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TEDx Cary Women

How and Why You Should Talk to Bereaved Parents

On December 13, 2019, Sharon delivered this TEDx Talk at TEDx Cary Women. 

We have a word for a woman whose husband dies (WIDOW), or a child whose parents die (ORPHAN), but what is the word for a parent whose child has died? In the touching and deeply personal talk, Sharon Delaney McCloud introduces us to the word "vilomah" and invites us all to help give a voice to those who experience this unimaginable loss. As a mother and advocate, Sharon Delaney McCloud shares her experience giving a voice to vilomahs everywhere. Sharon Delaney McCloud is an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, cancer survivor, Olympic Torch Bearer, agency owner and author who built her career telling other people’s stories. But that path took a sharp turn when her daughter was diagnosed with cancer and Sharon’s family embarked on the fight of their lives to save their little girl. Since then, Sharon started sharing her own story about grit, gratitude and grace, even under the most crushing circumstances like the death of a child. And what she has discovered is that human connection can not only breathe life into the deepest grief, but can also uncover joy. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

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Why we need this...

Think about this, what do we call a woman whose spouse has died?  Widow.  A man whose spouse has died?  Widower.  A child whose parents have died?  Orphan.  But there’s no single word for a parent whose child has died.


Until now.

After lots of Googling, I came upon VILOMAH, an ancient Sanskrit word that means "against a natural order."  As in our children should not precede us in death. We shouldn’t have to bury our children but sometimes, unfortunately, it happens. And when it does, in this fog of acute grief, vilomahs realize that we not only WANT but we NEED to talk about our lost little ones. 

When a new acquaintance asks me how many children I have, I stumble all over the place….”3...well, 2, now. Or is it 3?” 


It’s the pivotal question many bereaved parents get hung up on all the time. Do we choose the easier path and say the number of our living children. Or, do we include our heavenly child and invite that awkward discomfort that almost always bulldozes a conversation between newly acquainted people.

I believe that all of us can provide amazing healing and comfort for vilomahs if we step out of our comfort zone and give them a voice.  

I’d like to share three steps that you can use right away to talk to a vilomahs that will help you get comfortable. And in turn, you will give that vilomah a few moments of joy when they are given the chance to talk about their angels.

I call it the Vilomah Voice. 

Vilomah Voice Playbook

Step One

When you meet someone and you learn that they have lost a child, you don’t have to go down a deep, dark path. Say something as simple as, “I’m sorry for your loss. Would you like to talk about your child? At that point, it could go either way depending on the situation. If the answer is no, tell the vilomah that if they change their mind, you’d welcome the chance to talk.

Step Two

If they say yes, ask an open-ended question like, “Will you tell me about your child?”

Step Three

Repeat and rephrase something you learned and, most importantly, use their child’s name. 

"Giving vilomahs a voice is like wrapping a big blanket of love around them."

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