There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. ~ Winnie the Pooh
How in the world do you tell your children you might die?
Waiting in the doctor’s office, reading the magazines. Mindful, hmm, never heard of that one. Lucky catch, because here’s this article “Mommy, are you going to die?” (Heather Grimes/October 2015/Mindful/Mindful.org). Because I was older when I was diagnosed, I hadn’t thought much about telling children; mine were grown and took it with adult tools at hand. Maybe you’re not so lucky.
The author’s daughter Opal is asking the same questions my daughter did at around five. What happens when you die? Can you see, can you eat? Will the cat be there, is it dark? In the end, after giving my daughter all the answers I had and still seeing the anxiety in her eyes, I tried one more thing. “If Daddy and I die, you will be living with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Bob. They will take care of you – we’ve all talked about it and figured it out.” I could see the relief sweep through her. Part of her terror was wondering what would happen to her. I’d never looked at it like that before, but of course, will I be homeless, who will cook my dinner? These are valid questions. I don’t know if her native courtesy kept her from saying, well yeah mom you’ll be dead, I see that, but what about me?( Our children may be the center of our universe, but we are seldom their’s 😋).
Here is some practical advice I found from a website called Heart2Soul.com. If you are searching for answers, I would check this site out. The following quote is from Joseph Primo, a former hospice chaplain and an expert on the Heart2Soul website:
“…He also recommended saying essentially the same things to a five-year-old as you’d say to a 10-year-old or a teenager. ‘Name the specific disease or reason for dying, otherwise the child will imagine something worse,’ he advised. “Give enough information to help the child understand the situation and what’s happening. That’s the ultimate goal. Then pause, create the space for her to process, to explore, to ask questions. Prioritize how many facts you give. See how the child responds, then say more, depending on what they’re looking for…Ultimately the parent knows the child best, so they have to trust their instincts. However, letting the child know that their feelings are normal is key. There’s plenty of room for anger, sadness and confusion.’ he added. Create a space where they can safely discharge their emotions without judgement….’If our endgame is to prepare children for life and to give them the tools they need to be resourceful, empathic beings, then we are required to model warmth, encouragement, and a willingness to not know, yet to be present. We want our kids to know that they can tackle all things when they are surrounded by people who love them.’ ” Joseph Primo
I’ve also come across some very good books for children recently that deal with dying. They are for younger kids, but I find young children’s books reach across age barriers. I think there’s something of the child in all of us, at whatever age and these books can be wonderful help.
Goodbye, Everett Anderson
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way To Explain Death to Children, Bryan Mellonie
Lifetimes, David Rice
The Invisible String, Patrice Karst
The Fall of Freddie The Leaf, Leo Buscaglia
Duck, Death and Tulip, Wolf Erlbruch
And if you have a belief in a hereafter, The Next Place, Warren Hanson
(And just a little reminder here. I read a lot about this, about dying, about books about dying and WAY to often the introduction says something like ” this difficult subject.” Children will take their cues from you. If it is difficult for you, it will be difficult for them. My suggestion would be to read these books with another adult and get your anguish, tears, fears – if that’s what you have – out in the open so you can deal with it before you sit down with your child/children.)
If you have faced this, or are facing this, please leave some comments on what worked for you. I’d especially like the titles of books for the 10-14 age group. I’m sure it would be enormously helpful to others. Thanks.