Sophia Myers’ pastor is offering advice on what to say and not to say to her grieving family in the aftermath of the 7-year-old’s death from a rare and deadly brain tumor.
On Sunday, the Rev. MJ Kirby at St. Paul United Methodist Church East dedicated the service to the Oak Park Elementary second-grader who died of a brain tumor called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG. Sophia’s suffering ended Friday, nearly eight months after her diagnosis.
Her parents, Josh and Angel Myers, are experiencing unspeakable grief over the loss of their daughter, but some people who have tried to offer comfort to the family have offered the type of sentiment that stings instead.
Kirby spoke with her congregation about suggestions on what to say to Sophia’s family and decided to share those tips with a wider audience Tuesday.
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Kirby is speaking from experience. She and her husband lost a son, Jeremy, 12, in a freak accident at a church hayride in North Woolmarket on Oct. 23, 2010.
Here’s a few tips on what not to say:
▪ “The Lord needed another angel.” Kirby said that sentiment or any others derivative of this, such as ‘The Lord needed another... singer, dancer, etc.’” only hurts. To explain, Kirby said, “If God needed another ‘angel,’ then God would have created one. Not my baby.” That, she said, stings.
▪ “This was God’s plan.” Never use anything like that to offer comfort to a family, Kirby said. “Regardless if you believe that, I don’t care. No parent wants to hear this days after their child has been ripped away from them. Who are YOU to say what is and is not God’s plan?”
▪ “Everything happens for a reason.” The pastor said it’s no one’s place to try to make sense of what happened to Sophia and to offer such words is as if one is trying to “wrap it up in a neat package, and tie it with a ‘God’ bow.”
▪ “At least...she’s in heaven now, or at least she’s no longer suffering or at least you got to say goodbye.” Any of the ‘at least’ sentiment simply hurts, Kirby said.
▪ “I know how you feel, I lost my youngest child in 1965.” Just stop right there, Kirby said, because Sophia’s parents are “already carrying a load that is unbearable and they cannot hold your pain, too.” Kirby suggests people avoid sharing any sad stories with Sophia’s parents and family. “For the love of God do not do this coming through the mammoth line at the wake. And don’t say this at the Celebration of Life.”
▪ ‘God knew you could handle it,’ or ‘You must be strong people’ or ‘You are stronger than I am’ or “I couldn’t do this.’ Kirby said any of those type of sentiments are hurtful.
To help the family, Kirby suggests:
▪ Offering ‘unending’ prayers for the family
▪ Sending cards to the family to let them know you are praying for them
▪ Help meet their primary needs, such as signing up to provide meals to the family.
▪ Continue to show your love for Sophia and her parents, such as the tremendous outpouring of support the Myers family has outwardly received from the Ocean Springs Greyhound nation.
▪ Coordinate with a liaison to help provide meals to the family.
▪ Offer monetary donations to help Sophia’s parents in their plans to fight for funding, research and a cure for DIPG, the “monster’ who attacked Sophia’s body.
▪ Share Sophia’s stories to help spread the word about her parent’s fierce determination to keep fighting for answers about the deadly cancer that is killing Coast children so the “DIPG code is cracked,” Kirby said.
Other close friends are asking people to refrain from texting and calling and stopping by repeatedly to give the family the privacy they need during the grieving process.
Arrangements for Sophia Myers include a wake Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Riemann Family Funeral Homes on Lemoyne Boulevard in St. Martin. A celebration of Sophia’s life is at 2 p.m. Thursday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church East on U.S. 90 in Ocean Springs.
As a reminder, Kirby added:
“We are all one big Love for Sophia family,” Kirby said. “And we miss that beautiful sparkly, spunky, funny, fabulous girl. And what you find at the very center of the Love for Sophia family are two amazing, yet broken, parents who don’t deserve this, who are trying to get through the eight-month DIPG nightmare that continues to pour down on them with little to no relief.
“And we,” she said, “who are attempting to comfort them cannot comprehend even a tiny fraction of the gut wrenching, soul twisting, heart exploding pain that holds the Myers family captive.”