Q: My grandmother is in the final stages of cancer and her illness has dramatically altered her physical appearance. She has expressed a desire to see my two young children. Should I allow the children to visit her? Would they find the experience too upsetting?
A: This is a difficult decision. You’re anxious to protect your children from fear and pain. At the same time, you want to honour your grandmother’s wishes.
On the whole, we take the view that death is part of life. With appropriate preparation, it would probably be a good idea to allow your children to say goodbye to their great-grandmother. This is especially true if they’ve enjoyed a relationship with her in the past.
Be honest with the children about what’s happening. Use age-appropriate language to let them know that great-grandma is very, very sick. Tell them that people sometimes get so sick that their bodies don’t work right anymore. Explain that this may make them look very different than they used to. If your grandmother’s sickness has caused her to lose her hair or a lot of weight, you may want to talk about this beforehand. Be sure to lay it all 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.
For now, keep the conversation simple and geared to your children’s needs and their level of insight. If you could use some help sorting out this, call our Family Support Services at 03-7954 7920 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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