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Life-limiting illness

Supporting teenagers when a parent dies

10 replies

Peacelily001 · 05/08/2023 19:56

Please help.

My ex S-in-Law is dying and in a hospice. Although we got on well, we were never close and she split from my brother when their boys were small.
My brother is a great dad to the boys (age 13 and 15) and they’ll be living with him permanently.

She didn’t want the boys to know about her cancer, even when metastices developed, so they only found out a few weeks ago that she was very unwell.
This was her choice as their mother, and we had to respect it, although it put my brother in a difficult situation as they’d ask him questions and he wasn’t able to be honest with them.

So their beloved mum is at the end of their life, and they’ll be living permanently with their dad (in a town 10 minutes from their home town)
One boy would like to stay in his mum’s rented home, the other doesn’t (my brother is open to taking over the tenancy if it will help them).

Ive referred them to the hospice for counselling but this may take a few weeks as there is a waiting list.

Please can anyone recommend any books that have helped their teens? Or have any ideas how best to support them?

The youngest boy is carrying on as if there’s nothing wrong which is very worrying. He is very close to his mum. The older boy is crying and showing emotion (although locking himself in the bathroom to do so 😢)

I would appreciate any advice.

OP posts:
Step5678 · 05/08/2023 20:04

Oh OP this is so so sad. I was the teenager in this situation, older family members handled it in the same way, telling me my mum would be fine (they knew she wouldnt), and I believed them. Seeing her in and out of hospital for years meant I had no idea that the final time was any different. When i eventually realised she would die it was a massive shock and I feel so bitter about it now.

I accept that this wasn't your decision to make but please for the sake of the boys be honest with them from now on. Don't talk in that coded way that adults do about death, use plain simple terms, she is dying, it is awful, but that is the truth.

Other than that, I would say keep as many things "the same" for them as possible. If that means staying in the same house, having the same routines, continuing to see members of their mum's family, etc then great.

My family, and so many others, were torn apart by the grief and huge rifts formed. As a child I was stuck in the middle and it was very traumatic. Please do all you can to avoid this.

Huge hugs to your nephews, sounds like they have a supportive aunt and dad at least which they are going to really need.

Peacelily001 · 05/08/2023 20:20

@Step5678 Thanks for your reply, and sorry you had such a tough time when your mum died.

My brother would like to have been honest with them, and general advice is to give children and young people age-appropriate information at each stage, but for her own reasons, their mum didn’t want this.
Now they have to process so many emotions and deal with her impending death in such a short time.

We will ensure they see their mum’s family and friends, and try to keep routines going.
The house is a problem as the younger boy would still like to live there, but the older doesn’t.

My poor brother is at a loss as to know what to do for the best.

OP posts:
Step5678 · 05/08/2023 20:40

I'm sure their mum had her reasons for handling it the way she did, maybe it was the only way she could. Heartbreaking though. Is she well enough to write them a letter? It would give them something to reflect back on as/when they need to "hear her voice" in a way.

What are their reasons for staying and not staying in the house? Unless the older one has a particularly strong reason to want to leave, it makes more sense for them both to stay in the house I would assume. At least until the dust settles and they can make a permanent decision at a later date. Once they leave, they won't be able to go back and it would be awful if they came to regret that.

That said, their memories are with them, and if you and your brother help to keep their memories alive by talking openly about their mum (allowing the boys to set the pace of course) then I'm sure they will come through it as well as possible.

The other thing I would add is to make sure there are no external pressures on them so they can give themselves the time they need to grieve. The older son is probably going to be doing his GCSEs this year for example, so I think it's a case of reminding them that these sorts of things are less important than their personal wellbeing (sounds obvious but schools can forget this sometimes!)

It sounds as though you and your brother are doing a lovely job of putting the boys first in these decisions

Namechangedforspooky · 05/08/2023 20:45

This is so sad. I’m sorry you are all in this situation.
We had a similar situation recently and MacMillan were very helpful. They have some resources specifically aimed at teens losing parents to cancer and they also directed me towards a website for helping support teens with bereavement including offering a chat / counselling service. I can’t remember what the website is called though sorry but MacMillan could tell you

CopperSeahorses · 05/08/2023 20:45

What a sad situation. Have you contacted Winston's Wish? They helped me to help the children negotiate the death of a loved one. Huge hugs to you all.

RamblingRosina · 05/08/2023 21:11

I can't imagine as a single (widowed) parent having to tell my sons l was dying. I am sure their mother had her reasons.
What l found with my own two sons was that initially after.the sudden death of my husband they seemed to be coping ok. The staff at the hospital warned me this is usually the case but common for issues to arise further on down the line, which is what happened about 18 months after.
Stability and a sense of security is a must. This will be like a grenade going off and symptoms of grief can be very frightening, keeping things as calm as you can and talking honestly and openly is important, even writing stuff down, as young men can be reluctant to talk.
I was very touched by how much my sons friends tried to make things better for them. Their friends were in fact much more helpful than most adults who either shyed away or struggled with knowing what to do or say.
My advice would be to give them time and to know that although they have suffered a devastating loss, they will still go on to live a good life.
I would try an organised memory boxes, voice messages ( my son got upset when he couldn't remember my husband's voice)
There is a book on Amazon written by teenagers who have all lost a parent, l am sorry l can't remember the name but it may help them feel they are not so alone.
The school maybe able to offer them counselling.
Its a really sad.situation and I wish them all the luck in the world.

Peacelily001 · 06/08/2023 11:07

Thank you all for your replies. Some really helpful information and ideas here.

Sadly, I hear their mum is not at a stage where she can write or record anything, though I’m hopeful she may have prepared for this and left the boys letters.

I will contact MacMillan and Winston’s Wish, and @RamblingRosina sorry you lost your husband, and thank you for your wise words x

OP posts:
Eloradannin2nd · 06/08/2023 11:11

Winston's wish has some good online resources that the boys can access themselves. Their website is very useful, I signpost people to it often in the course of my job.

Peacelily001 · 06/08/2023 12:44

Winston’s Wish looks great, thank you

OP posts:
BlumminKids · 31/08/2023 21:11

Could you perhaps reach out to their Mum? try to spend some time with her. Build up a new relationship with her so that you can talk to the boys about things she has said, but also reassure her that you will be there for them and keep her in their minds

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