Supporting a child/young person when someone has a serious illness
Families face a tremendous challenge adjusting to the life-threatening illness of a close relative. This is equally true whether someone suddenly becomes ill or is disabled (for example, in an accident) or if they have a long-standing illness (for example, cancer). Families have to adapt to a different sort of life with all the uncertainties and worries that this can bring.
If it is unlikely that the person will get better, it can be unbelievably hard to accept that hope is fading and that the person is going to die. It’s even more difficult to have to tell the children.
- Letting the children know what is happening
- Giving them time to get used to the idea and to say their goodbyes
- Giving them enough support to see the person who is ill
- Involving them when you can, according to their ages and understanding
- Keeping other important adults - including school - informed about what is happening
Where a death is sudden or unexpected often the family will get immediate support from the hospital or police.
If the death is expected, many families are supported through the hospital or hospice. Winston's Wish may be able to support families who live locally (Gloucestershire), helping the children to understand the illness of a parent, brother or sister and preparing for their death.
To families living elsewhere Winston's Wish can offer support via the Helpline (08452 03 04 05).
In our work we encourage communication within the family about the illness and individual thoughts, feelings and reactions about what is happening. We also work with families to encourage the appropriate involvement of children and young people in the situation.
We may also support the person who is dying with practical tasks such as preparing ‘memory stores’ for their children or letters and other messages to be opened on special occasions in the future.
If you would like more information, or would like to talk about supporting a child when someone is seriously ill, please ring the Winston's Wish Helpline (08452 03 04 05).
We have a book for adults supporting a child facing the death or serious illness of someone close to them which is called 'As Big As It Gets'. We also have a book for 5 to 11-year-olds called 'The Secret C' which explains cancer. Both publications can be ordered on-line.
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