SoaringStories are a way to convey strong feelings or ideas to others in a creative way.
When you write a story it is an opportunity to try on other personalities or to explore different ideas and situations using the power of your imagination. Here are some stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the power of community, or just a funny experience that people appreciate reading about.
Your SoaringStory can inspire a hospitalized child to think about something in a new way, to laugh or smile, or to be inspired to write about his or her feelings for the first time. We look forward to sharing your SoaringStories with people all around the world.
Hope matters. The author of Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others shares important tools.
Just because you may be grappling with serious illness in your family, you still can have HOPE. How do some people deal with and bounce back from setbacks? Why do they lead happier and healthier lives? It’s because they have hope. So, what exactly is hope and how can you develop it, too? Using discoveries from the largest study of hopeful people ever conducted, world-renowned expert on the psychology of hope, Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., shares strategies for building a high-hope mindset. He tells uplifting stories of real people who are Making Hope Happen in their lives. The message is clear: Hope matters. Hope is a choice. Hope can be learned. Hope is contagious.
It is always difficult to talk about death. We feel even more uncomfortable and nervous talking with children about death since we want to protect their innocence and shield them from sadness. Despite feeling apprehensive when talking to children about this subject, we need to support children through difficult times in order to facilitate healing and growth.
Let your children be your guide. If you don’t know what they know or understand about the death, ask open ended questions to see what they know and what questions they may have. Let your child’s questions and responses guide you as to how much information to provide. Give children ample opportunity over time to ask questions.
Let your children know you are there for them and ready to listen
Never try to “fix it” or justify the death.
Be honest with your children. Give them clear and honest answers to their questions. Children want, need and deserve the truth and need to know they can trust you to tell them the truth. You may worry that you won’t know what to say or have all the answers. It is okay to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand that either.”
Listen to your children when they are not talking. Know that your children are listening to you when you are talking. Children will not always talk about their feelings directly, but you can learn a lot by paying attention to their play, what they are saying while playing, what they are drawing or writing. Children see, hear, feel and absorb what goes on around them. You may think your children are not listening, but they hear you when you are in conversation with others, or on the phone. Children have built in radar.
Acknowledge your children’s feelings. Let children know that any feelings they may be having are okay and normal. Help your child label their feelings (such as “sad”, “angry”, “frustrated” or “overwhelmed”).
Assure your child. Be sure to clarify any misconceptions or misinformation. Remind your child that people care about them and will help keep them safe.
Model for your children. Show children how you appropriately express your emotions and take care of yourself during the grief process. It is okay to let your child see how you feel, but do not use your child as your support system. Rely on other adults or professionals for your emotional support.
Look for changes in your child’s behavior. Changes may be a sign that they are feeling upset or unsettled. Be aware of changes in eating, sleeping, playing or the ability to concentrate. If your child’s usual behavior continues to be disrupted, contact a professional for support.
There is comfort in keeping to normal routines and schedules. Stick to normal routines as much as possible. Continue with regular schedules of sleeping, eating, school, extracurricular activities and play time with friends. These routines give your child a sense of security.
Not all children will understand death the same way
Young children – do not understand that death is permanent. Young children may ask the same questions again and again. This repetition helps them process and understand what has happened. Keep explanations short and simple and reassure them that they are cared for and safe. Young children will absorb and mimic your stress and feelings.
School-Age Children – are better able to understand what has happened and that death is permanent. They may have unrealistic reactions to death, may blame themselves for what has happened or worry that others will die. Provide honest facts and information about the death. Help them express themselves through art or writing and help them label their feelings such as “sad”, “stress”, “overwhelmed”.
Adolescents – may have the same understanding of death as adults have though perhaps not the experience with death and grief. Give adolescents time and space to work out their feelings. Allow them their privacy, but don’t let them withdraw too much. Involve them in decisions and conversations about the death. Let them know you are available if they need to talk. Help them figure out what they can do that is meaningful to them. They may want to channel them into a community project or some act of charity so they feel like they are taking a positive action. It is be helpful to invite children of all ages to write or draw their positive feelings and memories about the person who has died. Open-ended questions such as, “What are some of your favorite memories with this person?” or “What is the thing you are most grateful to have shared with this person?” are ways in which children can express themselves and build memories about the person who died.
Lisa Buksbaum is the CEO & Founder of Soaringwords, a non-profit charity devoted to helping millions of ill children and their families to heal. She started the organization after three experiences with death and illness in her family. To date it has helped 250,000 children and families to “Never give up!” Visit soaringwords.org
Rachel Gorman is the Director of Hospital Outreach and Wellness Education at Soaringwords. She is a certified Child Life Specialist with over 20 years experience working with children and families at leading hospitals. Rachel has taught at Bank Street Graduate School of Education.
This is the first of a series of three articles co-created by the CompassionLab and Soaringwords for children and adults grappling with serious illness.
The darker the night, the brighter the stars.
For centuries, people have taken comfort and joy as they gazed at the night sky and were able to recognize clusters of stars known as constellations. Prior to the invention of global positioning devices, people actually relied on constellations in the night sky as a celestial navigation system.
In this article we suggest that there are constellations of compassion that can provide direction, clarity and comfort for ill children and their families as they navigate through a serious illness or pediatric hospitalization. Compassion is being able to sense, feel and act, to alleviate another’s suffering.
Compassion is an innate quality we all possess. When we see individual constellations such as the North Star, the Big Dipper, Orion’s belt, or Sirius, the dog, we experience micro-moments of joy, the sense of seeing an old friend, something comforting and familiar. We want you to think about constellations of compassion as an opportunity for healing. Once your eyes have been trained to recognize constellations, it becomes easier to pick them out of the swirling mass of glittering stars punctuating the night sky. In the same way, when patients and families learn how to recognize and use compassion, it serves as a global positioning system that can help you feel less isolated by coming closer to the effervescence and healing force of other people.
So here’s the invitation: Look up. Look out.
Once you start looking for constellations of compassion you will notice patterns of compassion everywhere. The best thing is that these shared micro-moments of compassion just take a moment to give or receive. Sometimes you are going to be the constellation or shining light for others. Simply by sharing a smile or a kind word you can become the North Star to someone who feels anchorless.
Other times, you will recognize patterns of compassion in others and this will brighten your spirits. For example, a woman who holds open a hospital elevator for you just when the doors are about to close on the large tray with hot beverages you are carrying. Or each day when the man who cleans the floors greets you with the warmest “good morning” and his kindness lights up your entire day.
Trust us, once you start noticing these constellations of compassion, you will begin to see and feel light emanating from people all around you, just like the countless stars in the sky. We believe that these Constellations of Compassion are like the invisible lines that we often don’t notice which connect us in meaningful ways to what’s important in life. We believe that if you look around you right now, whether you are in the hospital or grappling with serious chronic illness as part of your life or the life of someone you love, you can start to recognize patterns and shining lights all around you.
SoaringConstellations’ activity Draw and write a Constellation of Compassion message for someone special. Click here to get started.
Soaringwords founder Lisa Buksbaum with Jane Dutton of CompassionLab. The CompassionLab is a group of organizational researchers who strive to create a new vision of organizations as sites for the development and expression of compassion. Their focus is on the expression of compassion in work and in the workplace, including emphasis on roles, routines, practices, relationships, teams, and structures that impact the experience of compassion in organizations.
We have created a series of SoaringImagery videos to help you reduce anxiety, fear and depression during challenging times. Here are some special SoaringImagery videos featuring guest expert Rachel Epstein, Director, American Institute of Mental Imagery, to help reduce stress from COVID-19.
What are Visualizations? Healing Imagery exercises are designed to help ill children and their parents connect with their inner resources and are often used to bring about a feeling of calm, strength and wellness. You’ll find them comforting and relaxing. And, you’ll soon discover that the process of learning how to imagine healing actually transfers the power away from the illness and gives it to the person. These Imagery exercises work beautifully for children of all ages and also for adults who want to re-connect with their own deep inner resources of strength to be able to effectively take care of their child and themselves. (This is not meant to replace other sources of medical help.)
There is much research which documents the relationship between the mental act of imagery and biological/physiological change in the body. Illness often causes a lot of stress. Healing imagery exercises can help you take a break. They are easy to do. Doing these healing imagery does not actually take a lot of time (only a few minutes) and you can shift energy around immediately.
Even though you are doing these healing imagery exercises in your mind, you can feel a positive change in your emotions and perhaps in your body. Don’t be hard on yourself or try too hard; it just might take a little time to get the hang of it. So take a deep breath and let’s get started.
Soaringwords’ CEO & Founder, Lisa Buksbaum, has been an intuitive healer since she was a young child. When she was five years old she often felt special connections with people and nature. When she was in college she first learned about Mira Rivka her great great grandmother who was a healer in the 1880s in New York City. People would send for her (in a horse drawn carriage) to come and do the “laying of the hands” to help loved ones have a shift in their physical or emotional health. In her Soaringwords journey, Lisa has inspired thousands of people to experience a positive shift using healing imagery and the strength and wisdom inside each child and grown-up. If you are OPEN to these healing imagery exercises, you will be delighted to feel powerful changes. Below are twenty healing imagery exercises that Lisa wants to share with you. Send her an email at email@example.com and let her know what you experienced! Wishing you strength and Soaringwords.
Special thanks to Soaringwords interns Mara Stein, Zahava Presser, and Yedida Holzer for the beautiful illustrations.
Watch 12-year-old Gabby share her very own SoaringImagery that she has created.
Healing bees in a golden honey comb:
Close your eyes and breathe in and out three times slowly. See a beautiful honey comb filled with busy bees swarming all around the hive. Bees are so smart, even though they are rather small, they accomplish a lot. The hive is buzzing. Every bee knows precisely what to do to help the community and to make the honey flow. Let the bees enter your body and fly to all of your cells that need healing. Watch them communicate in their magnificent swirling, flying dance. Together they collect all the cells that need healing. Open your mouth and gently breathe out, let the bees all fly out, watch them shoot into space, never to return. You can see the bees buzzing around in a constellation of shooting stars when you look into the night sky. Know that the bees have left golden beads of honey inside your body. Taste its sweetness. Feel it healing you. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Healing Rain Shower:
Breathe in and out three times slowly. It is clear and dry outside. The sky is a deep shade of blue. See a storm moving closer on the horizon. The sky turns grey and the storm moves in quickly. Feel pellets of rain falling diagonally, gently splashing your head, your shoulders, your arms, your body and your feet. Listen to the delicious sound of the rain splashing on the ground. Feel yourself getting completely wet. Feel the water invigorating your muscles and refreshing your bones. Feel the cool drops of water on your tongue. Let water gently wash over your entire body, washing over all of your negative thoughts and tension, cleansing you and healing you. The storm passes quickly. Reach for a large, fluffy, white towel. Feel how soft it is on your skin. Dry yourself off completely, enjoying the softness of the towel. Know that you are clean and light. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. You walk through a lush rain forest. The trees and flowers create magnificent rainbows of color. You are happy to see and smell such wondrous things. Suddenly you hear a faint sound of a waterfall. You walk to a clearing and look into the forest and see cascading water tumbling over the side of a cliff. You walk to the edge of the water in front of you and take off your shoes and place them on the grass. You step into the water, walking closer towards the falls. The water is shallow along the bank. It feels refreshing to be splashing through the water. You get so close to the waterfalls that you are standing under them. They are gently spraying over you like a giant watery umbrella. Hear the sound of the waterfall around you. The water flow feels like a gentle shower or hose, washing away all of your aches and pains. See yourself getting completely wet. Feel the cool water gently washing over your entire body and washing over all of your negative thoughts and fears, cleansing you and healing you. When you are ready, walk over to a large boulder and lie down, drying yourself in the sun. Enjoy the warmth of the sun. Know that you are clean, whole and healthy. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. See yourself climbing a large mountain. It is a clear day. You walk along a path, going higher and higher, moving closer to the top of the mountain. The path wraps around the mountain, like a giant spiral. When you get to the top, you can see above the trees. You can see the tops of the other mountains. You can see for many, many miles. You are close to the clouds. Fluffy clouds surround you in wispy softness. When you are ready to go, leave your aches and pains on the top of the mountain. As you start walking down, you feel lighter knowing that you are leaving your heavy load and your pain behind. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Ripples on a Pond:
Breathe in and out three times slowly. Go to the edge of a tranquil pond. The water is a gorgeous shade of bluish green. Sit on a large boulder and enjoy looking at the glassy surface of the water. Toss some pebbles into the water and watch the ripples. Toss your fear into the pond. Watch it make a little splash and then watch it sink into the mud at the bottom of the pond. Once it touches the mud, it will not resurface. Enjoy the warmth of the sun. Know that you can toss all of your fears into the pond. Watch them make ripples that radiate out until they disappear. Enjoy the calm stillness of the pond. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Field of Sunflowers:
Breathe in and out three times slowly. Walk towards a field of sunflowers. Each stalk is so tall, it towers above you. There are so many sunflowers. For as far as you can see, tall sunflowers shimmer, like thousands of golden suns covering the entire field. Step off the country road and take a few steps into the field. Sunflowers brush against your arms. They gently sway in the breeze. They are touching you. The earth feels soft and cool under your feet. Feel the warmth and energy of the sun, which helps make the flowers open and grow. Take a few Sunflower seeds from the center and chew on them. Imagine that you a swallowing a bite of sunshine. Feel it warm your body. Feel the joy of the sun as it bathes the field in a healthy, yellow glow. Feel the warmth of the light as it enters your entire body and fills you with healing energy and radiance. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. See a hummingbird dart in and out of the juicy, pink tubes of a honeysuckle flower. The hummingbird’s wings are moving so quickly that you can’t see them; it simply looks like the hummingbird is suspended in mid-air. Open your mouth and allow the hummingbird to fly inside your body. Sense the motion of the hummingbird as she moves around inside your body bringing healing nectar to your tired places. The hummingbird moves so fast as she bites off tiny pieces of illness, cleaning them away from inside of you. The particles are so small that you don’t even feel it. Know that the hummingbird is working with you to make your cells grow back healthy and strong. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. Watch the monkeys swing through the trees. They always have so much fun. Grab a vine and swing over to them. Together you play games, swinging through the jungle, tossing bananas and stretching from vine to vine. Your body feels strong and healthy as it reaches for each new vine. The pain slips away, falling to the ground like cascading leaves. All the bad feelings can fall to the ground, smashing into the dirt like coconuts. Laugh and swing with your band of monkey friends feeling playful and carefree. Now you have no pain. It feels so good to laugh and have fun with total joy. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. See yourself flying through the sky as a majestic eagle. Feel the wind brush against your face, feel the air tug at your wings. You swoop in large circles, seeing everything from high in the sky. Look down at obstacles and pains that seemed so large when you were on the ground. See how you can fly above your pain and let the freedom fill you up with positive energy. Enjoy the warmth of the sun. Know that you are strong and free just like the eagle. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Swimming with the Dolphins:
Breathe in and out three times slowly. See yourself swimming in the ocean with a large pod of dolphins. The baby dolphins play tag with you. They nuzzle you with their snouts and make playful squealing noises that bounce through the water and vibrate your body. Feel the healing vibrations. Wiggle your body and dive down, down deep into the sea. Feel supported by playful dolphins swimming all around you. Now swim upward, breaking through the waves, hurling your body through the air in a dolphin leap. You are free and happy and strong, surrounded by dolphin love. Know that you are pure joy and movement. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Healing Moon Beam:
Breathe in and out three times slowly. Look to the moon. See its bright, clean light enter your body. Feel the moon beam fill you with a cool, gentle, healing light. The moon is silent and soothing. Let it fill your whole self up with healing moon beams. Know that the moon is always watching over you, even when you cannot see it because of the brightness of day. Know that you are always in the moon’s embrace, safe and protected. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. A playful octopus enters your body and starts suctioning up all the cells that have illness in them. Slurp. Slurp. Slurp. The octopus is hungry. When he has grabbed all the cells with illness inside, he makes a big burp. You and the octopus laugh. You didn’t know that octopuses can burp! The bad cells float away in the water’s current. The octopus leaves your body and swims away. Grab a bunch of sea kelp from the bottom of the coral reef. Swallow it and feel it swim all around your body. Enjoy swimming around the sea. Know that you are clean and light. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. You are walking through a field. You stand tall and your arms are relaxed at your sides. You see a strong and beautiful tree and walk towards it. It is a giant honey tree with a thick brown trunk and lots of branches with bright, healthy green leaves. You see honey sap oozing out of some of the nooks in the trunk. Sit under the tree and enjoy the shade. Taste some of the golden sap and let it fill your body with healing warmth. Feel the honey travelling through your body filling you with warmth and sweetness. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Breathe in and out three times slowly. Puppy starts to nuzzle you and play. Feel her love as she tumbles around gently licking your arms, legs, and face. Puppy makes you smile. Together you laugh and roll around on the grass. Throw the ball to the puppy. You tumble through the grass, chasing the ball, shedding all of your aches and hurt. Now toss a bone to the puppy, she digs up a big hole and puts the bone into the hole. You throw your pain into the hole as puppy uses her paws to cover it up. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Here are some additional healing Imagery exercises for children and adults that were created by world-renowned imagery expert, Dr. Gerald Epstein. Dr. Epstein is the Founder of the American Institute for Mental Imagery (AIMI). Lisa is earning a certificate at AIMI.
Dr. Gerald Epstein is a pioneer in the field of mind body medicine. He has written thirteen books. His book, Healing Visualizations: Creating Health Through Imagery, is considered the classic text of mental imagery exercises for healing. For thirty years, Dr. Epstein has helped patients reintegrate their minds, spirits and bodies through will, memory and imagination to heal virtually every kind of disease and prevent illness. He is on the Faculty of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and the Founder and Director of the American Institute for Mental Imagery. He is also the author of Healing Visualizations (Bantam), Healing into Immortality and Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (ACMI Press). He is married and has two children. Below are some visualizations that Jerry has created for patients and their families.
Visualization for Children: Correct the Memory
This is a useful corrective visualization to help your child get through painful medical procedures. Replace the highlighted situation with the appropriate language that works for your child’s medical condition. It is helpful for you to guide the child through the visualization every morning for 21 days. Make a little check list and post it by the child’s bed so you can keep track of your progress. Here’s what you say to the child: Close your eyes. Slowly breathe in and out three times. Experience your memory of getting a shot (substitute what is appropriate for the child here) for a moment. Breathe in and out. Now see yourself getting a shot but you are in a big ship and it is a nice warm sunny day. You are watching the waves bob up and down and listening to the seagulls flying overhead. You close your eyes and take a nice nap on the ship’s deck. (You can invite the child to substitute a situation here that they would enjoy or you can create one that you know they will appreciate). Breathe out. Open your eyes.
Visualization for Children: Fear
When a child gets sick it is often disorienting and scary. One of the scariest parts of childhood illness can be the fear of being left alone to confront the illness or to die. Naturally these feelings are heightened if your child is in the hospital and if you are not sleeping with them each night. This next visualization gives them some strategies to combat their fears. Here’s what you say to the child: Close your eyes. Breathe in and out three times slowly. Think about what you are afraid of. What does your fear look like? What is it doing? Tell me what you see. (Here the child describes what their fear looks like. For example a 3 or 5 year old says they are afraid of the dark because they think there are monsters in the room. Put an imaginary knife under their pillow. Tell the child the knife is there to kill the monsters if they need to. Do not be afraid to let the child kill monsters if the child thinks the monster is in their room to kill them). Okay, now let’s make your fear go away. (Invite the child to reverse the image, for example say to them, now let’s kill that monster. What do you see? The child sees the monster dying or disappearing. If the child does not see an antidote, guide them by helping them to see something that will reverse the image of fear). Tell me what you see. Take a deep breath and exhale. Know that the fear is gone. Open your eyes.
Visualization for Children: Anger
It is pretty hard to talk about childhood illness without thinking about anger. Anger is a very powerful and draining emotion for everyone involved. The root of the word anger means constriction. This next visualization focuses on anger and gives you helpful tools first to express and then to diminish anger. You can guide the child through the exercise. Here’s what you say to the child: Close your eyes. Slowly breathe in and out three times. See your anger take a form. What does it look like? What is it doing? Tell me what you see. (Here the person describes what their anger looks like. For example, one person sees enormous flames of anger.) Okay, now let’s see the opposite. (Invite the child to reverse the image, for example say to them, now let’s put out those flames. What do you see? The child sees a fire engine arrive on the scene to put out the flames. If the child does not see an antidote or a way to reverse the image, you can guide them by suggesting something that will reverse his or her image of anger). Tell me what you see. Breathe in and out. Know that the anger is gone. Open your eyes.
Visualization for Children With Brain Tumors: Yellow Submarine
This visualization is done three times a day–once early in the morning, again at 5 PM, and once more before bed, for 21 days. Here’s what you say to the child: Close your eyes. Breathe out three times slowly. See yourself inside a yellow submarine. The sub has a porthole, a propeller in front, searchlight on top, and a vacuum hose underneath. You are the pilot. Take the yellow submarine to the tumor. Use the searchlight to show you the way. When you get to the tumor, let me know. Good. Now let the propeller churn up the tumor, breaking it into little pieces. Use your light to see everything going on. Now the vacuum hose sucks up all the broken pieces. Look at the place where the tumor was. The tumor has disappeared and this part of your body looks perfectly normal, as all the area has been filled in with healthy cells. Now turn your submarine around and leave your brain. Breathe out. Open your eyes.
Visualization for Children With Leukemia: Forest
This visualization is done three times a day–once early in the morning, again at 5 PM, and once more before bed, for 21 days. Here’s what you say to the child: Close your eyes. Slowly breathe in and exhale. See yourself in a beautiful forest. The wonderful animals are dancing, prancing, and moving up and down through the forest paths. Know that life is coming back to your bloodstream and all of your vital organs and that your white blood count becomes normal. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Visualization for Children With Leukemia: Tropical Fish
Here’s what you say to the child: Close your eyes. Slowly breathe in and out three times slowly. See yourself swimming easily in and among schools of brightly colored tropical fish. Sense and see the movement of these fish as they swim in rhythm and their colors enter into you and fill you with light, life and health. Know that you are being restored to perfect health as your white cells return to normal. Take a deep breath and exhale. Open your eyes.
Visualization for Adults: Wheat Field
This exercise is designed to rejuvenate you and keep you strong. You can do it by yourself each morning, before you go to sleep at night and throughout the day whenever you feel anxious or exhausted. You can do this exercises by yourself or ask a friend or loved one to guide you through. Close your eyes. Breathe out 3 times slowly. Imagine yourself carrying a basket in a beautiful field. You are collecting golden grains and separating the wheat from the chaff. You take grains of wheat and fill your basket to overflowing. You leave the extra wheat on the ground for the animals to eat. At the end of the field, you see your farmhouse with smoke gently coming out of the chimney. You walk with your basket towards the house. In the center of the house is a large country kitchen. You come into the kitchen and lay out all the ingredients – the grains, a rolling pin, everything you need to make bread. You knead the dough and roll it and make the bread. You put your bread into a huge open hearth to bake. You watch the bread bake and see it slowly rising. You smell the delicious bread baking. Take your bread out of the hearth and cut a slice. Eat as much as you like. When you need to, you can go back to the farmhouse to get more bread or take a piece out of your pocket. You can eat your bread and sustain yourself throughout the entire day. Open your eyes.
Visualization for Adults: Seashore
This exercise is designed to rejuvenate you and keep you strong. You can do it by yourself each morning, before you go to sleep at night and throughout the day whenever you feel anxious or exhausted. You can do this exercises by yourself or ask a friend or loved one to guide you through.
Close your eyes. Breathe out 3 times slowly. You’re on the beach heading toward the water, fully clothed. As you move toward the water, you start taking off your clothes, one piece at a time. Empty your pockets of everything. If you are carrying a bag or purse, empty it of all its contents, keeping only what is indispensable. When you are completely naked, make yourself an abrasive compound of sand and water. Cleanse yourself with this pumice. Know that you are cleaning away all the unnecessary accumulations outside of your body and that you are also cleaning away the inner gloom and confusion at the same time. When you’re done, dive into the sea and immerse yourself fully. Cleanse yourself of any residue that may be left with sand from the bottom of the sea. Come out of the water and let the sun dry you off for a moment. Then, put on a new set of clothing that you find there. Breathe out. Open your eyes.
Never say “I know just how you feel.” A well-intentioned comment like this is actually hurtful because it suggests that the parent’s feelings are somehow generic rather than totally unique based on their life experience, their child’s unique character and circumstances, and the relationship they shared. The old language may not work during a parent’s time of grief, instead of saying, “hi, how are you?” instead say something like, “I am thinking about you today.”
Never try to “fix it” or justify it. You cannot change the reality that their child has died. The most common well-meaning phrases – “It’s God’s will” or “She’s with God now” can also be jarring when a parent has to mourn the death of their child. Listen to them. Let them express their feelings. Validate their feelings and grief so that they can experience it, process it, and begin to heal.
Never pretend that the child did not exist. Not mentioning the child’s name can actually be hurtful for a grieving parent. It can be reassuring for parents to know that other people hold special memories or recollections about a child who has died. It can also be healing for a parent to talk about a child who has died and share something about the child’s essence or an experience from the child’s life, as it validates the child’s existence. You can acknowledge the child by name. Share your impressions when appropriate and positive.
Never try to second-guess how the parent will experience holidays or life cycle events and celebrations and the fact that the child is not alive to share these experiences. Take your cues from the parent and let them set the tone. Holidays and special occasions bring up waves of feelings: happier times and perhaps trying times if the child was ill. Encouraging parents to express these feelings well in advance, during, or after the events can actually help them more fully participate, even while they are grieving.
Never diminish the joy of a grieving parent. “There’s a time to mourn and a time to laugh…” When parents re-engage in life and pleasurable experiences, let them have these moments of joy. Whether going to a movie, taking an outing with other children or friends, reading a book, or engaging in a project that they really enjoy, try to acknowledge them in the context of their joy, without reminding them of their loss, or making them feel guilty.
Never wait for the “perfect time” to express your support. Never wait to find the “exact words.” Keep it simple. Speak from your heart. Say something like, “I am so sorry for your loss” or let the person know you are thinking of them.
Never try to “deny the death” with excessive talking, activities, and other distractions. Often the most comforting thing you can do is listen non-judgmentally.
Never impose your beliefs, values or practices on the parents. The death of a child can provide an opening for simple rituals, prayer and even gratitude. People have to come to these things in their own time, in their own way. You can pray for them in your own way, just don’t add to their pain by suggesting that they are doing something wrong. Death can also turn people away from God and spirituality.
Never be afraid to be a compassionate human being. Share a hug, perhaps you can let the parent see you cry at the loss, or share a simple thought or emotion you are having about the loss. These actions let the parent know that they are not alone. However, don’t put your grief on their shoulders, it’s not appropriate for them to carry your grief and theirs at this time.
Never try to protect yourself from death. Of course it is easier to ignore the pain of grieving parents by crossing the street, averting your eyes when you see them, or not calling them, or not offering to help out with errands or taking a sibling for a few hours to give them time for themselves. However, you will appreciate all of life’s joys so much more if you open your heart and embrace parents who are mourning the death of a child. And, in doing something life-affirming and kind, you will be minimizing their pain andcontributing to the blessings surrounding death.
Lisa Buksbaum is the CEO & Founder of Soaringwords, a non-profit charity devoted to helping millions of ill children and their families to heal. She started the organization after three experiences with death and illness in her family. To date it has helped 250,000 children and families to “Never give up!” Watch Lisa on ABC Newswith Ann Pleshette Murphytalk about Coping With the Loss of a Child.