What to tell parents whose child dying of cancer

Thanks again all of you for taking the time to post.

I think the one difficult balance to get right is helping vs imposing… In the case of this family they have indicated via written updates how precious their time is with their 3 little boys (especially the one with cancer). It is difficult to tell whether this message is a subtle suggestion to give them their space with their family while they still can… or not…

Either way, I have a couple of ideas involving things I will do for them, so i appreciate all your ideas and contributions, especially those of you who speak from experience…

Blessings to you all and thanks once again.

I can tell you what not to say “He’s going to a better place.” “It’s God’s will.” “God needs him in heaven.” Do not try to make them feel better because it can not be done nor should it be tried. In fact there are very few words that should be said. “I’m so sorry.” Is about all that is necessary. Practical help with children, household tasks. Whatever frees up their time to spend with their child.

That is hard… I can’t tell you what to say but I can tell you what not to say. Do not say “God has called him home” Or “He is in a better place now” Or anything like that. perhaps just letting them know that you are there for them whatever they need whenever they need it. And say that you pray for them constantly. And do it.
Quotes and poems are a bad idea because they are canned and not specific to each person’s pain. Just love them, and make your love known.

Also, perhaps consider being a person they can escape with. Don’t always dwell on the tragedy or force them to talk about it, or try to come up with the perfect words every time. Just be there physically emotionally and mentally for them.

First, is there any way that you can ask them honestly what, precisely, they’d like in regards to space?

After 20+ years of being terrible at reading social/emotional cues, I finally reached a point a few years ago where in this sort of situation I ask a blunt question, while telling the responder that I don’t care what the answer is and won’t be hurt by it, I just want to know.

For example, a few years ago, a friend asked me to be a support person when her baby was being born. A couple of days prior to the induction, though, she texted and told me not to worry about coming because I was busy at work at the time. Now, I was busy, but I had also made previous arrangements with my boss to be off for this, and my boss was fine with it. I wasn’t sure, though, if she was being self-sacrificing (“oh, UbiCaritas’s job is more important than her being with me while I’m in labor, I’ll be fine”) or if she had just changed her mind (“you know, I’d be a lot more comfortable with just my husband here.”) I wanted to know what was going on in her mind about it because if the former, I could reassure her that it really wasn’t a problem, while if it was the latter, I could say “no problem, I totally understand, let me know if and when you’d like a visitor!” So I asked, adding a caveat like “I really won’t be offended at all no matter how you answer this; I just want to do whatever will be most supportive for you.” It was the latter, there was no issue at all with it (hey, I wouldn’t really be comfortable with anyone else there if I was in labor), and I stopped by once baby was there to say “oh how cute” and give mom some much-needed chocolate. No harm, no foul, and we’re still good friends to this day.

Loooooong story short…is there any way you could ask your friends something like this, assuring them that you won’t be offended and that you just want an honest answer so that you can help them in the best way possible?

Either way, I imagine it would be very hard to go wrong with a gift card to a local carry-out/delivery restaurant that they like, a home-cooked meal or two left on their doorstep, or a phone call saying, “Hey, I was just running to Costco–is there anything I can pick up for you while I’m there? I can leave it on your porch this afternoon.” (The latter gives them the option of choosing whether they’d like you to stay for a bit and chat or whether they need something, but aren’t up to entertaining today.)

Depending on how close you are to them, there are photographers who offer packages for families in their position, and specialize in taking photographs during difficult times. A gift of a photo session would be appreciated, I’m sure, for a lifetime.

Hi Hoosier, Rayne, UbiCaritas

Thank you! I certainly won’t say the incorrect thing…

The photography idea has been raised by a couple of posters and is certainly a very good one.

Thanks again for your contributions.


This is gold.


I grieve w you and the family and child. But, as you know our children are not our own. Theybelong to God and He only loans them to us. There was an Oprah show.The guest had died and gone to heaven. Oprah’s question was," Why do children have to suffer?" Well, this is not Biblical here but it kind of made sense. I entered a dysfunctional family. What a journey!!
As souls without bodies in heaven, do we have an age and can we make choices?? Because the answer was that the child chooses the family they join, So, in my case, I would take on this ministry of this dysfunctional family and maybe because of my sacrifice, the dysfunction would be less or healed So, there might be comfort in this story, that the child chose this family and this journey knowing he was going to have a short life and carry a big cross?
There have been some books written by children who had cancer. I don’t know how far the range of the disease took the reader? Did it take them to heaven. Oh I did read a book that was great! “IS HEAVEN FOR REAL”.
Read the Bible at the Easter story. I love that scripture verse:“Why do you look for the living amongst the dead?” Spoken by the angels at the tomb.
I would have statues of angels and a small crucifix to hold. I would tell him the story of Jesus and how He got His booboos and went to heaven and He is waiting for all of us.
Remind the little guy who he has up in heaven waiting for him=his gramps or grammy??
I made a little album w Holy cards in it of the Saints. My granddaughter was afraid of storms. So, this might help to know that St. Patrick would be there and St. Peter,he might take him in his boat fishing. They always like St.Michael the Archangel and his sword.
My son had a serious illness at age 3yo and he saw angels. He would want us to take him down to the chapel in the hospital so he could see the angels. This is a military post hospital without statues. Ya figure!! If he knows who is on the other side and that one day Mommy and Daddy will be coming, He’ll be all right.

                          GO, GENTLY, INTO THE NIGHT SWEET CHILD
                          GO, SOFTLY, PAST THE STARS.
                          TONIGHT AN ANGEL IS WAITING TO HOLD YOU
                          RIGHT IN HIS MUSCULAR ARMS.

                           YOU'LL SEE JESUS AND HIS MOTHER, MARY
                           SHE'LL TAKE OVER FOR YOUR MOM AND CARRY
                           YOU TO YOUR OWN SPECIAL CLOUD
                           AND LAY YOU TO SLEEP WHERE DREAMS WILL VARY.

                            ONE DAY YOU'LL AWAKEN AND YOUR MOM 
                            WILL BE THERE. NO ONE, NOW, HAS A CARE
                            JESUS PAID THIS PRICE, AND ITS AWFUL NICE
                            GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE,TILL WE'RE ALL THERE.

. In Christs’ Love tweedlealice

When some seeking healing approached Jesus," he would ask," What would you have me do?’. So, ask. Also, make a list of what you can do and ask her to check what she would like you to do. The photos, a lock of hair is often a comfort for the parents. Surrounding the child w soothing Christian music is a wonderful calming touch. I read this book by Michael Smith’s wife. ( He wrote ,“AGNUS DEI”) They became pregnant w a little girl that was only going to live a few hours after she would be born. They made it a celebration. She had a fancy dress. The whole family was there. The pictures were taken. The lock of hair. They surrounded her w love. The name of the book is “I WILL CARRY YOU” Now, it is a tear jerker. But as a pro-lifer, it shows the beauty of a life, no matter how long it is.
Sometimes there is too much food. Ask her to call you when the food is getting low. How long is this dying process for the sweet child of God. Can the child blow bubbles for fun. Can she pop balloons.Can she finger paint; Things she can create will be precious for the parents . So, small art projects, if possible. Little mementos. An atmosphere of life, if possible. Or an atmosphere of quiet passing?? Can Mom leave for awhile while you sit or is death that imminent. Grocery shopping?

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