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Ask Dr. Giles: What is the best way to explain to my grandchildren…

Jeff G writes:

What is the best way to explain to my grandchildren age 6 and 4 about my disease of CC and that PaPa will be leaving them. I guess timing/when and how. What would be less traumatic? Is simply saying I’m sick and going to heaven to be one of god’s angels? My Daughter happened to mentioned to me the other day she said she had to figure out away to explain this to the kids. Due to a divorce, my daughter and grandchildren are living with us, so the bond of love is pretty strong. Any insight/advice would be greatly appreciated. I worry so much about my family and how things will work out once I leave this world. It actually frightens me more than death. I think?

Thank You,
Jeff G.

P.S. I don’t plan on leaving for many months to come, but CC has a mind of it’s on. It has mets pretty much throughout my body now.

 

Talking to children about death and dying is a delicate balancing act. On one hand, we want to acknowledge their feelings, and our own, about separation and loss. On the other hand, we want to reassure and help the children maintain some semblance of order and security in their ongoing lives so they feel confident about their own futures.

When talking about something “new” to children (whether it’s drugs, sex, divorce, death, etc.) it’s often helpful to think about the conversations as taking place over time on multiple occasions, beginning generally and moving to more specific information. You would first start with conversations to gather information from them about what they know and how they feel about what they know. The sequence of information-gathering conversations could go something like the following. Remember, there could be multiple conversations over time on each topic.

1. Conversations about death.

  • What do they already know about death?
  • How do they know it?
  • How do they feel about what they know?

2. Conversations about your illness.

  • What do they know about your illness?
  • How do they know it?
  • How do they feel about what they know?

3. Conversations about your illness as it relates to death.

  • What do they know about your illness as it relates to death?
  • How do they know it?
  • How do they feel about what they know?

After gathering information about what they already know, then you must decide what you want them to know from you about your illness and how it relates to death. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. How do I feel about my illness?
  2. How do I feel about death?
  3. How do I feel about the prospect of dying from this illness?
  4. What do I want these children to remember about my attitude towards dying from this illness?
  5. What do I hope they learn from me about this time of my life?

After you have spent some time answering these questions, you are ready to talk with them. You’ll notice that I haven’t told you what you should say. That’s because I don’t think there is one thing that you absolutely must say–besides communicating to them that death is a normal part of our life experience. It is more important that you are clear and genuine in what you say rather than saying the “right” thing. Also, please remember that the conversations will most naturally take place over time on multiple occasions. Don’t worry about saying the “right thing” at the “right time.” You’ll likely have more than one chance to tell them what you want to say, and the more you talk about it the more likely it will be that they will understand what you are trying to convey to them.

In summary, be sure to spend time assessing what they already know and how they feel about what they know. Next, decide what you want to convey to them. Finally, make time to convey those things. Please remember that there will likely be multiple conversations about this over time, so let go of the expectation that you have to say the “right thing” at the “right time.”

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