Q&A: Should children visit terminally ill relatives?Written by Focus on the Family
Question: My grandmother is in the final stages of terminal cancer and her illness has dramatically altered her physical appearance. Recently she expressed a desire to see my two young children. Should I allow the kids to visit her? Would they find the experience too upsetting?
This is a difficult decision. You’re anxious to protect your children from fear and pain, yet you also want to honour your grandmother’s wishes.
On the whole, we take the view that death is part of life, and that, with appropriate preparation, it would be good to allow your children to say goodbye to their great-grandmother, especially if they’ve enjoyed a relationship with her in the past.
Be honest with the kids about what’s happening. Use age-appropriate language to explain that great-grandma is very, very sick. Tell them that people sometimes get so sick that their bodies don’t work right anymore, and that when this happens they may look very different than they used to. If your grandmother has lost her hair or a lot of weight due to her sickness, you may want to explain this beforehand. Be sure to lay all this out in a calm, non-threatening way. If you appear to be anxious or fearful, your children will pick up on this and it will cause them to feel afraid.
If your grandmother is a Christian, you can also point out that she will be getting a brand-new body in heaven, one that will never get sick or die. Bear in mind, however, that most young children don’t have the capacity to grasp abstract concepts like death and eternity. There’s a good chance that they will not fully understand what is happening to your grandmother and won’t be able to appreciate the permanence of death. So keep the discussion simple, geared to your children’s level of maturity and insight. Most of all, focus on God’s promise of eternal life to all who believe in Jesus. It’s vital to concentrate on this hopeful aspect of death.
An excellent resource for families in your situation is Dr. Norm Wright’s book, It’s Okay to Cry: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Through the Losses of Life. It includes some great practical suggestions for helping kids cope with the death of a loved one. You can order a copy by calling Focus on the Family Canada at 1.800.661.9800 or visiting our online store.
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