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Telling children a loved one is dying | difficult conversations

Some of you may be aware that my mum is terminally ill, and it’s been a difficult few months for us as a family.
Knowing how to involve my children was a big thing for me, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in finding this tricky.
While I was processing the devastating news, I was faced with the reality of telling my children that Nanny was ill, and wasn’t going to get better.
It’s a difficult conversation to start, and it might seem easier to protect your children from the truth or avoid talking about things that you don’t think they will understand.

telling children a loved one is dyingI’m really not very good at hiding my feelings and was quickly aware that my children were picking up on my tears and sadness, and so I decided right from the beginning to tell them that Nanny was very poorly, then each time they asked how she was I gradually made them aware that she was getting more and more poorly and eventually I used the word cancer and explained that it was in her brain and that’s why she was less and less able to do things for herself. They’ve been incredible and really adapted to the idea that she is going to die and we talk about it around the dinner table like it’s a normal part of life.

I’ve seen all three of them cry and be sad and they’ve talked about their sadness too. Each week (despite lockdown) we go to visit and they see her decline. Last week my middle son was looking at some photos and said he couldn’t believe how quickly Nanny had changed and got worse.  I’ve found it so important to involve them, be honest with them, and show them that this is what happens in life.

I just love how they are not afraid to be near her or be scared of her illness. When they arrive, they hug her and talk to her, and just for a few moments it brings her alive and she smiles, whilst surrounded by her grandchildren.

Most experts confirm that it will help to be open about it – children will notice something isn’t quite right, and if you are honest and open with your child, they will be much more likely, to be honest, and open with you about how they feel.

I feel so relieved that when my Mum (Nanny) does pass away it won’t be a big shock for our boys, that they have shared in our anticipatory grief and together we can share in our sadness and help each other out. I’d love my boys to grow up being part of a generation who aren’t afraid to talk about their feelings and show care for one another. All three of them are already great at talking about how they feel and give great hugs!

I know they are here for me as much as I am for them.

Amanda – Mum to Jonah, Fin and Henry and owner of Mama Jewels & Well into Arts