Can you prepare for the death of a child with a long-term illness?

Post By: AriaMemoria
Description: Can you prepare for the death of a child with a long-term illness? This is a difficult question. It would seem that where an illness is concerned we are able to prepare for the departure of someone close because, compared to a sudden death, which we are not prepared for, we have the very valuable asset of time. But how does this work out in reality? When we hear the news that our child is ill, dying and that nothing more can be done we go into shock.  We deny the information and say ‘No, it can’t be true, there must be a mistake.’ After a while, when denial is no longer possible, we feel anger and hostility. We ask ourselves ‘Why our child?’. The next (third) phase involves bargaining with God and with the doctors for a cure – for one more chance. When this does not help, sadness, resignation and depression break through. What commonly occurs when we have passed through these four phases is a calm and quiet resignation whereby we accept the situation as it is. Everyone who has to cope with the approach of death (their own or of someone close) goes through these phases. The model was created by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who worked for many years with people who were dying and with people in grief.

However it is particularly traumatic, and unimaginably hard, for the parents to accept the approaching death of a child and the knowledge that there is no longer anything that can be done. The phase of shock and denial also appears after the death of the child. No matter how well we feel we may be prepared for the departure of the child who is the pride, joy and centre of our world it cannot be avoided. Death is always a shock. Whether it comes after a long-term illness or whether it is sudden, it jolts us into disbelief and denial. There is no way to prepare for this. Yet there is another way to prepare for the bereavement. We have the opportunity to say goodbye in a way that is fitting and we can make sure that our child’s last moments are – despite everything – good ones that are free from excessive fear and anxiety. It is important to be with the child at this time and to attend to them and their needs. Talking with them about death is also unavoidable, because we all have the right (though not always the need) to do so. Even children. This is of course very difficult. It is then that a psychologist can be of assistance. Fulfilling the child’s wishes and encouraging them to say goodbye to others can increase the quality of the life they have left to live.

Often, though, parents attempt to prepare for the death of their children in another way. They think that by anticipating the feeling of grief they will be better able to adapt to the real bereavement of the child when it comes. Yet instead of really preparing them, this mechanism of anticipatory grief has negative consequences. If it takes place more than approximately 18 months before the death, the child will feel that it has been abandoned by the parents. But if it occurs less than six months before the death it will lead to more intense grief for the parents following the bereavement.

Once more I have to stress that the death of a child following a long-term illness will be a shock and that the opportunity to say farewell and to prepare for the death will not spare us from difficult feelings, a very hard time and the process of grieving. What it may mean, though, is that we are able to go through this process in a healthy way.