Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How To Talk To The Kids

Now that we've decided to stop chemo and opt for quality over quantity of life left, we need to talk to the kids about the very real possibility of losing their mother sometime soon.

We've been very open with the kids so far, talking about my cancer in front of them and answering their questions whenever and whatever they ask. Other than complex medical details, we haven't kept anything from them. We've had more discussions with Josie than with Toby, simply because she's older and able to understand more of what's going on.

Josie is turning six soon, but she's pretty precocious for her age. She's broached the topic of death, God, and the afterlife with me - all this out of the cancer context. Since my cancer has progressed, she's started asking questions specifically about my death: "Will you still be my mommy after you die? Will you still love me after you're dead? Where will you be?"

My main concerns are that Toby and Josie feel safe and secure, that they feel they'll still be taken care of even after I'm gone, and that they didn't do anything at all to cause my death or cause me any pain. That means I have to be careful not to yelp when Toby jumps on top of my abdomen where my liver is struggling, or gasp too loudly as Josie tries to drag me by the hand to show me something.

They might look back on little things like this later on and wonder if they contributed to my death. Can't have that on their innocent little consciences, can we?

Do you have any suggestions about how to talk to kids this age (three and five) about the possibility of losing their mother?


C. Tan said...

Dear Shin,
I don't have any suggestions specific to your question at the end of your posting. I just would like to share the following with you, hope it could of use to you.

In the book "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch (who had Pancreatic Cancer, father of 3 young children), Chapter 59, 10th Paragraph: "Lately, I've been making a point of speaking to people who lost parents when they were very young. I want to know what got them through the hard times, and what keepsakes have been most meaningful to them. They told me they found it consoling to learn about how much their mothers and fathers loved them. The more they knew, the more they could still feel that love. They also wanted reasons to be proud; they wanted to believe that their parents were incredible people. Some of them sought specifics on their parents' accomplishments. Some chose to build myths. But all had yearnings to know what made their parents special. These people told me something else, too. Since they have so few of their own memories of their parents, they found it reassuring to know that their parents died with great memories of them."

Best Regards,
C. Tan

D said...

Dear Shin,

I am a good friend of your neighbour and recently moved into the same condo. Our mutual friend has been keeping me informed with what you and your family have been going through over the last few years. Hence the reason I am reading your blog.

Recently I had to explain death to my 7 year old son. My grandfather died very suddenly.

I have a book simply called "Death". It is part of the Tough Topics range and is written by Patricia J. Murphy. Also part of the It explains death in very simple terms for children. It explains about types of funerals. Also the emotions that people will feel which are normal after losing a loved one. This might just help you and Tony as a visual aid to explain to Josie and Toby.

The other day I was at the pool and saw Josie helping her little brother to swim. She was holding him and guiding him through the water. As a big sister too I could see that she was proud of her little bro and was delighted to be helping him. You can rest knowing that you have two beautiful children who will live on to be a credit to you and Tony.

Love to you all,


Pati said...


I am in no way an expert on this subject, although I gave it much thought a long time ago. Your open, honest, direct approach to your disease, and the grace with which you have handled it, are what the kids will remember. This blog will be an important tool for them, I would think, as they get older and have more questions.

The most important thing for me would be to make sure that Josie and Toby know that if you die, it isn't because you WANT to leave them, and that you'll never be far from them.

The question of where we go when we die is an interesting one. I don't believe in Heaven, at least as a physical "place". I never liked the imagery of relatives looking down at me, watching every move I made. There were lots of things I didn't want anyone to see!!!!

As smarmy as it sounds, I would rather believe that who I am, the love I feel, will stay with my kids when I'm gone. I am that woman who cries at Hallmark commercials, so my mush-ball self finds comfort in the idea that I could be some sort of a presence in the rest of their lives.

I once saw a movie in which a dying woman told her child "I will always be with you. When you feel rain on your cheek, that's Mommy kissing you. When you feel the sunshine on your face, I have touched you." I loved the idea that 10 years after her mother's death, every raindrop would be "Mom" to that child.

Trust your instincts, Shin. They haven't failed you to this point. My thoughts are with you every day.