Just say ‘I am sorry to hear that’

My sister had cancer and died when she was 17 years old. 

Something I find very easy to say

I also love to share the wonders of her life, her brave and fierce fight which ultimately lead to her leaving this earth plain.

So, if I have no issues with saying it…. using the words CANCER and DEATH out loud, then why do others behave strange around me……even now after 22 years (today)?

When Kate first died, the outpouring of grief was visible and acceptable, it was expected that I would openly cry and struggle to talk about it, but at some point, that changed. At some point her death become a huge great big elephant in the room.

This is my speculation of what I believe was running through people’s heads (and I make this assumption based on my thought patterns before Cancer impacted my life!)

‘What can we say to her?’ ‘I don’t want to upset her, so I won’t say anything’ ‘There is nothing I can say to make this better, so I won’t say anything at all’

And then there are the awkward comments that are made because it is felt that something encouraging must be said, the most memorable, which hurt like hell at the time was;

 ‘don’t dwell on it, life goes on’

Why is the C word still so taboo, when SO many people are affected by it every day?

What scares us so much about simply saying the words ‘I am so sorry to hear of your loss’

I had a lovely moment this week where I mentioned my sister’s loss to a new acquaintance and she didn’t retort in horror. In fact, quite the opposite.

She checked to make sure I was ok sharing and then asked about my sister, how old she was, what she passed from. She was so interested to hear about my experience, how I had got to where I am today.

There were no uncomfortable silences, just a wonderful moment where I got to talk about one of my biggest inspirations for living life to the fullest, it was beautiful.

She went on to say how sorry she was to hear of my loss and we moved on to another conversation. It was completely refreshing and the perfect way to share.

My life has been affected in a profound, earth shattering way, it has become part of my every day and future blueprint. The life of that young 20-year-old (the age I was when she passed) was changed overnight, beyond recognition, from that day forwards and forever.

Not talking about her is alien to me, it would be like putting her in the corner and ignoring her. She is my family, we have the same blood running through our veins and despite how many years pass before we are reunited, she will always be my little sister, my son’s auntie Kate and my parent’s little girl.

To me, NOT talking about her is a travesty and completely disrespectful to the life she lived. 

At her funeral I made the following promise to her by reading the following poem by Henry Scott Holland, and I have stood by every single word;

Death is nothing at all.

I have only slipped away to the next room.

I am I and you are you.

Whatever we were to each other,

That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.

Speak to me in the easy way

which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed

at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word

that it always was.

Let it be spoken without effect.

Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same that it ever was.

There is absolute unbroken continuity.

Why should I be out of mind

because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.

For an interval.

Somewhere. Very near.

Just around the corner.

All is well. 

So my advice to you next time you see someone that has just lost a loved one or you meet someone that shares a loss with you, if you don’t know what to say or feel uncomfortable, just simply say ‘I am sorry to hear of your loss’.

But if you want to ask more, then ask more.

Talking about our loved ones, remembering funny stories, or beautiful moments, brings such joy. Yes, it may be accompanied by tears, but please don’t be frightened of that.

Hold space, allow the moment and feel proud and privileged to have shared that together. 

Steph xx


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