• There are many ways we can approach conversations surrounding the death of a loved one. (Brand X/Getty)
How to prepare children for the imminent death of an ill relative.
By
Anonymous

31 Oct 2017 - 1:46 PM  UPDATED 31 Oct 2017 - 2:50 PM

My children’s grandmother doesn’t have long to live. Cancer.

When the inevitable happens, it’s going to hit our children hard. It will be their first experience of the death of someone close to them, so learning about mortality isn’t going to be pleasant.

As parents, we so often want to protect our children from experiencing this pain – but experts say that’s the worst thing we can do.

“We’ve got to this stage of protecting our children from everything, and then wondering why they don’t cope when things do happen."

“Generally, the kids who don’t cope (with the death of a loved one) are the ones who don’t know what’s happening and are very anxious about it,” says Lyn Worsley, clinical psychologist at The Resilience Centre. “Having a dialogue about it is much more comforting for a child.”

“We’ve got to this stage of protecting our children from everything, and then wondering why they don’t cope when things do happen. It’s just a normal part of life, so what are we going to do to prepare them rather than trying to protect them?”

Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare children

Whether your children have a close relative or friend who is facing death, or whether it’s an abstract concept for some time in the future, it’s important to prepare them for what it means.

“There’s a lot to be said for preparing children for the inevitable by exposing them to death and dying earlier on,” says Worsley. “This is why pets are really helpful, as well as exposing children to older people and different stages of life, and being involved in funerals around the community.”

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It’s a topic that none of us enjoy talking about, but it’s so important. And there are many ways we can approach those conversations.

Worsley says books can be really helpful ways to initiate chats between children and their parents.

“Rather than buying books because you know someone who is dying, try to have those books there already,” she suggests. “This helps it to become just a normal part of talking.”

“There are lots of books about death, what different religions do when someone is dying, and what happens after life.”

Some of these are philosophical questions that, as parents, we may need to first deal with ourselves before deciding how we can explain things to our children.

Give children a safe space

There are many different cultural approaches to helping children prepare for, and ultimately deal with, grief. Many cultures and faiths follow rituals within the first weeks, months and year of death.

“In (some parts of) New Zealand, the whole community takes a week off to be together, take meals to each other, and grieve,” says Worsley. “And the Indian community (around my psychology practice) takes a similar approach; they grieve together rather than doing it alone.”

“When we talk about children grieving, it’s about giving them words for sadness and how they’re feeling grief,” says Worsley.

“We can take our exposure to various religions and cultures, and start wondering about the approaches we can take with children.”

Ultimately, the most important thing we can do to prepare our children for inevitable grief is to keep conversations open, and give them a safe space to talk and let out their emotions.

“When we talk about children grieving, it’s about giving them words for sadness and how they’re feeling grief,” says Worsley.

“Crying and sadness is an everyday part of life, and an indication that you love, and that’s a beautiful thing to celebrate.”

If you need support you can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Resilience Centre. 

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