Q&A - Talking to children about death and dying

  • Community Manager - Posts: 120
    Edited by: MarkWilkin - 12/03/2015 13:57

    Talking to children about death and dying is one of the hardest conversations to have around the subject of terminal illness. So in our first Question & Answer session on the Marie Curie Community please ask us any questions you've got on the subject and we'll do our best to help.

      

    Our host Ann Scanlon will be answering your questions tomorrow (11th March) and on Thursday (12th March) between 3-4pm. You can start posting them now and she'll answer them when she's online. Just scroll down to read her answers.


    "It is so important to allow children no matter how old they are to be able to have a voice in grief."


    Ann works for Marie Curie as a children and young persons counsellor in the West Midlands. She's supported children who have experienced a bereavement or who are living with a terminal illness for 13 years.


    Thanks

  • Posts: 1
    10/03/2015  20:33

    Hi Ann. My Dad died yesterday from bowel cancer which had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. He kept going until 3 days before, when he became bed bound and we were very well-supported by Marie Curie over the weekend. He was 76 and although we knew he was terminally ill, it all happened very fast. My 2 daughters, aged 7 and 5, even chatted to him on FaceTime the evening before he passed away.

    His funeral is on Monday and I'd like my daughters to come, only if they would like to. We're going to have a small family service at the crematorium first, followed by a thanksgiving service at the church.

    Can you advise me how to explain the death to children of this age? How do I best explain cremation without using words like fire and burning? I don't want to lie to them as children of that age like to hear it straight but at the same time, I don't want to frighten them.

    Thank you Elspeth 😊

  • Posts: 1
    11/03/2015  10:20

    Hi Ann, my husband died in August last year, he had been given a terminal prognosis 13 months before that. My sons, now aged 17 and 13, barely mention what has happened. I know they don't like to see me upset but it upsets me that they won't talk about what has happened. My oldest feels - and has said - that he has to be cheerful all the time. I know they are resilient boys and this is their way of dealing with everything but sometimes I feel really lonely and want to speak to them about it. They watched their Dad deteriorate over the 13 months and we were honest from the start that there was no hope. I just don't know the best way forward.

  • Posts: 1
    11/03/2015  13:45

    I am so pleased that charities like Marie Curie do this work with children. I was 17 when my father died and there was no counselling for any of us available. My younger brother was only 12. My Mum coped really badly and our family was torn apart by the experience. I went off the rails and it took me many years to get over his loss. I still struggle emotionally with anything to do with death and saying goodbye.  However, I now have a daughter of my own and we talk often about death and loss. I would hate her to struggle the way I did should anything happen to me or her father.  Having lost a parent young, I am very aware of how life can be cut short and make sure she knows how much she is loved and always will be.


    A very close friend of mine died of breast cancer a few years ago, leaving behind two young children. She chose not to tell them the seriousness of her condition until the very last minute and I wonder what you would advise as the way to deal with helping children cope with such awful news. I wouldn't want to burden my daughter but we have also had a very close and honest relationship so would not want to spoil that either. Thank goodness I am not in the position of having to go through this sadness but I'd be interested to hear your advice on how the experts deal with it.

  • Posts: 5
    Edited by: MarkWilkin - 11/03/2015 15:40

    Question from Rathlin38: Hi Ann. My Dad died yesterday from bowel cancer which had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. He kept going until 3 days before, when he became bed bound and we were very well-supported by Marie Curie over the weekend. He was 76 and although we knew he was terminally ill, it all happened very fast. My 2 daughters, aged 7 and 5, even chatted to him on FaceTime the evening before he passed away. His funeral is on Monday and I'd like my daughters to come, only if they would like to. We're going to have a small family service at the crematorium first, followed by a thanksgiving service at the church. Can you advise me how to explain the death to children of this age? How do I best explain cremation without using words like fire and burning? I don't want to lie to them as children of that age like to hear it straight but at the same time, I don't want to frighten them. Thank you Elspeth

     

    Hi Elspeth, sorry to hear about your loss. It is really good that you have been able to keep the children involved in all your journey. Allowing the children to have face timed their granddad will help them to know that they too are important in their relationship with their granddad. If you include children like you have, it allows them to still feel they are in control of what is happening around them. You have prevented them from being isolated in their thoughts. Again asking the children if they would like to attend granddad's funeral allows them to have a voice. Go with what they decide and maybe add "Whatever you decide is ok" as this takes the emphasis off them making the wrong decision for them. 


    If you try and explain to them about once you die you do not need your body anymore as our body is the shell holding together who we are when we are alive. It is important to link it to the child's beliefs. Letting them know that Grandad is not in pain and is safe can also help and that the process of cremation does not hurt their loved one as you do not feel pain once you die. Be guided by them. Only answer question they ask. It may be that they do not need to know the process at this present time. Water bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney can be a lovely useful book for children of this age. It helps describe the process of death. 


    Hope this is of some use all the best

     

    Ann Scanlon - Marie Curie Cancer Care

  • Posts: 5
    Edited by: MarkWilkin - 11/03/2015 16:18

    Question from BJS66: Hi Ann, my husband died in August last year, he had been given a terminal prognosis 13 months before that. My sons, now aged 17 and 13, barely mention what has happened. I know they don't like to see me upset but it upsets me that they won't talk about what has happened. My oldest feels - and has said - that he has to be cheerful all the time. I know they are resilient boys and this is their way of dealing with everything but sometimes I feel really lonely and want to speak to them about it. They watched their Dad deteriorate over the 13 months and we were honest from the start that there was no hope. I just don't know the best way forward.

     

    Hi there, if your sons are able to bring their dad's name into your conversations, this maybe adequate for them. If they are also struggling to do this, then it could be that like you mentioned they are protecting you. If they are not talking about memories or mentioning dad's name, maybe start from here. Let them know that even if your upset, it is still ok to talk and you are comfortable with this. It can work better with lads if conversations like this happen whilst doing other things so it is not as formal. Being cheerful all the time could be his way of protecting himself. "If I show people I am happy then they won't treat me differently or ask any questions." There is no time limit on grief even though there can be an expectation that after so long grief disappears. 


    It maybe that if you are able to share memories with one another, this in turn will then help them work through their journey of their dad's illness. For some young people the importance is remembering the person for whom they were when they were well. It may be useful to check out with them if they are able to talk and share with others, maybe for your youngest a member of teaching staff or friend. 


    Depending on where you live, there are supportive organisations for both adults and children where you may find it beneficial to talk through your journey with an independent person. This can be useful as you haven't got that thought "I'm bothering you again or I wish I hadn't said anything now". It can be good to share your feeling and know it is a safe place. This can help you also feel less alone. For some young people in grief the importance is on keeping positive. As long as they are comfortable with how they are managing their grief, try not to worry too much. 


    Keep an eye out for behaviour changes. This is a good indication if a young person is struggling in their grief. As a parent you are not only having to work through your own grief, but your children's too. Children and young people have the ability to separate their grief from others therefore allowing them to move forward in their grief at a faster pace. However if you do feel they are bottling their emotions up, it may be worth suggesting talking to someone external to the family. Please remember though, you are giving them the opportunity to talk by inviting them to. They will take their lead from you. If they see you are ok talking about dad, this in turn may help them to. Marie Curie Cancer Care have a book called Teenage Grief which you may find useful. You will be able to obtain a copy from Marie Curie Cancer Care. 


    Hope this is of use all the best

     

    Ann Scanlon - Marie Curie Cancer Care   

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