Sunday, February 8, 2009

Children and Loss - An open talk with children

Two nights before Shin passed away I sat down with Josie and Toby along with Michelle's family and Alicia's family (they both have two daughters aged between 6 to 8). We talked about how the doctor's thought Shin only had a day or two left and we talked about saying goodbye.

It was a difficult conversation from many angels. Some of the things I was aware of was the fact that I had been talking to Josie and Toby, but I always did it when we were on our own. I was worried that it was feeling like a secret topic. I didn't want Josie and Toby to feel alone with their loss. From Alicia's and Michelle's perspective they each had to deal with explaining death to their kids. We agreed we would all sit down together to talk about it.

I told all six kids that we had increased the medication to a level where Shin was mostly sleeping all the time now. She was comfortable and peaceful but mostly sleeping. I explained that it is not the same as when we go to bed at night and go to sleep. Shin's sleep was a result of the medication (Shin had warned to make sure the kids don't associate sleeping and death and thus create a phobia about sleeping). I said that it was time to say goodbye to Shin. I was also mindful that I had not cried in front of the kids and I had not seen them cry. I knew this would be a difficult talk to get through without crying, but I did not resist it that much. Josie asked if I was crying happy tears, and I said no, they were sad tears becuase I would miss Shin. She did not cry herself but she gave me hugs.

I told the kids that they could go and see Shin sleeping if they want to say goodbye to her directly or they can say their goodbyes in quietly on their own if they wanted. This is a fairly delicate issue from Shin's perspective. She didn't want a lot of deathbed visitors, and just didn't want people's last thought of her to be frail and dying - especially the kids. But I was convinced that she looked peaceful and that it was important to say goodbye. So I took Josie and Toby and they hugged and kissed Shin and said goodbye and they loved her.

Alicia's kids started the idea of of writing love/farewell cards to Shin. Michelle's kids were writing cards as well and Josie and Toby joined in. Then the kids went in to put their cards on Shin's bed and they all said goodbye to Shin.

This was also Alicia's birthday. So after we had gone through the heavy emotion of saying goodbye, we all gathered around and sang happy birthday to Alicia and had some champagne.

I was quite uncertain about how to handle all of this and whether this was a good approach or not. While there are lots of guide books about "what to expect when your expecting" the books are much fewer about what to do in these situations. But after it all, Michelle, Alicia, Dennis, Brendan and I all felt that this was a really good and therapeutic thing we had done. I was comforted that Josie and Toby knew it was ok to cry, and that they don't have to be alone with it. Their best friends knew just as much as they did and it was all out in the open. I think Michelle and Alicia also felt it was an important lesson for their kids. And it was nice they we had the opportunity to show that despite feeling sad we can move on and celebrate and have some cake for Alicia.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tony, after the children said goodbye to Shin, did Shin wake up after that and she knew about all that?

It is indeed very impt that the children don't associate sleeping with death and is ok to cry and they are not alone.

At this point, I think most of us are even more confident that you and the children can move on with all the preparation and very details thoughts by Shin and you.

Tony, you are really a very great husband and daddy because of what you had done- you remember a lot or everything that Shin has told you and you really make them into reality and of course all the "works" (eg reading,etc) that are done, all the things that you have to do even you don't really have much resources or what you should do or if they are right...Tony, don't worry, you really did very well! Shin will definitely be in peace and smiling now! :)

Well done guys (Tony, Michelle,Alicia and all the kids! ) But you still have to "monitor" and pay attention to Josie and Toby as they are growing up and I am sure you will. :)

Jacqueline said...

Hi Tony,

Please take a rest!

It looks like you've been busying updating this blog and though we would like very much to know what had happened and what will happen, but we also don't want to steal time away from you - yourself and your kids.

Maybe you need these time to 'resume' normal routines/life. Being alone with the kids. Doing things together. Taking time to overcome the loss and to overcome the grief together as a family.

Shin was a wonderful woman and still is - though she had expired, her blog still remains and it serves as a good 'chicken soup for the heart' kinda reminder to all of us to treasure what's around us and to live life to the fullest while we still can!

She is so brave. To be able to accept the truth, planned for her expiry and to be able to blog in order for her children and you to remember her in a way. Most impressively, she has been religiously doing all these while undergoing chemo and drugs and bearing the pains and discomforts!

Oh yeah, SHIN HAS A BEAUTIFUL SMILE! Weirdly, I do not know her personally but has been reading her blog silently for a long time. But her smile in every picture really leaves the deepest impression.

She has taught me to love my kids more and more with each passing day. She has been a role model to me - to remind myself to be a mum whom my kids can be proud of and can be remembered by them for the longest time after I've expired.

As all humans are, we are really fragile and we all really do not know what holds for us in the future.

Last but not least, do take care and do keep this blog going. Josie has Shin's smile and would love to see her grow up to be a beautiful lady like Shin and Toby will be a fine lad in time to come!


Kathie said...

Dear Tony,

You have all done well in handling the situation with the kids.

Crying is the act of shedding tears as a response to an emotional state in humans, to the loss of someone dear. Crying is a way to let go too.

Here are some pointers to share with you on Children and grief.

When a family member dies, children react differently from adults. Preschool children usually see death as temporary and reversible, a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who "die" and "come to life" again. Children between five and nine begin to think more like adults about death, yet they still believe it will never happen to them or anyone they know.

Adding to a child's shock and confusion at the death of a parent is the unavailability of other family members, who may be also shaken by grief that they are not able to cope with the normal responsibility of child care.
Parents should be aware of normal childhood responses to a death in the family, as well as signs when a child is having difficulty coping with grief. According to child and adolescent psychiatrists, it is normal during the weeks following the death for some children to feel immediate grief or persist in the belief that the family member is still alive. However, long-term denial of the death or avoidance of grief can be emotionally unhealthy and can later lead to more severe problems.

A child who is frightened about attending a funeral should not be forced to go; however, honoring or remembering the person in some way, such as lighting a candle, saying a prayer, making a scrapbook, reviewing photographs, or telling a story may be helpful.
Once children accept the death, they are likely to display their feelings of sadness on and off over a long period of time, and often at unexpected moments. The surviving relatives should spend as much time as possible with the child, making it clear that the child has permission to show his or her feelings openly or freely.
The person who has died was essential to the stability of the child's world, and anger is a natural reaction. The anger may be revealed in boisterous play, nightmares, irritability, or a variety of other behaviors. Often the child will show anger towards the surviving family members.
After a parent dies, many children will act younger than they are. The child may temporarily become more infantile; demand food, attention and cuddling; and talk "baby talk." Younger children frequently believe they are the cause of what happens around them. A young child may believe a parent died because he or she had once "wished" the person dead when they were angry. The child feels guilty or blames him or herself because the wish "came true."

Children who are having serious problems with grief and loss may show one or more of these signs:
• an extended period of depression in which the child loses interest in daily activities and events

• inability to sleep, loss of appetite, prolonged fear of being alone

Take good care, rest and give yourself space and time to grief too.


karen said...

Hi Tony,
I am just back from Australia where I have been since 27/1, settling a son into boarding school. I immediately went onto Shin's blog, as I had been doing daily before I left.
So I have just spent an emotional hour or so, reading the blogs and listening to the videos of the eulogies and letters at her service. Such heartfelt words from people who loved her deeply, and knew her quirks, her humor and her zest for life. Yes, she was certainly a unique person, who contributed to the lives of others. As you did to hers, providing her love, support and 2 wonderful children. And you allowed her to keep on being her, and doing it her way, all the way, even though at times that may have been quite difficult for you. You have graciously shared her with many people, and that reflects your kindness and generosity also.
My thoughts are with you, the children and your loved ones at this time. Karen G

Leighbee said...

Your approach to the entire transition between life and death has been commendable and quite incredible. You have dealt with the situation better than any handbook could prepare you or instruct you for. As I mentioned the other evening and I will continue to say...there are NO must do what feels right..death is part of all our lives but in so many ways we make it a taboo subject... the fact that you have approached the subject head on is amazing...tears are a HUGE part of the process and should be shed for what was and what is...happiness and sadness...I think you are truely fantastic and never cease to amaze me with your strength and ability to nurture and "do the right thing". Continue to be you and I think you will be just fine... xx

Leighbee said...

You've made the most FANTASTIC typo... you've written it was a difficult conversation from many ANGELS when I am sure you meant angles....leave it - it's so PERFECT!

<*ANGEL*> said...

Dear Tony

Thank you for continuing to post on this blog and to share about your thoughts on this very sensitive topic of helping children deal with death of a loved one..

I think all of you did a great job in this aspect and I have utmost respect for how Shin sensitive Shin is and how she thinks about all the possible associations the children might have and how she carefully phrased things to be as accurate as possible.

I am sure that wherever Shin is now, she is at peace... knowing that there are so many people out there who will take care and love her family as she did...

writerinresidence said...

I think you guys got it exactly right. I think Shin would be/is proud.

ALI KATI said...

As good as I can imagine, Tony. Amazing stuff.

Anonymous said...

Just wish to know Shin's responses to children's gestures of good-byes.The hearing faculty is there even though a person may have his/her eyes closed.

Jessie said...

Thank you for sharing so openly. I found Shin's blog only at the beginning of January, so I am a newbie here, but am so appreciative of your willingness to share your family's experiences.

I also have breast cancer and a young child. My husband & I are using you as an example for explaining things to our young son.

Thank you,