Serving Families With Young Children When a Parent is Dying

03.27.20 08:57 PM By Amy

When a parent with young children is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, the emotional devastation disrupts every facet of a family’s life. It is a nightmare all of us hope we never have to face. But, at this very moment, you may well have this occurring in your corner of the world.

Do you know what to do when this nightmare strikes one of your clients? Beyond financial advice, how can you do more to serve these clients? One way to start is by learning to ask thoughtful, open-ended questions and following their lead on how much they’d like to talk. Excellent questions are things like:

  1. What is your understanding of your prognosis?
  2. Some doctors have a wonderful presence and manner when delivering news like that and others don’t have a clue. What was it like for you when you heard about it?
  3. What do you most wish that people knew about what this is like for you and your family?
  4. What are your greatest concerns and fears concerning your kids?
  5. What is happening in your friendship circle? Are friends comfortable talking with you and supporting you, do they try to tell you what to do or what you must hope for, or are some of them so unsure of what to say that they just stay away and say nothing at all?
  6. What is one thing someone said that was helpful, and one thing someone said that, however well-intentioned, was hurtful or alienating?
  7.  What is on your “needs” list that I could do for you? Do you need transportation for the kids to their activities, someone to run errands, someone to plan your child’s birthday party or to take the kids for a fun outing, someone to write thank-you cards to those who bring food or help out, or what could I do that would make things just a little easier for you?

For the kids themselves, there is a relatively new resource on the market that you can give as a gift. It is titled “Sammy’s Story” by Erica Sirrine. This simple, 25-page book is a tenderly written and colorfully illustrated read-aloud book for children ages 3 – 7 who are facing a parent’s death. It sensitively conveys concepts about illness and death, including what children can expect as the illness progresses. It also thoughtfully gives ideas on how the child can maintain a continued bond with the parent even after the death. Intended as a resource to be read with caring adults, it is perfect for family members or other adults as they support children through this most difficult anticipatory grief and what will follow.

Don’t let your own discomfort keep you away. Be there for your client and the family. You will make more of a difference than you know.