Hospice Quinte: Changing Lives Podcast

Preparing a Child to Visit a Dying Loved One

April 04, 2022 Hospice Quinte Season 5 Episode 13
Hospice Quinte: Changing Lives Podcast
Preparing a Child to Visit a Dying Loved One
Show Notes Transcript

There is a question that often surfaces in the hospice environment:   How much should we involve children in dying process family members?  And that leads to another eventual question - at what age is it appropriate for children to attend funerals? Family members struggle with both of these questions.  And different cultures in our world address the topics from opposite perspectives.  How do you know what is right for the children in your life as a loved one approaches death?  Find out more in this week's Changing Lives podcast.

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You can listen to episodes of "Changing Lives"  on 91x FM each Monday (except for holidays) at 9:05am.  Hospice Quinte is grateful to the support that 91x FM provides in producing the "Changing Lives" podcast.

About Hospice Quinte
Hospice Quinte provides individuals, their families, and caregivers with compassionate end of life care, by attending to their physical, psychosocial, and practical needs, and offering empathetic care to those who are grieving through visiting hospice services and support groups.  All Hospice Quinte programs and services are provided by compassionate, well-trained volunteers and staff at no charge to the individual or their family.  

Hospice Quinte serves a population of over 102,000 in Quinte West, Belleville, Deseronto, Tyendinaga Township and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. To find out more visit HospiceQuinte.ca.



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There is a question that often surfaces in the hospice environment:   How much should we involve children in dying process family members?  And that leads to another eventual question : At what age is it appropriate for children to attend funerals? Family members struggle with both of these questions.  And different cultures in our world address the topics from opposite perspectives.

Some families shield their children from the entire process, including visits to the dying family members, and exclude the children entirely from funerals. Other families and cultures involve the children in every step of the process.

How do you know what is right for the children in your life as a loved one approaches death?

Here are some suggestions to help with that topic.

Andrea Warnick, is a nurse, and educator, and a registered psychotherapist in Toronto….. She specializes in helping families prepare children for death and supporting them through their grief. 

Andrea offers the following 5 suggestions  to help prepare children for visiting a dying family member:

First,  Prepare your children.  As best you can, prepare your children for what they will experience.  This involves knowing the situation into which the children will go.  The startling factor of the bedside environment will be greatly reduced if they children have the advantage of knowing ahead of time what they will see.

Tell them what the room looks like.  Explain to them that dying is a tiring process and that their loved one may be sleeping a lot.

It is important for children to understand that when a body is close to dying, it usually does not need anything to eat or drink.  It helps to differentiate – because in a child’s mind, they might assume that their loved one is dying BECAUSE they are not eating or drinking.

Most patients in the dying process receive medication to help with the pain.  Explain to the children that this medication is not designed to make them BETTER, but rather to help them be comfortable.

People who are nearing the end of life often experience confusion and agitation.   This could be very contrary to what their loved one’s demeanor was like when they were healthy.  It is important for children to understand this, as often the dying person will mix up names and be confused about where they are.

-Changes in skin colour and breathing patterns are often evident at the end of life.   It will help your children to know ahead of time that these physical things might be present.

Second - Encourage Questions - Your children will very likely have many questions, but may be reluctant to ask them.   Let your children know they are welcome to ask ANYTHING.  And don’t be afraid to be honest with the children if you don’t immediately know the answer.  

Use of the word “MYSTERY” can be helpful when explaining to children that there are some questions that arise for which we do not have answers.

Be ready to repeat your answers because it is commonplace for children to ask the same questions over and over.  And thank them for being courageous enough to ask their questions.

Third -  Suggest ways to interact with their loved one. Children often struggle to know how to interact with someone who is dying.  Give them some suggestions to help their interaction:  things like :

-           Decorating the room

-           Choosing music

-           Applying moisturizer to their hands and feet

-           Holding their loved one’s hand

-           Telling stories or explaining their day

-           Colouring or watching a movie at bedside 

All of these are wonderful suggestions for how your child might be comfortable interacting with their loved one.

And lastly, consider the practical. It will help the process if you have a plan in place about the actual death.  If a child is at school when their loved one dies, find out if they want to be picked up at school or told when they arrive at home.

Ask them if they are hoping to be WITH the family member when he or she dies.

For a child who does not want to be present, have a plan in place for who will pick them up from school.   Knowing these things ahead of time will alleviate angst and remove some of the questions that will very likely surface. 

Hospice Quinte provides individuals, their families, and caregivers with compassionate end of life care, by attending to their physical, psychosocial, and practical needs, and offering empathetic care to those who are grieving through visiting hospice services and support groups.  All Hospice Quinte programs and services are provided by compassionate, well-trained volunteers and staff at no charge to the individual or their family.  We serve a population of over 102,000 in Quinte West, Belleville, Deseronto, Tyendinaga Township and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.