Adults sometimes try to avoid talking to one another about painful subjects such as illness, pain and loss. But young children are not afraid to ask questions and they can be very direct. It’s not unusual to be asked, ‘Why are you poorly, Granny?’ or ‘Are you going to die, Grandad?’ You can help them to cope with your illness, and its impact on your relationship with them, if you can find a way to talk to them honestly.
Children observe what’s going on around them
Sometime children appear to be absorbed in their own world of make-believe, but they are always listening to what is going on around them. They can be just as concerned as adults by what they see and hear. It will help them if you don’t evade their questions. Instead, try to have an age-appropriate conversation with them.
An opportunity to think about the big questions we all face
Whether you are talking to your children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, their questions will give you a unique opportunity to explore together some of the big questions which we all have to face about life, loss, illness and suffering. Talking openly with them, in a way that they can understand, will help them to feel part of what is going on. It will also save them from imaginary fears, which may be much worse than what is actually happening.
Letting children give something back
Once they understand a little more about what you are experiencing, the children in your life can care for you in their own way. They might want to draw you a picture, or read you a story to take your mind off your symptoms. Or they might want to share a little ‘tea and sympathy’ with you from time to time. Even if they just go back to their own activities and seem unconcerned, they can take comfort from having shared something that’s important to you both. These shared moments may live on in their memory for many years to come.
For people of faith…
There is an interesting post about helping children to live with illness and loss on a Christian blog at https://www.brf.org.uk/living-with-loss/. You can google the same topic on blogs and websites maintained by other faith-based charities and communities.