how to tell a 4 year old his Grammie is dying? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 4 Old 09-28-2012, 05:52 AM - Thread Starter
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any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. 


As a background, my mom has Stg 4 Lung Cancer, has stopped treatment as of two weeks ago, and is now in Hospice care.  We were told last week she has "weeks not months", and in the last few days, her breathing is more labored, and she's sleeping a lot more.  A few weeks ago, we sat down our 4 yr old son and finally went beyond the previous conversations of "Grammie has booboos on her chest, we need to be gentle, Grammie can't play as much, yada yada".  We, with the advice of his pedi and some of the resources we got from Dana Farber, we told him the following. "Grammie has cancer, she is sick and the doctors can't fix her.  You cannot catch cancer from her.  She's very tired and sometimes she may not know your name, or eat her dinner."  He handled that conversation very well but we didn't complete the story at that time that she was dying.  


Since then, she's taken a bad turn, her and my dad have moved in here so we can all be together, and seeing that a week of "weeks" has passed already, and what I've seen the last few days, both DH and I think we need to tell him this weekend.  DH graduates from college tomorrow so we want to keep that day happy and then maybe tell him Sunday morning.  DS understands death, understands cemeteries, understands the permanence.  We aren't religious and don't want to do the heaven, angels, etc route.  But finding the right words, the manner in which to do it, I just don't know.  This is going to rock his world.  My mom is one of his best friends.  If anyone has advice on what words to use, how to approach him, etc, I would so appreciate it. 

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#2 of 4 Old 09-28-2012, 06:15 AM
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I haven't been through your situation, but I didn't want to read and not reply. I just want to say that I'm so sorry about your mom. 


There was a short thread a while back on atheists (not sure you identify as such, but the advice stands) explaining death to children:


There were only three responses, and the situation wasn't the same as yours, but it's worth a look, anyway. My husband is an atheist, and there are a lot of really friendly, family-centered websites out there that might have some good suggestions for framing this in a non-religious way. Secular humanist sites are often very family-friendly; you could try starting there. Hopefully someone who has experienced this can respond to the matter of how close your son is to your mom. 


My sincerest condolences to you. 

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#3 of 4 Old 09-28-2012, 09:39 AM
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I'm an atheist, if that matters to the thread, and I imagine if faced with this I would say something about how Grammie is going to stop being with us and go into the sky and see all the stars and planets and moons and she will always be thinking of us and will always love us. So whenever we miss Grammie we just have to look at the sky and be happy... something like that. I know it's not factual, but a 4yo doesn't need factual, a 4yo needs fanciful and something to help make him feel comforted about the situation. Hope this helps, very sorry to hear about your mom - it must be devastating :(

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#4 of 4 Old 09-28-2012, 01:25 PM
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The hospice will very likely have some wonderful book suggestions to read with your son (When Dinosaurs Die is one wonderful choice) and the Hospice social worker and/or chaplain will probably be happy to help you and your son process a bit of what is going on.  At 4 children aren't usually able to understand metaphor or abstractions.  Being real, concrete and developmentally appropriate are all very important.  So, continuing the conversation by explaining that Grandma will be dying (which means that soon she will be dead) and explain to him that you (as his parent) are very sad and that this will be a hard and sad thing but that you will all be together (parents and your son) and help each other when you are sad--reassurance that YOU aren't going to go anywhere (or die) may be important to your son.  Ask him if he has any questions and make sure you leave the conversation open for that. has a list of some books that may be helpful.  


I am so sorry for the journey you are all going through now...

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