins but very close friends of mine. As I said in my earlier article:

“Reminder: whatever you do, don’t say you know how they feel unless you genuinely do – and only from personal experience.” 

That really began to sink in. I began to think how I would feel if my son was killed in a road traffic accident.

And I lost it. Just by imagining how it might feel. Not actually feeling it, of course. But just thinking how I would feel if this sudden, violent loss had been my son gave me a tiny glimpse of the agony bereaved parents have to live with, for the rest of their lives.

The hideous irony of writing on English-based digital apparatus

Seeing how we communicate on digital stuff whether phones, tablets, desktops or whatever, that limits us in terms of how we can express our emotions, although if you’re good at writing you can convey how you feel to a certain extent.

Through my tears I had the additional limitation of using an English language phone to write my condolances – in French. Had I not been so upset I would have laughed at the ridiculous attempts at predictive text prompted by the French words not known to my IPhone.

“If you don’t know what to say, don’t just say nothing. If you care about the parents/family, just say how much you love them. That’s worth a lot.”

Don’t rush in with the memories

Something that shocked me a little, while reading through the other messages of sympathy, was that despite it being only two days since the accident many people wrote about my cousin as if he had been dead for weeks – cheerful, happy recollections of good times, parties, expeditions etc.

I may be wrong here but I feel his parents would still be in a state of shock, not yet ready to reminisce. This is probably not the time to remind them of the terrible finality of death, but it is a time to acknowledge and support their shock.

And shock isn’t something confined to the loss of someone through a sudden, unexpected violent death. No matter how long someone may have been in decline before dying, when they die you are still in a state of shock. Maybe not shock so brutal as in this case, but shock nonetheless.

Assuming my cousin is brought back to Belgium, I will be there for the funeral. In the meantime I must write to his grandmother – a hard task, even for me. At least I do speak/write French fluently, but it’s the thoughts, not the words, that are the hard part.

Be safe and take care.