There are no easy ways to discuss your
death, but here are nine suggestions to
help guide the process:
1) Choose an appropriate time to talk to
your children when no one is overtired
and you have enough private time.
Remember, this will likely be the first
of many conversations.
2) Consider whether it makes sense to
talk together as a family or to speak
separately to each child, with or
without other loved ones present.
3) Begin with a direct statement: “We
need to talk about my cancer and
what is happening to me.”
4) Children in college need honest
information about your prognosis
and what they should anticipate.
They have life plans that may be
affected. Together, you may decide
that the best thing for the family is
for them to continue their pursuits,
or you may decide it is better for
them to take a break.
5) Young children need simple, honest
information. The important message
is that you are very ill, and that the
doctors don’t expect you to live
6) Children of all ages need to be
reminded that others will continue
PHOTO COURTESY OF BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER
Parents want to love and protect their children, and they expect to do so by living long enough to raise them to adulthood. Cancer can interfere with this expectation when
treatments are no longer effective. If this happens to you, it will be
painfully necessary to prepare your children for life without you.
TALKING WITH YOUR CHILDREN
Prepare to be open with children when cancer treatment has stopped working.
to love and care for them. Single
parents and others who don’t have an
obvious partner in parenting should
be prepared to explain who will take
care of the child.
7) Answer questions, even difficult
ones, as honestly as you can. It is not
unusual for a young child to ask what
happens after death. Be as clear and
honest as you can in the context of
your knowledge and belief system.
You can even say: “No one really
knows, but I am sure it will be OK.”
8) Don’t be surprised if a child of any
age reacts with anger. Although it
may not feel like it, their anger is not
directed at you, but at the situation
and loss. Be sure to let your child
know this so there are no lingering
feelings of guilt.
9) A colleague and psychiatrist who
worked with cancer patients always
taught that, before we die, we all need
to say three things to our loved ones:
I forgive you for the times that you
hurt or angered me. Please forgive
me for the times that I let you down.
Remember that I will always love you.
HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER, a licensed independent
clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor and
the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She also writes a
blog, Living With Cancer, for the hospital’s website.
YOUR CANCER GUIDE | HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER