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Jenna Em

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Six Ways to Help Children Deal With Death

Posted: 11/05/2012 8:06 am

We never expected that my father-in-law would be diagnosed with cancer, just months after retiring.  A fun, robust, athletic man, he was the light of our childrens' lives.  When he told my husband and I of his diagnosis, it was his wish that we would not tell the kids, lest they be sad and worry for him.  But after rounds and rounds of chemotherapy, the children had to be told why Grandpa was not visiting as regularly as before.

Two-and-a-half years passed, and both chemotherapy and radiation therapy failed to work for my father-in-law.  A social worker called about moving him into a Palliative Care unit.  Countless doctors and operations were able to slow the cancer, but not the outcome.  We took the kids to visit their Grandpa, and what we saw surprised us all: he had become a skeleton of a man.

The family held onto hope that Grandpa would somehow take a turn for the better.  But we received a phone call from the palliative care unit to hurry over, as my father-in-law was about to die.  He passed away within minutes of the call.  When we shook off the personal grief for a moment, the horror set in that the children no longer had their special Grandpa.  He was gone and now we would have to tell them the sad, sad news.


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  • Tell the Truth

    When a loved one dies, tell your child the truth -- or as close to the truth as possible. For example, Grandpa died of cancer; If your child is very young, try to explain it in simple terms. This step helps your child learn his or her medical history, which may one day be forgotten, or lost when keepers of this information also pass away.

  • Share Your Feelings

    Don't be afraid to share your feelings with your child when a family member passes away. It is important that your child share his or her feelings too. Don't try to hide tears in front of your child, instead use the opportunity to discuss your sadness for a loved one's passing.

  • Make an "I Love You" List

    Reassure your child that you love him, and make a list of family members and close friends who love him too. When a loved one dies, your child's world may seem smaller and less hospitable. The "I Love You" list will be a reminder that your child is not alone. Be sure to tell your child that you will always be there for him and that you will not be going away.

  • Keep the Memory Alive

    Have your child remember a departed loved one by drawing a picture, writing a letter, or doing something special in memoriam. If your child is very young, give her a laminated photo to keep of the special person (this makes it more durable).

  • Believe in Heaven?

    "Mommy, where do you go when you die?" If your culture embraces a concept like Heaven, this is sure to ease some of your child's worries. However, if you do not subscribe to such a belief system, do help your child find a peaceful answer to this question.

  • Visit the Final Resting Spot

    Not all cultures allow children to attend the funeral, so do allow your child to visit a loved one's final resting spot if the desire is there. Depending on your culture, your child can be an active participant by putting a flower or stone on the final resting spot (ie; headstone), or by speaking a word or two.

Tell the Truth -- When a loved one dies, tell your child the truth -- or as close to the truth as possible. For example, Grandpa died of cancer; If your child is very young, try to explain it in simple terms. This step helps your child learn his or her medical history, which may one day be forgotten, or lost when keepers of this information also pass away.

Share Your Feelings -- Don't be afraid to share your feelings with your child when a family member passes away. It is important that your child share his or her feelings too. Don't try to hide tears in front of your child, instead use the opportunity to discuss your sadness for a loved one's passing.

Make an "I Love You" List -- Reassure your child that you love him, and make a list of family members and close friends who love him too. When a loved one dies, your child's world may seem smaller and less hospitable. The "I Love You" list will be a reminder that your child is not alone. Be sure to tell your child that you will always be there for him and that you will not be going away.

Keep the Memory Alive -- Have your child remember a departed loved one by drawing a picture, writing a letter, or doing something special in memoriam. If your child is very young, give her a laminated photo to keep of the special person (this makes it more durable).

Believe in Heaven? -- "Mommy, where do you go when you die?" If your culture embraces a concept like Heaven, this is sure to ease some of your child's worries. However, if you do not subscribe to such a belief system, do help your child find a peaceful answer to this question.

Visit the Final Resting Spot -- Not all cultures allow children to attend the funeral, so do allow your child to visit a loved one's final resting spot if the desire is there.  Depending on your culture, your child can be an active participant by putting a flower or stone on the final resting spot (ie; headstone), or by speaking a word or two.

This month of November my husband is growing a moustache in honour of "Movember". Let's work together to raise awareness of prostate cancer, other cancers, and male mental health!

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  • Dalai Lama

    "It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty."

  • Eleanor Roosevelt

    "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

  • Henry Rollins

    “Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength; move on.”

  • Jean de la Fontaine

    "Sadness flies away on the wings of time."

  • John Steinbeck

    "Don't worry about losing. If it is right, it happens. The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away."

  • Red Skelton

    "No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few seconds."

  • Alexander Graham Bell

    "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

  • Lord Alfred Tennyson

    “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

  • Napoleon Hill

    "Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit."

  • Robert Frost

    "In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: It goes on."

  • Dolly Parton

    "If you're feeling low, don't despair. The sun has a sinking spell every night, but it comes back up every morning."

  • Anonymous

    "If someone you love hurts you, cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it."

  • Len Santos

    "Letting go has never been easy, but holding on can be as difficult. Yet strength is measured not by holding on, but by letting go."

  • Oprah Winfrey

    "You are responsible for your life. You can't keep blaming somebody else for your dysfunction. Life is really about moving on."

  • Sufi Epigram

    "When the heart grieves over what is has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left."

  • Dr. Seuss

    "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

  • Byrd Baggett

    “Look at life through the windshield, not the rear view mirror.”

  • Kahlil Gibran

    "March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life's path."

  • Victoria Holt

    “Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.”

  • Difficult Times

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Kate_Crisp"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/605537370/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Kate_Crisp">Kate Crisp</a>:<br />"The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves." — Pema Chödrön (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times)

  • William Shakespeare

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/oliverw"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/oliverw">oliverw</a>:<br />Come what come may, time and the hour run through the roughest day!

  • Helping others

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Pema"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100000965308501/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Pema">Pema</a>:<br />What we do for ourselves dies with us, what we do for another, remains eternal. Anon

  • TWO SOULS MEET

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Greg_Popiel"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100000351840270/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Greg_Popiel">Greg Popiel</a>:<br />The heart heals with the anticipation of meeting another soul.

  • Pure Bliss

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Greg_Popiel"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100000351840270/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Greg_Popiel">Greg Popiel</a>:<br />Pure Bliss is living your dream: a life of purpose, contribution, service.

  • Bobby Warren

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Bobby_Warren"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100001310458116/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Bobby_Warren">Bobby Warren</a>:<br />Life isn't about consistency its about change

  • 2nd Lt. Jose Delfin Estenor Khe

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Alexis_Estenor"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1037687601/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Alexis_Estenor">Alexis Estenor</a>:<br />Soldier may fall, but Heroes will live forever.

 

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