A chance to say goodbye

Should children be exposed to a dying loved one to say their goodbyes?

Whether or not a child is given an opportunity to say their goodbyes to a person they love who is dying will be a decision the family must make and should be done in consultation with the child, if they are old enough to understand. They may not wish to see the person who is dying, and their wishes should be respected. If they do not say goodbye in person, there are other ways in which the child can be given an opportunity to express their love for the person who is dying. There is a link for you to download some of these ideas at the end of this topic page.

Some considerations when making the decision

Below are some reasons people may have for not wanting a child to be exposed to a dying loved one. If you click on each one, an alternative consideration will pop up. (Click on the sentence again for it to disappear).

Children may feel bewildered by being with a loved one who is dying.

Children could be traumatised by their last encounters with a dying person.

Happy memories could be overshadowed by the experience of watching that person die.

Children should be protected from seeing a loved one who may be dying.

Don’t hide the truth

It is important to remember that very young children can sense when something is wrong within a family, so any efforts to hide your feelings from them are not likely succeed. Experts who work with children believe that children are better able to cope with such a situation if they know what is happening. The challenge for adults is to provide children with information that is honest, timely, and appropriate to their age and stage of development. Providing children with information on the loved one gives them time to work through their feelings at the same time as other family members.

How can children say goodbye when they are not able to see their dying loved one?

The opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one helps to normalise the bereavement process for a child. Bereavement care when they are far away or during a time of disaster or crisis can be more difficult than normal.

When children are not be able to say goodbye in person to a parent, grandparent, or sibling it is important to provide an opportunity to have some type of contact with the sick person before they are too sick. This can be done via telephone calls, WhatsApp video calls or voice notes. Other ways in which children can say goodbye could be to record messages, take photograph’s, letter writing, drawings or creating a memory box should they not have the means to communicate virtually.  This provides an opportunity for the child and the sick person to communicate and make memories.

Clearly, the content of these interactions will need to be determined by the child’s age and cognitive development.