By H.J. Fracaro
Anticipatory grief is when a death is expected typically due to a terminal illness or the aging process. The relative could be cared for in the home, at a hospital, or hospice.
Medical equipment can be frightening even to children (and teens and adults). When the child visits the patient make sure to explain in advance any physical changes their loved one has undergone, such as weight loss, hair loss, and the medical devices that are being used, so they aren’t shocked or scared during the visit. Invite them to help make the person comfortable, whether getting them a glass of water or reading a book aloud; contributing to care can make them feel better about the situation, but never force it.
Always support the parents wishes when answering tough questions from the children. Typically you should answer questions honestly even if the question is, “Is he going to die?” Although it is important for the children to be able to prepare themselves and say goodbye to a loved one, as a nanny you must always respect the parents wishes even if you disagree with their choices in dealing with the terminal illness or death of the loved one.
Even with preparedness the actual death will still be upsetting. Children may worry about their own security. Experts recommend being honest and to explain whom they would live with in such an event and assure them they will always be taken care of. Usually what they are imagining is worse than reality.
Again, it is the parents and family that should guide you in how to answer these questions. It is your role to support the family's wishes.
Many children feel loss even before the death because their family members are distracted and depressed. Make sure to keep their routine as normal as possible and make time to discuss their feelings. Have them finish sentences like:
I feel saddest when ____________.
When I am alone I______________.
Since _________ got sick my family doesn’t _______________.
This is a great way to start a dialogue about their concerns.
Welcoming outside help such as a social workers, therapists, ministers, friends and neighbors, lends extra support to the child and to the parent who may be overwhelmed with their new responsibilities. It also allows another set of eyes to make sure the child is coping when the parent may be too depressed to notice any warning signs themselves.