Advice on expressing sympathy and lending emotional support to a family member whose child may be facing a serious illness? Both for the “dunno for sure” phase and for the “know for sure either way” phase. Comforting is not my strong suit and halp plz because this can’t be fixed so soothing is only way to be helpful.
So, I’m going to answer this in two parts. This post is about emotional support.
I think that most people who are facing emotionally devastating situations need solidarity more than they need comfort.
One way to show solidarity is to acknowledge what’s going on, and to let them feel however they feel about it. People in awful situations often face relentless pressure to try to have a ~positive attitude~ and not be upset. This is particularly true of child illness, particularly if the illness is life-threatening, particularly if it is cancer.
This positivity narrative pressures people to think that they can somehow fix things with the power of positive thinking, and that they will somehow ruin things if they get upset or have feelings that aren’t 100% hopeful at all times. That can make things a lot harder.
People often end up feeling a lot of pressure to put on a positive and hopeful face around people who care about them. They also often face pressure to be constantly trying not to be upset. They can end up spending a lot of emotional energy taking care of the needs of people who want to comfort them.
And in reality — people facing difficult situation are going to struggle and have complicated feelings. And, in this case: People who have reason to suspect that their child is seriously ill have every right to be upset and afraid. And the last thing they need is relentless pressure to think positive and feel hopeful.
Probably the best form of emotional support you can offer is to listen without trying to make them feel better. You can acknowledge what is going on, and be someone who they don’t have to gloss over things with. You can be there with them while they feel however they feel about it. You can be someone who listens to them respectfully.
Many people facing awful situations don’t have that, and having it can make a big difference.
I wrote a while back about the importance of acknowledging that sometimes things are terrible, and also about some practical methods of listening to someone who is facing a bad situation.
Short version: If someone is facing a bad situation, trying to comfort them often backfires. It often works better to focusing on listening to them and expressing solidarity.