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How to prepare my children for my fathers death?

(16 Posts)
secrethistory Thu 06-Sep-12 19:14:43


My dad is terminally ill and at the moment he looks quite well which is part of the reason I think I can not absorb it all in. He has battled with bowel cancer for a few years and was in the clear for about 2 years but then it came back. Its now in his bowel, liver, glands and blood.

They said to my mum they do not like to say how long he will have as everyone is different. At the moment he is receiving pallitive chemo and he's reacting quite well which is good. They said if it makes him ill then they would stop and without chemo he would get ill fast.

They said its not at the critical stage but we should start to think about hospices soon. This just freaks me out as he looks well, healthy, he is driving about but I know he is weak and can not walk far.

I have three young girls who adore my dad so much and it breaks my heart as the youngest age two is very close to him. I do not know if I should tell them all now that my dad is sick and will die. Obviously we have no idea how long he will be ill for. But the fact they mention hospice, to me means he may go downhill fast and could be months. So I feel like if my daughters (older ones age 6 and 8) know he is ill they will give him lots of attention and when the time comes it will not be so much of a shock.

When he is dying, should they see him? Should they be there to see him go if we are all there, what about the funeral? My partner said he did not attend his grandparents but I feel this is important to help them grieve too. I know they will see us all crying and they can see its ok to cry or do you think this may have a negative effect.

I would really appreciate to hear your thoughts, experience, advice etc.

Many thanks

flyoverthegoldenhill Thu 06-Sep-12 19:44:31

secret I was in your position (but without a 2yo). At the stage your at now I explained in as simple language as I could that grandad was dying. I am not trying to put anything on you here - but I said he was going to heaven. I appreciate you may want to say things differently. I let them ask questions, they may well ask really odd ones, mine did. This did help them prepare for the awful time ahead. I didn't let them go to the funeral' but on reflection mabe I should have let the eldest one go. This is a very painful time for all of you. It will also depend on how he is at the end, it got to the stage where I wouldn't let them go, and that was the right decision. For some stupid reason I didn't think they should see me cry. That was a mistake. They can be a great comfort to you and your mum. I made mistakes, and what worked for us may not bethe same for you. You are in my thoughts.

sittinginthesun Thu 06-Sep-12 19:56:25

Oh I am so sorry. I've been there - lost my Dad to bowel cancer nearly four years ago. At the time, my two boys were nearly 5, and nearly 2, so younger than yours.

The children were in the car with me when I pulled over to take the phonecall from my mum about the diagnosis. It was picked up on a scan, and was all over his liver, so clear very quickly that it terminal.

I felt I had to stay as honest as possible, so told them straight away that Grandad was very ill with something called cancer, that sometimes could be cured, but sometimes made people die. That the doctors were going to give him medicine, and it might help, but that we didn't know.

DS1, who was a pretty sharp 4 year old at the time, completely got it.

We visited a lot, and they saw him three days before he died, when he was pretty bedbound and out of it. DS1 was a bit shy, DS2 too young to understand and just brought him his glasses!

Both went to the funeral, but it was a very quiet, woodland burial, so wasn't hard with them at all. DH wasn't too keen, but I put my foot down.

I can talk about it all fairly easily now, but it was a rough, hard, stressful, sad, dark time. We had good moments - I probably chatted to my dad more in the last 6 months than in the 10 years previously.

Please pm me if you want to talk at all. Strangely enough, it was my virtual "friends" who really pulled me through (not on here, but a number have migrated since, and I still thank them silently every time I see their names.

Take care.

girlsyearapart Thu 06-Sep-12 20:13:31

Couldn't read without posting & sending my thoughts & best wishes to you.
Also just wondering whether you have asked your Dad what he would like the children to know/not know?

MrsClooney1 Thu 06-Sep-12 20:26:06

So sorry to hear your news. I lost my Mum to cancer 9 months ago. Was told it was terminal, and we had six months or so with her. We decided to be totally honest with my dd who was 7. I bought her a book aimed at children explaining about cancer for us to read together, and just made sure she knew she could talk to me or dh, and even my Mum about it.

We decided against her going to Mum's funeral quite early on and the three of us, me, dd and Mum planned what 'we' could do instead when Nana died. We planned a 'day of loveliness' instead for me and dd, so it was her way of saying goodbye, without going to a funeral.

Take care

secrethistory Fri 07-Sep-12 17:17:41

hello again and thank you for all your replies.

i can not really ask my dad as he does not want to know anything about it or discuss it. he told my mum she can ask the docs about it but not tell him. its the way he deals with stress - ignore! so we have to go with that really.

i will tell the girls they can talk about it to me and everyone else in the family but maybe only talk about happy things to my dad. he will not be able to get totally away with it and i think he should talk about it once to them.

still not decided about the funeral, i feel we should be together as a family at the funeral. i do not want to split the girls up. i've never seen my mum cry (only heard her cry once when she miscarried) and when I do see her cry its going to hurt so much.

sittinginthesun Fri 07-Sep-12 17:34:30

It will hurt, but you must take one day at a time.

It's strange, but the reality of my dad actually dying and my mum grieving were not as bad as I'd imagined. You go into a sort of shock, and I actually felt high at the time. So did my mum. It was only later that it became hard.

My dad was very matter of fact, but also didn't want to talk about it. I found that hard, because I was second guessing a lot.

The Macmillan phone line was a lifeline. They gave me a lit of advice over the phone, and support too.

goosiegander Tue 11-Sep-12 12:07:30

This is really sad. If it is any help to you hospices often have a psychologist trained in bereavement as it affects children. There are also some good books to help young children cope with death such as Badger's Parting Gifts and The Copper Tree. Schools also have access to specialist help if required.

caramelsmadfuzzytail Tue 11-Sep-12 12:19:03

Water bugs and dragonflies is a good book

BiddyPop Tue 11-Sep-12 12:55:02

Have a look at Winstons Wish website - they had good advice about telling kids and helping kids cope with bereavement.

Have a rough idea now of what you think you'd like to do about the kids and the funeral. But leave it open so that you can change your mind when the time comes. The kids may want to come, or they may let you know that they do not want to come - quite apart from what you think yourself.

One of my gran's recently died (not cancer but we knew it was a matter of time) and DD (6) got to see her in the hospital a good bit over the final few months. She didn't come into the room the afternoon before gran died (she was unconcious at that stage) but had had a lovely visit 9 days before and a great chat together.

I talked to her a lot about death in a factual way, and also what to expect (grownups being sad and crying, or getting stressed and maybe being a bit cross, or perhaps just wanting lots of hugs) both emotionally and talking through the practicalities of what would happen and when, and that she could be sad if she needed but that it was good to be happy too for gran. DD is very literal anyway, but she was very matter of fact about stuff, which helped.

When my grandad had died 2 years ago, we brought her to the removal (evening service) but not the open coffin in the house or to the funeral itself. She has been to visit the grave a few times though (and also my other grandad who died before she was born - recently deceased gran's DH). This time, I had to bring her to the house when the coffin would be there, but I left it much later to arrive myself and told her all about it but that she didn't have to go into the room if she didn't want to (I was happy to bring her in if she did - but she chose to stay out). There were plenty of family around and "helping jobs" (like bringing around buns, or clearing dishes) that distracted anyway. Again though, she went to the creche for the day of the funeral (they were running summer camp for schoolkids and had space to take her).

Over the past year, as both gran's have been ill and fading slowly, I have given her the option of coming with me to visit or not, at home or in hospital. With (just died) gran, she wanted to visit a lot and we did. With other gran (93, bedbound and suffers from dementia but happy in herself just no short term memory and now forgetting who we all are), she has always found her overpowering anyway (and so do I, TBH), so she was less inclined to visit. I have been able to visit without her and not have any issues - and she has asked to come occasionally now that gran is in bed all the time, to see my aunt living there still mostly, but sometimes pops up to say a quick "Hi" to Gran too.

If you talk to them in an age-appropriate way, let them know they can ask you anything, and give them the option to visit as much as you can (either it may not be feasible for them to come, or for you not to bring them - but they don't have to go in to see your Dad if they would prefer not to, bring some colouring in or a computer game or book for the dayroom or the car), it will all help. Life and death are all natural, and kids can be remarkably matter-of-fact about it all and accepting of new realities.

Mind yourself too.

BiddyPop Tue 11-Sep-12 12:55:18

Sorry, I didn't mean that to be such an essay....

TelephoneTree Mon 17-Sep-12 22:16:41

I think children fare better with the truth and actually cope much better than us grown ups. I am SO sorry that you have all this and your poor Dad being poorly. It's so heartbreaking / frightening / shocking / surreal etc. I lost my mum 9 months ago to cancer. I just told ours that she had cancer that was a disease that slowly breaks your body and when body's get too broken, they just die but that it's ok because when that happens, the person is ready to die. Our big motto is 'don't be sad that she died, be glad that she lived'.

Please be gentle with yourself - you're in the hardest part I think - at this stage I used to wake up with nightmares / panic attacks imaging that I'd just had 'the call' and it was so awful. But when the time actually came, it wasn't nearly as bad as all my nightmares and worries. It felt right somehow. Enjoy the time you have with your dad - you have an opportunity to enjoy him in a way you never imagined possible.

Mum's funeral was full of children and they were all totally fine. Even my 9 year old cousin who had lost his brother. kids are so matter of fact. We peered in to the grave before the funeral and watched the coffin going in. We looked at things on you tube before hand. They were so blase about it.

Big hugs and please PM me if there's anything at all I can help with, though I imagine not but anyway xxxx

rainbowsprite1 Wed 24-Oct-12 00:38:34

Telephone tree, thank you for your wise words, I am quite possibly at this stage with my dad & I have 2 young DD's. I'm going to follow your advice, thank you

BadRoly Wed 24-Oct-12 00:50:08

My Dad died in May. My children were 10, 9, 5 and 2. The 2 year old was/is oblivious really.

The 5yo has/had her moments but mostly it 'isn't there'. She is the one who asked tactless questions at inappropriate times but that actually helped us grin

The 10yo and 8yo took it all quite hard as dh's stepfather died unexpectedly 4 days before my Dad! They were prepared for my Dad as we knew he was deteriorating and were able to visit for a weekend a say our goodbyes after the consultant said he had days left.

We kept everything simple and in language they could understand. They saw me cry (and still do). We said its ok to feel sad or angry or anything else.

We told school very early on and they have been quietly supportive all along. They put in a referral to a local charity that supports children who are experiencing death.

All the children came to my Dad's funeral along with my nieces aged 3 and 4. My eldest read a poem she had written at the memorial service. They took it all in their stride and were not phased at seeing adults upset or crying.

My advice is to be honest with your dds as far as you are comfortable. Don't be afraid to let them see your emotions and to talk about feelings - yours and theirs. And don't be surprised if they carry on 'normally' with odd moments (at the strangest times) of sadness.

Thinking if you at the awful and sad time xx

SlinkyPebbles Mon 07-Jan-13 21:56:09

Try a book called 'Badger's Parting Gift'

SlinkyPebbles Mon 07-Jan-13 21:57:19

Apologies, 'Badger's Parting Gifts'.

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