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What to tell grandchild?  
Started by karla22
19 Jul 2012, 6:23 PM

My mom will be starting chemo for stomach cancer soon. We don't know what will happen next. Suppose to have surgery after chemo.

What do I tell my child about this situation?

My child is a thinker, and can worry and have anxiety. I've refrained from mentioning anything actually at this point. Child will probably not see grandma for awhile -- though we might try to set up video chat.  (Though grandma may lose hair... will wear a hat.)
What do you suggest?  

Thank you so much for this community!
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Reply by moderator | modératrice
19 Jul 2012, 10:15 PM

Dear Karla,
Welcome to Virtual Hospice. I'm glad you found us.
I think most experts would recommend telling your child about grandma's illness honestly. We have several resources that can help you frame the talks you'll have.

For children, seeing their loved one without hair can be hard. I know one mom who had her young son help pick out a hat with her. She told him she would be losing her hair and by letting him chose a hat, it gave him a sense of being able to help and a his piece of control over something he didn't want to have happen. I thought it was a great idea. 
May I ask how old your child is? 
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Reply by NatR
18 Aug 2012, 6:02 PM

Dear Karla,

Its a complicated issues on how to share scary information about grandma.

Being a grandma myself and having grandchildren who are far too bright for their age - or at least far more aware than I was myself at their age - the world is a very different world today - I do understand your concern.

Honesty is important - but I do believe children shouldn't be given more than they can handle and deal with.  The phrase "a need to know basis " comes to mind.

It's important to tell your child that grandma is sick and that certain things might happen - example hair loss, appearance etc.

Being prepared in general ways is going to be better than suddenly seeing grandma looking different and being terrified!

You will know what best to say !
Also being Able to share Skype chats and being connected will be so important for your child and your mom!

During skype conversations you maybe can have your child sharedrawings or cards made by the child to surprise grandma - make her smile.  Then your child will feel that he/she is making a great positivecontribution to making grandma smile and feel a bit better

I hope that things are going okay and that you are able to support your mom and your child through this important treatment time.
Sending you my best wishes,
Apologies for any errors in spelling, my phone tries to help- and doesn't!
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Reply by Cath1
18 Aug 2012, 6:59 PM

Dear karla22:

It's been about a month since you last wrote and I'm wondering if your Mom has since had her surgery, and if so, how is she doing? How are you coping? I hope you found a way to speak to your child about your Mom's illness. I can only imagine how difficult it is or was to find the right words to inform your child while at the same time protecting your child from worry.

My son-in-law's mother had cancer for about three years prior to her death. The cancer was discovered after she had a stroke and by the time it was detected, though she did have radiation and chemotherapy, it was too late to save her life although the treatments did prolong it. In her last few months of life she moved in with my son-in-law and my daughter and their two young children. Both parents had spoken openly - to a degree - about the illness - even said the word cancer which many adults find frightening to say aloud - and over time the children came to accept that their beloved Grandma was feeling sick, trying everything she could to feel better, and eventually they accepted that the doctors could not cure her. She died at their home and it was just a week and a half after Christmas and the children visited the room where their grandmother lay dying often and right up to the night before her death.

I recall how naturally they seemed to accept that Grandma was sick and while they felt sad that she was not getting better, they were able to express their feelings to their parents, and they seemed more able to handle the natural progression of illness and the nature of life better than the adults. I think children need to be told the truth about a loved one's illness so that they can feel included and prepared should their loved one pass away. Times of illness within a family can bring opportunities for loving conversations and a deeper sense of family connectedness as everyone is sharing the experience.

You will know best your own child and how best to handle your own personal situation. When I was young I was a highly sensitive child and I know when anyone was ill around me I would sensed it and picked up on all the unspoken cues. For me, as a child, I always felt better and more in control when I knew the truth of situations and felt able to communicate my real feelings about whatever the situation happened to be.

I think as parents it is our instinct to protect our kids from having to experience the more painful moments in life. We never want to add to their anxiety or increase feelings of insecurity, but for some children, it is the silence and the lack of open communication and information that actually makes them feel more scared about the future of a loved one than the truth. In my experience, children are many times much more resilient and accepting of life and death matters than are we as adults.

Whatever information you choose to share with your child, I would share also how you are feeling so your child has a chance to understand somewhat your stress and your emotions that are likely impossible to keep completely under wraps. Kids often pick up on the feelings in the air and without knowing why everyone is feeling upset, they may feel even more anxiety if left to draw upon their own very vivid and active imaginations to come up with answers. I think it is fine for children to learn early on that life is not always fair and that we cannot always, as the adults who cherish them, solve every problem or make everything better.

It is sad that you as a mother must even have to think of having such conversations with your child, but I believe that you will know how much to say or how little and you will do what is best for your child. Most importantly, when your heart is in the right place, you cannot fail or make a mistake. No matter what you say, it will be said with love and the best of intentions. The truth of your heart is all you need to convey a meaningful message to your child and to your Mom.

I am thinking of you too, karla22, as you are your Mom's child, no matter her age or yours, and I empathize with the heartbreak you are both likely feeling as you try to protect and support one another as mothers and daughters do. You're in a very tough situation in your life and I hope you will write back to update us on how you are managing to deal with everything you are going through. You are not alone, karla22, we are here for you and should you need to talk, we are all here for you to listen.

Wishing your Mom and you and your family hope and courage and strength.

With affection -hugs - xo
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Reply by NatR
07 Sep 2012, 4:16 PM

Hello Karla22,

Like Cath1 I have had you in my thoughts from time to time and wonder how things have been going for you.

When you have time or you feel like it, drop us a line and let us know how you are making out.  We want to let you know you are part of the community and that your situation is important to us.

Every single person who writes in has a different story or burden to share.  Regardless, each story matters, and the people involved need support.

Wishing you the best today...keep well,

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Reply by mydad
20 Aug 2013, 5:57 PM

I am now in the same boat as you Karla22. A few years ago I never imagined I'd be 29 and facing the realization that my Dad has advanced lung cancer and was only given a few more months to live. I too am trying to make sense of all of this and have three young (1, 3 and 5) kids at home that will need some explaining. I want to be completely honest with them and answer the questions that they might have but that's exactly the problem, I don't know all of the answers. I struggle with showing them how much hurt I feel, I tend to bottle it all up inside. If only things were different, right?

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Reply by moderator | modératrice
21 Aug 2013, 2:10 AM

Hi mydad,
Welcome to Virtual Hospice. The situation you are facing is difficult at any age, but at 29?!?!! That just doesn't seem right. 

It's okay to not have all the answers. In fact, you may find that kids give you some answers, especially when they have a mom who's being honest like you are. I encourage you to allow yourself to show your hurt and that you're human. Not all the time perhaps, but don't feel you always have to keep it to yourself.

My daughter is 10. Last year she lost her paternal grandfather and a great grandfather. This year we're facing the end with her other grandfather, my dad. 

Have you seen this thread and some of the links included in it?
Talking to children about the death of a parent 

I look forward to opening this discussion up with others.
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Reply by JennJilks
26 Aug 2013, 12:24 PM

Be honest with your kids.
Model it for them.
Find a book that supports your spiritual beliefs, e.g., 'What happened when Grampa died.' 
You are modelling grief for them, they look to you to have faith that you will be there for them, that their lives will go on.

I once helped one of my students write a eulogy for her grandpa, she was in gr. 6, but this is a way older kids can show what the loved one meant.
In your case, write notes, do drawings with the kids, for grandpa.
What I told my kids (now age 28, 30, 34) is that grandpa will get a new body, a new life, and a new home. He is not in pain and he will always be in our hearts.

Children and bereavement

    1. Respect their needs: to talk or be silent.
    1. Deal with the issues as they arise.
    1. Talk to a professional if you need to.
    1. Listen to their concerns.
    1. Let them know you are upset.
    1. Model your strategy for dealing with grief.
    1. Do not give them answers if you really do not know the answers.
    1. Clear up misconceptions, i.e., false threats, that is it *their* fault.
    1. Let them tell their stories: drawing, creating poems, writing letters.
    1. Make a fear box. Cut out pictures from magazine that represent their fears and place them in the box.
    1. Have them prioritize their fears and talk to you about them.
    1. Help others: food banks, give a donation to a cause related to your issue.
    1. Read books for children about death and dying. (See my amazon.ca list) There are many for children that help them better understand that life is about, and death, too.

 Helpful books for the Grieving Child: 
• What Color is Death, Daddy? [PDF download]
An interactive book for children ages 3-7
• The Kaleidoscope of Grief: When Children Experience Death [PDF download]
Interactive books for Children ages 7 and up
• Kaleidoscope book En Español [PDF download]
A helpful brochures to help others understand how to help children
• Helping Grieving Children [PDF download]

Always, I would read stories to the kids. My favourite, when a grandparent died, was the Ten Best Things About Barnie. The child, who lost a pet, was told to remember ten good things. This is another great opportunity.
The book doesn't matter, the opportunity to share your grief surely does.

What Happened When Grandma Died is terrific. It tells the child that Grandma has a new body, a new home and a new life. I believe in this one.Children's bereavement arts group 
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