Written by Clara Hinton
When a child becomes terminally ill, many times there is an assumption made by friends and family members that the parents had time to be prepared for the death of their child, thereby making the death a lot easier to handle. The truth is, though, that one can never be totally prepared for a death, especially the death of your own child.
Well meaning people will be quick to remind parents that at least they knew death was imminent and they had time to say “I love you” as well as to express their good-byes. They had time to prepare for the details of the funeral, including choosing songs, poems, and other favorite readings they wanted to be included. They could take lots of pictures of their child, and even have one final family gathering that was planned down to the last detail.
While all of this is completely true, and sounds like this foreknowledge of the child’s death should be very helpful and comforting, a new problem is presented that others fail to think about and cannot come close to comprehending. Every thought a parent has is consumed by the thought that this is the last time I will get to participate in this particular event with my child. This gnawing thought is relentless, robbing parents of the joy of the moment because they are filled with the dread of knowing what is to come.
Is there ever a way a parent can truly be prepared for the death of a child? The answer, quite simply stated, is no. It is possible to live with the knowledge that your child has a terminal illness, and still not be prepared for your child’s death. When a child dies before a parent, it is an unnatural sequence to the events in life, and a parent’s heart can never completely be prepared for letting go of a child before his time.
In many ways, prior knowledge to a terminal illness can be a blessing to parents because it does allow a parent the opportunity to begin preparing the mind for the possibility of life without the child. The problem is that the heart cannot cope with the facts, and often denial takes over. Anticipatory grief can actually become a complication in the grief process.
Once the parent has been given the news that their child is terminal, it is a wise idea to begin forming a support structure to get you through the following months or weeks. There are excellent grief counselors and support groups available in just about every community. Many local hospitals can direct you to help. Local chapters of Hospice can give invaluable help and support during the time before a child dies, as well as in the follow-up weeks following the death of a child. Quite often, your local group of ministers will have at least one qualified grief facilitator who is able to help support you and give direction during this upsetting time.
The most important thing to remember is to seek help. Going through the death of a child is traumatic and something that requires special help and support. If you know your child is terminally ill, then line up some help for the days to come. Then, when you continue on in your grief journey, you can call on your support team to guide you through the pain.
Dealing with the death of a child is probably the most painful thing you will ever have to experience. Knowing ahead of time that your child is going to die is not comforting to most parents. But, this prior knowledge does give you that special blessing of finding support and help prior to the death of your child. Taking this step will aid you tremendously in your healing.