Q&A - Talking to children about death and dying

  • Community Manager - Posts: 120
    Edited by: MarkWilkin - 11/03/2015 16:44

    Thanks to everyone who's posted questions so far, Ann will be back tomorrow at 3pm to answer more of your questions.


    Rathlin38: In addition to what Ann has said I'd also recommend this information sheet by Child Bereavement UK on Explaining funerals, burial and cremation to children to you.


    BJS66: Your sons might also find our page on coping with grief as a teenager helpful to read by themselves.


    Thanks

  • Posts: 1
    11/03/2015  22:33

    Hi Ann, I lost my 10 year old daughter almost 3 years ago ,her younger sister was just 2 at the time ,we have always talked about Lauren even though we cry she seemed to be coping very well but recently she has been getting upset in school & tells the teacher it's because she misses her sister ,it's so heartbreaking


    I try to tell her that Lauren is always watching over her & point out white feathers & bright stars to comfort her 

    I don't want her to feel that by mentioning Lauren she will upset me 

    is there anything you can suggest 

    thank you Mandy

  • Posts: 1
    12/03/2015  13:48

    My mil died of brain cancer in 2011. Our son was 17 months when this happened, we have photos of her around the house and visit her grave regularly. He remembers that nana was in a wheelchair ( every wheelchair he sees he looks in to check for nana) 

    We never told him she had died as he was too young, he has now started to ask to see her and go to her house. My husband explained that she is an angel but he is asking the why she is and how. We are finding this difficult to answer, what would you suggest? 

    Thank you for your time 

  • Posts: 5
    Edited by: MarkWilkin - 12/03/2015 16:16

    Question from amspans: 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.


    Hi there, thank you for your honesty and sharing your story. I have heard many a time from adults who have struggled through their grief as a child and the lack of support they were able to receive and the impact this has had on their lives. This is why it is so important that there are organisations like Marie Curie who can support not just the child but also offer guidance to the adults supporting that child. Being open with your daughter is so important especially in grief. 

    Sometimes it is easier to think “What they don’t know doesn’t hurt them”. This does not really work in grief. By allowing the young person to be part of the journey with you allows them to know that they too are important in all of this. It is difficult to know when is the right time to speak to your child about a terminal illness as the last thing you want is for them to be suffering. However I would say, the majority of children and young people do want this information shared with them. 

    I am not sure how old your daughter is, but in general it is best to be led by the child. They may already have witnessed changes in physical appearance, what they are able to do as a family unit together and conversations. Ask them what they understand about the person’s condition. By doing this you are allowing them to have a voice, you are keeping that trust between you. It can even be useful to ask them how much information they would like you to share with them. Children will dip in and out of their grief so will not carry the burden of someone they love dearly is terminally ill for lengthy periods at a time. Share the information at a pace which is right for you and your child. They don’t need to know everything all at once. 

    They may ask you questions you are not sure how to answer. Be honest with them and let them know you don’t know. By letting your child know when there is a terminal illness, you are giving them the chance to not just understand it but a chance to be able to stay in control and be able to say their goodbyes. By allowing the child in, you have not taken away their right to decide what is best for them. Even as young as 4 years, they will have an opinion of how much they would like to be involved and what is best for them. It sounds as though you and your daughter have a beautiful open relationship. Keep going.

    Ann Scanlon – Marie Curie Cancer Care

    Mark Wilkin: You might also find the information on this page on supporting a child when someone dies helpful.

  • Posts: 5
    Edited by: MarkWilkin - 12/03/2015 16:18

    Question from Mandy: Hi Ann, I lost my 10 year old daughter almost 3 years ago ,her younger sister was just 2 at the time ,we have always talked about Lauren even though we cry she seemed to be coping very well but recently she has been getting upset in school & tells the teacher it's because she misses her sister ,it's so heartbreaking


    I try to tell her that Lauren is always watching over her & point out white feathers & bright stars to comfort her 

    I don't want her to feel that by mentioning Lauren she will upset me 

    is there anything you can suggest 

    thank you Mandy


    Hi Mandy, it is great that you have been able to continue to keep Lauren’s memory alive for her sister. Your youngest daughter (sorry I don’t know her name) is at a stage in her understanding, of realising that death is permanent. She may still not quite understand what permanent means. Don’t be too concerned if you cry when talking to your daughter about Lauren. This will help her to understand that it is ok to show her emotions too. Let her know that sometimes it can help you when you cry. Sometimes children will offload to other people they trust such as teachers in order to protect their parents. This does not mean that they do not feel comfortable in talking to their parents. Sometimes the closer the family unit, the more beneficial external support can be as everyone is protecting one another. It is great that she has felt comfortable enough to talk to this teacher. 


    Children at this age can generalise too. Although she has said she misses Lauren, it might be worth checking out what she means by this. What would she like?  It maybe that she is saying also that she misses the company of another child and as Lauren is vivid she has connected to her. She may be concerned she is forgetting her sister. Your memories will become her memories; she will be able to own them. You may be interested in a book called Badgers Parting Gift. This helps to explain the process of death to a young child. 


    It may be that Lauren’s sister is in the next phrase now of wanting to know not just who Lauren was and what was she like, but a little about what happened so she can piece her story together. You may like to do a memory jar with her. You will need coloured chalk and salt and a small jar. Measure the salt into the jar until it is full. Then tip onto 4 pieces of paper. Each piece of paper is a memory. Roll the chalk backwards and forwards in the chalk until you get to the colour you want. As you are doing it talk about that memory. You can add glitter to make it even more special. Pour into your jar. Do this with each piece of paper. Your jar will end up with 4 different colours which will relate to the memories you have discussed. You can then write your memories up and frame them. You can do separate ones or one together. This is a great activity which brings fun into the room but also extremely touching for all who take part. 


    I hope this is ok and best of luck with the memory jar making.  


    Ann Scanlon – Marie Curie Cancer Care

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