Grief and Loss
Children at the Deathbed
The topic of children and death is a hard one for many people in our society. Keeping kids sheltered is thought to protect the children so that they will not suffer as much. However, when we keep children away from a dying family member or don’t allow kids to attend a funeral we cut them off from the cycle of life. In addition, children realize they have been “left out” and because of this, some children can grow up feeling excluded in other important activities as they go through life.
One of the important ways children learn about death is through socialization. If we do not allow our children to socialize and learn the process of death, then they will not know about coping with loss when they are adults. Death is a natural part of life. In this instance, it most likely will not be as traumatic for these children to be with their mom as you might think–as long as you discuss what death is and where people go after they die. Since discussing death in our western society is a difficult subject for people, this topic is usually handled with evasiveness. Encourage the family of the children to discuss the death of their mother openly and honestly. Be sure to answer any questions the children ask honestly using correct terminology.
The kids are going to comprehend death differently depending on their ages and stages of grief. The seven year old in this case perceives death differently then his/her siblings. Children ages four to seven DO know something is wrong. They think in black and white so it is very important for the adults not to say something like “Mommy is going to heaven in an airplane.” The child will literally think this is happening. The older children can think in conceptual terms and do understand people die and go elsewhere.
I would suggest to the family that they utilize their local hospice, if there is one. The nurses through hospice are wonderful people who can explain in detail to the children the process of death and what might happen at each stage. They will know age appropriate words and concepts. They often can predict the time of death fairly closely. Sometimes dying people see loved ones that have passed away in the room with them and they might talk to them. Dying people can hear music that no one else hears and/or they may see sparkling lights. Prepare the children for end of life behaviors that have happened to others dying for similar reasons.
Having the kids present can help their healing down the road. I would make sure to have them part of a grief support group or they seek some form of professional grief support. One final thing to note is people don’t always choose to die with others present. Some people wish to die alone and will wait to pass until is someplace else, or it is the middle of the night.
Remember that the children need to honor their own feelings, as well as that of their mother. If they want to be at her bedside, then make that possible for them. If they do not want to be there, allow them to feel good about their decision to stay away. Either way, there should be no guilt involved with the choices the children make.
Death is hard regardless if you are in the room with the person or not. Assist your family to know what supports are available to them.
© 2010 Kelasan, Inc.