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My BIL is dying. What to say to the children (8) and (11).

(23 Posts)
Pleurepaslabouchepleine Mon 14-Dec-15 07:41:00

I'm sorry to put it in relationships but I just don't where else to put it. My BIL has been ill for a while, my Dh whilst closed, never saw each other a lot. BIL is now at my pil where they are caring for him between hospital visits. Dh went to see him yesterday and he was really shocked by how skinny and unwell he looked. He is too weak to start chemo as his heart beat faster each time he moves. My mil told my husband he doesn't have long left. We never told the children apart from the fact their uncle was sick, the eldest knows it's cancer but not our youngest. We need to tell them, how ? When : before or after Christmas ? We are all together after Christmas so I tought we could tell them after Boxing Day so we can have the time to explain, cheer them up. Thank you for your help

AnyFucker Mon 14-Dec-15 07:44:51

Will he last until after Xmas ? fsad

In your situation I would simply tell them the truth now. He is very poorly and is likely to die soon. I don't believe in telling children half truths or shielding them from the sad aspects of life.

WhoTheFuckIsSimon Mon 14-Dec-15 07:52:39

I think tell them the truth, that he's likely to die soon. Ime children are fairly accepting of such information. I lost my dad a couple of years ago just before xmas and dd was 12yo.

She knew he had cancer, knew he was very poorly. We'd been told in late Oct that he had weeks left. And we told her straight away. We didn't keep anything from her. She never really had any questions though I encouraged her to ask if she did. I also reminded her not to talk to my dad about it......I didn't want her blurting out something which might upset him.

She was close to her grandad but never really seemed that upset when he did die. Maybe because she had had time to get used to it??? She was sad, but there was no sobbing, etc which I'd been worried there might have been.

We cared for him at home as well and he died at home so she saw him getting sicker and sicker. She sat with him when he was unconcious in his last few days. She wanted to be there when he actually died which I said no to as I felt it would be too upsetting for her.

I'm sorry you're going through this.

Pleurepaslabouchepleine Mon 14-Dec-15 08:01:57

Anyfucker - it's impossible to tell, we think so with what we have been told but he is so skinny and cough so much. If he goes it's because his heart is too weak to carry on. Thank you for you advice, I agree with you.

WhothefuckisSimon - thank you, it must have been so hard to lose your dad and caring for him towards the end of his life. I'm more worried about my 8 years old..it's so young to be confronted to this. I was 14 the first time I lost a family member (my gran).

AnyFucker Mon 14-Dec-15 08:03:43

Death is part of life. Your 8yo will cope with it, possibly better than the 11yo.

WhoTheFuckIsSimon Mon 14-Dec-15 08:11:53

I think sometimes we worry that children will take such news hard when in reality for them it's not that big a thing. I think kids are quite accepting that these things happen.

I think you're 11yo is perhaps more likely to think a little deeper and maybe worry that if their uncle has got sick could you or your Dh get sick?

MarianneSolong Mon 14-Dec-15 08:18:40

Some of us are (very) frightened of death. It's useful if you can examine your own fears before trying to tell your children in a way that means they don't pick up on this.

Maybe try and be prepared for questions - though they won't necessarily come. And think about the answers you will give. Something like

Doctors can cure many illnesses but not quite all of them. Even with the ones that can't be cured, medicine can manage the pain so the end of life isn't scary and there's a chance to say goodbye to the people you love.

The illnesses doctors can't cure are much rarer than they used to be. You and their father are healthy and well intend to stay around for a very long time.

You and your husband do feel sad about his life being so near its end, but that it also makes you realise that families are special and that the four of you being together at Christmas is something you are very much looking forward to even more than usual.

RueDeWakening Mon 14-Dec-15 08:47:12

I had to tell my DD, who was 6 at the time, that her godmother had died following a car accident. She was surprisingly ok about it - I said that she would see some people, including me, being upset and feeling very sad, but that it didn't matter if she didn't feel the same way, there was no right or wrong, and that however she felt was right for her, and not to worry.

She had a few questions, some very practical including what happens after you die - I thought she meant heaven etc, turns out she meant where does your body go and who moves it so it was a good job I checked! I also said that she might feel sad in the weeks and months to come even if she didn't right now, and what was also ok and that she could come and ask questions or talk about her godmother whenever she wanted to.

I'm sorry you're having to go through it - do make sure you let school know what's going on, as they should be able to provide some pastoral support if needed too.

MarianneSolong Mon 14-Dec-15 09:02:46

I was thinking about my grandmother's death - I was 17 at the time - yesterday. I think there's been a huge change. She was my only grandparent. The others had all died before I was born. But I wasn't expected to have any feelings. I only overheard by chance that she was dying of leukaemia but wasn't allowed to visit her. Her death was announced by my father like some impersonal news item. At no point ever did anyone ask what I felt. It was just information and I was meant to behave properly. Not make a fuss. (I think I cried at the funeral, but quietly and if anyone in my family observed, no one comforted me.)

Sorry if this is a thread hijack, but I think there has been such a huge turnaround in the way we think about death. It's as if we now assume the opposite - that children will be devastated by a death in the wider family circle. Children will react in hugely different ways of course. But they may be quite robust especially if their questions and needs are addressed.

I think Rue's advice is excellent.

RedMapleLeaf Mon 14-Dec-15 09:14:13

I agree, Rue's post was great, as was this, Some of us are (very) frightened of death. It's useful if you can examine your own fears before trying to tell your children in a way that means they don't pick up on this. from Marianne.

CarbeDiem Mon 14-Dec-15 09:22:22

As much honesty as is age appropriate is the best bet.
Tell them now that he is very ill and maybe that soon he will go to heaven, they'll notice the fact that he looks ill and they'll notice the atmosphere too, especially if the adults are using hushed tones around them etc..
It is a fact of life that children have to go through but it doesn't make it any easier sadly. Be ready for it to provoke some curiosity and questions from the dc.
My mum is terminally ill and while my own Ds's are old enough to process and deal with it my nieces are very young and my sisters have struggled with what to tell them.
Two of them (10 and 8 years old) have had a kind of counselling at their schools to prepare them for what's going to happen and there's something called cancer connexions local to us which families can access so one of my sisters is going to access that for further counselling/support soon.
There's also a 3 year old - she knows nana is poorly but obviously nothing more, my sister got books from amazon for her age, they cover death etc.. so she reads the 3 year old them sometimes just to plant the seed in her head.

DeepBlueLake Mon 14-Dec-15 09:57:13

I was 13 when I lost my father due to a heart attack, almost 20 years ago.

My best advice is keep them in routine and let them go to school if they want to. My mum was desperate for me to stay at home for longer after the funeral, I just wanted to go to school and hang out with my friends and escape the house.

Also don't force them to talk about their uncle unless they want to. It took me until my early 20s to be able to talk about my dad in the past tense and the memories we shared.

Be open to any questions they have etc. And assure them you and your DH will still be still around to be a support. I know I very anxious about my mum dying and me being an orphan.

IME you will children are more resilient to death than you may think.

I think tell them now, they will probably sense something is up anyway, it will also be hard for you to keep it a secret and trying to protect them for the next fortnight. You can still make Christmas magical.

CarbeDiem Mon 14-Dec-15 10:13:27

Something I forgot to add in my last post -
I think it's also important to speak about how cancer is NOT just an illness/sick/poorly etc.... make it known that it's rare, not normal the best you can.
I say this because my 8 year old niece really struggled a few months back - my sister was ill in bed with a viral infection and my poor niece took that to mean she was dying because she associated mummy being ill/poorly with nana being the same and soon will have to go to heaven. After much reassurance and explaining about 'just' being normal poorly she now understands a bit better but my sister felt awful about it.

GinIsTheBestChristmasSpirit Mon 14-Dec-15 10:31:25

I lost my mum when kids were 4 7 and 9. It's hard but you get through it. Just keep talking to them. I would be honest now so it's less of a shock later.

We knew we would loose my mum but weren't sure on timescale. We told the kids grandma was very poorly and we thought she was going to heaven soon but didn't know when. Then we spent as much time with her as we could.

Little ones it just washes over. We have also had help from the child bereavement service who have some great resources.

So sorry you are going through this thanks

MarianneSolong Mon 14-Dec-15 10:48:03

Just a question. Do those who recommend talking about heaven, actually believe that is what happens after death?

It's only that children may become more sceptical as they get older, and think they've been lied to. Of course there is no one right way of dealing with any of this.

But I might, for example, be wary of telling a slightly older child that cancer was incredibly rare. Because it isn't as rare as all that. (Think about breast cancer. The children may find out that friend's Mum has it.) The main point would be that if there were questions about cancer, to say that it's tested for and treatable - but sadly not quite everyone can be treated successfully in the sense of a cure.)

AnyFucker Mon 14-Dec-15 11:00:00

I have never told my children anything about heaven. I have told them the truth (as I believe it)

RedMapleLeaf Mon 14-Dec-15 11:03:55

I would say, "We don't know what happens after death. Some people believe X, some believe Y and some believe Z. What do you think?".

CarbeDiem Mon 14-Dec-15 11:23:33

No Marianne but I found that it helped my Dc to focus on something. We are christian but not really religious so 'heaven' was something that they'd heard about at school and from friends.

Joysmum Mon 14-Dec-15 11:49:16

There are 3 aspects I dealt with when FIL was dying.

1) his illness and would he be in pain.

2) that we will all be sad and it's best to express that, that trying to shield people from our sadness does t protect anyone and makes things worse.

3) what happens after death.

People have covered 1&2 but I thought I'd share my take on 3 as that's more uncertain. I explained that different people had faith in different opinions but nobody knew for sure and its for the individual to make their own mind up.

What did help was saying to DD that we know what it is like to 'not be alive' as all of us was that before we were born. It helped her to come to terms with the being dead issue that grandad wouldn't be hurt or sad after he'd left us.

PeasOnEarth Mon 14-Dec-15 12:01:27

I think many of us grow up with fears and issues around death and actually, a good (ie. honest, open) experience young is actually a good thing.
I would get on with it - and take their lead about whether they want to see him, and do it fairly soon if so. You might find it's the younger one that wants to. We many of us have been kind of conditioned to believe it's scary and traumatic - but he's still their uncle. Cancer is just another illness that most can be treated and recover and some don't - the same with heart attacks or pneumonia. Again, I wouldn't make a big thing of that. Do you have any faith yourselves? It can be a comfort and strength to many, but if you don't something like people live on in our memories and in the bits of them that live in us.
I am so sorry you are dealing with this in your family - it seems to be so much worse at this time of year. I hope you and DH are able to talk and grieve - it makes you/one feel fragile and mortal when someone your own age is so ill and dies, I think.

Pleurepaslabouchepleine Mon 14-Dec-15 12:14:17

I'm sorry for the lack of responses, I was out in the morning. I have sent the link to my husband. Thank you so much for your help and advice

LittleCandle Mon 14-Dec-15 12:36:36

Tell them the truth. When my FIL was dying, XH was in total denial. DD1 was 8 and DD2 was 4. Because they believed daddy that Papa would be fine, they were utterly devastated when he died. If XH had just manned up and admitted that his DF was ill unto death, our DC would have taken the news much better than they did. When my DM died in an accident 6 months later, XH didn't want me to tell the DC. They were really upset, as DM had been a major part of their lives, but they handled it much better than they had FIL's passing. Telling the truth is always preferable.

Joysmum Mon 14-Dec-15 12:43:32

MacMillan has a booklet to help you with discussing cancer and dying with children.

Google for it if you don't want to click on the link smile

be.macmillan.org.uk/Downloads/CancerInformation/ChildrenAndYoungPeople/MAC5766TalkingtochildrenE2.pdf

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