This article first appeared on The Good Men Project and has been republished with permission.
Hospice care is an option for people when there is no hope for recovery, but they still need medical attention. It consists of palliative care and tending to their personal hygiene needs. It’s intended to be as positive as it can be, considering the residents are expected to die from their illness sooner rather than later.
It’s in this precious and limited time that we can visit our loved ones, make their days as bright as possible and say our goodbyes. As sad as it may be to consider, it’s a gift that should be appreciated and taken advantage of. We don’t always get a chance to say to say goodbye to those we love or tell them the things we should before it is too late.
With children, though, the stakes rise a bit. As fathers, our natural inclination is to protect our children from uncomfortable and sad situations such as visiting a dying family member. There may be situations where it would be best to leave the kids at home.
But overall we might be doing our children a disservice by keeping them from being able to comfort or say goodbye to their grandparent or other loved one. We may deny them a precious last memory or deny your loved one a cheerful day they may otherwise not have had.
Prepare Your Children
If you aren’t sure whether to bring the kids, err on the side of doing so. If they can communicate, ask your ailing loved one if they’d like to see the kids. Honor their wishes. If it’s a go, the first thing you want to do is prepare your children for what to expect.
Be positive and honest, but avoid frightening them as best as possible. Talk to your children about the types of medical equipment they will see and the sounds some machines make. Prepare them for the odors of a healthcare facility. Let them know everything they see is there to keep their loved one comfortable.
If your loved one is not of sound mind, explain it to your children. The person may say things that are inappropriate, confusing or delusional. They also might bring up clear memories of past events and share them as if they just happened. Medication can cause confusion and delusions as well. Discourage your children from laughing, but don’t be upset if they do. Even in hospice care, there are humorous situations.
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Encourage Their Questions
Children are going to have a lot of questions when you bring up the visit. They don’t need to know everything, but they need honest answers. If you don’t know the answer, be honest about that, too.
Some things we don’t know, like how long someone will live. We might get a range, but those are just estimates based on previous cases. Let them know it is in God’s hands, and we will just have to make the best of the remaining time He gives us.
Explain that the person is very sick and that all you can do now is make them as comfortable as possible. Enlist children for their support and explain that their loved one is much happier when you visit and spend time with them.
Using your judgment and, while taking your child’s age into consideration, discuss the end of life and embrace the unknowns surrounding it. Rely on your faith to explain your beliefs the way you were taught them. Point out that death is a natural part of the lifecycle. It happens to every living being, so it can’t be all bad. But do acknowledge that death can scare us and that losing our loved ones is disturbing and sad.
However, affirm that there is still hope in hospice — hope for a dignified end of life, hope for extra time to share our love for one another and hope that it lasts as long as possible.
Bring Them Something
Encourage your child to draw a picture or write a story for your loved one. If this isn’t possible, have them bring flowers or a show and tell item to promote conversation. If practical, play an easy card game like UNO, Crazy Eights or Go Fish.
People in hospice care will be delighted just to have visitors — especially a child — so anything they can do would be appreciated.
Enjoy Your Visit
As is humanly possible, keep your emotions in check when bringing your children to visit your loved one in hospice. This visit should be cheerful and a nice break from the reality your family is suffering. Keep the tone upbeat and have your child brighten the room with whatever artwork, stories or antics they can bring.
Some things cannot be helped. Your loved one may be unconscious, ornery or unable to carry on a conversation. It’s OK. Just being there is what is important. Come back another day if you think it would be best.
Finally, never force your child to visit a hospice. You don’t want to inflict unnecessary mental pain on them. Just encourage them, empower them to make your loved one happier and appreciate the efforts they make. It may be the last time they see their loved one or the only memory they will have of them in their lifetime.