Here’s What 1,000 Parents Want You to Know

Chuck Mallory
Dec 9, 2018 · 3 min read

Say the Name!

The Compassionate Friends Candlelighting Ceremony, July 2018

There were about 1,000 of us in the conference room: parents who’d lost a child and siblings who had lost a sibling. We were there for the annual conference of The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a group that helps us get through the intense grief of an out-of-order death.

Think about it: it’s sad enough when you lose grandma or grandpa, but it’s not an out-of-order death, one in which a person dies before their time. We are people who got a phone call in the middle of the night from the police with horrendous news; who believed our son or daughter was “getting over it” only to die of an overdose; or, in my case, a parent who heard on Oct. 22, 2015, “It’s cancer. And it has spread.”

WHAT? Max thought it was stomachache. Granted, one that sent him to the ER. He fought for six hard months. And then my life changed forever. I will never again have the same life, though I will make a life I can live. I’m going for endurance, service to others, and seeking deeper spiritual understanding. The chance of 100% happiness has evaporated.

At the TCF conference, there were seminars for those at all stages of grief, free massages, a quiet room for contemplation, and many chances to talk with others, to cry, to talk about memories.

I made many friends. It’s been two years for me, so I am able to contain my grief — though I didn’t have to there. At the candlelight dinner, I sat next to two wonderful women named Barbara and Leann. We shared our stories. At this place, we could talk about our angel children endlessly.

I wasn’t as emotional as some people there, but at the candlelight dinner, we were told to raise our battery-powered candles, and if we wished, say our child’s name aloud. I said, “Max!” with my voice cracking, and sobbed. I miss him so much. He was only 22 and on his way to a great adult life.

Tonight, Dec. 9, is the Worldwide Candle Lighting, started by TCF in 1997. Those who’ve lost someone will light a candle at 7 p.m. in their time zone to honor that person or persons.

But even if you read this after Dec. 9, there is still something you can do any day of the year that us parents want even more: SAY THE NAME!

It’s hard. People ask how this or that person is doing, with a job, relationship, a move, or other matters. Sometimes it’s about accomplishments or defeats. We also want to talk about our angel children. Of course, there is nothing “new” to say.

You can bring up a memory. You can say, “Been doing okay most days?” You can ask, “Is this a good time to talk about (name)? I was thinking about him/her today.” We will talk. It will be a pleasure. You don’t have to be silent to avoid “reminding us” or think you’re opening a wound. A few weeks ago my Mom was discussing a family friend who had cancer and asked, “What was Max’s experience when he went through chemotherapy?”

It was the happiest moment I’d had that week. Yes — talking about chemotherapy. Because someone asked. And I got to talk about Max. To me, and anyone who has lost a child, he can never be “gone.”

I actually love to hear someone say my son’s name aloud: Max.

So take the advice of 1,000 people. The next chance you get to talk to that grieving parent or sibling, SAY THE NAME.

Chuck Mallory

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Chicago author. Former writer for men's fitness mags. Father of two sons, one of them on each side of life.