How do I help in this heartbreaking situation - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 06-29-2009, 06:37 PM - Thread Starter
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A little girl, J, is coming to stay with us from Wednesday until Sunday or maybe longer. J is 10 years old and a friend of my 11yo dd. J has always been homeschooled by her mom while her dad works long hours. Pretty typical of a homeschooled family I think.
J's mom got sick about three weeks ago. A week ago she was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. She is dying. They don't know if she will survive this week. The situation is devastating. J's mom is in a hospital an hour away and J has only seen her a few times. Even when people can take her there J will only stay in the room a few minutes. Her mom is not often lucid and can't control her head anymore. It's scary and obviously horridly upsetting for J.
J has been staying with a friend for three weeks but that mom feels her daughter & J need a break so they don't start to resent each other and strain the friendship. J is going to stay with us for awhile, right now the plan is Wednesday to Sunday but it might be longer.
I don't know how to help a little girl whose mom is dying an hour away and she can't even go see her. I don't know how to tell a little girl that her mom died if it happens this week while she stays here. I can barely process this let alone know how to help.

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#2 of 9 Old 06-29-2009, 06:46 PM
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#3 of 9 Old 06-29-2009, 07:29 PM
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Yikes, not a shoe I'd like to be wearing. If her mom passes, unless the family asks you, the news should be broken to her by her dad or other close family member.

I think in regards to what to do with her in the meantime, providing a nurturing and fun environment is a good start. She has been likely surrounded some by sadness and being around sad adults is quite stressful. Not treating her like her mom is dying and that she is fragile might be a welcome change. Maybe have lots of art projects to do - drawing, painting, etc. Art therapy is such a great tool for kids to be able to express what they are feeling in a non-threatening way. Letting her know that if she ever wants to talk to you she can with no questions asked and no judgement on what she has to share. Maybe provide her with a journal and let her know that she can write anything she'd like to in it.

My parents divorced when I was 13, so a bit older and obviously not as devastating as a mother dying, but it was a life-changing experience and at the time, I only knew two other kids with divorced parents. I hated having to talk about my feelings when people asked and I would always say I was doing ok. It took me about 8 years before I felt comfortable sharing what I felt. I have kept journals most of my life and found that to be really helpful because I could 'trust' it with my feelings and say everything I wanted to without feeling bad or guilty about some of the feelings I was having.

Best of luck, this would be a very difficult situation to be in, but at the same time, you and your family could be a wonderful support system for her in this sad and hard time.

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#4 of 9 Old 06-29-2009, 07:49 PM
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wow Jen's advice above sounds really good. It really is too bad she can't be at the hospital. When my mom died my nephew was 10 and they were very very close. I know it was hard for him but he was at the hospital every single day until she died, i think it was very healing for him. It makes me sad to think of this poor little girl who is missing out on this very important process

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#5 of 9 Old 06-30-2009, 04:38 PM
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This is a very difficult situation, but I agree with the pp - keep her involved in something. Art, physical activities, whatever. That's about the age I was when my mother died, and those were the things that I was comfortable with - discussing my feelings was very difficult, I just didn't have the vocabulary or the ability to articulate what I was feeling. Look around for support groups in your area - I was in a support group when my mother died and it was really good for me, to be around other children who were going through something similar (ours was run by the hospice center and was mostly art therapy).

Ask the dad if there are any female family members who she is close with and if they can visit with her. If there aren't, are you willing to step into that role for now? If you are comfortable with it, offer her emotional support - hugs, a lap to sit in, a willingness to listen IF she wants to talk... basic acceptance of her feelings as real and valid, regardless of what they are.

To be honest, the speed this is happening can be very devastating to a child, especially if the father is not in a position to be emotionally supportive for her right now. Do your best to support her - that's really all you can do. Advocate for her to see her mother a little bit more if she wants to, but if she doesn't, don't push it. And just be there for her.

I would also sit down and talk with your DD though, so that she knows what's going on, and can help be supportive of her friend. Tell her some of the things that she might expect to happen (unexplained anger, tears, outbursts, etc.), and help her with ways to handle her own reactions to her friend.

This is not an easy path, but I commend you for being willing to help.

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#6 of 9 Old 07-01-2009, 01:34 PM
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That does sound very challenging, and you are a kind mama to take this child in and try to help her.

My advice would be to talk with a hospice, either in your area or perhaps affiliated with the hospital her mother is in. In our area, hospice is by county. They have so many resources, both for the daughter and for you. When my dad was fighting cancer, he and my mom were not willing to talk to hospice because it seemed like "giving up" but the kind ladies there talked with me constantly during his 7 month illness. They gave me books to read with my kids, which helped them deal with death for the first time (they were 5 and 8) and they also offer groups for children through adults. They also put me on their mailing list, which includes newsletters filled with information about coping with death, dying, and grief.

The one book they gave us was by Marc Brown, who writes the Arthur books, and was very helpful - When Dinosaurs Die.

I also love the journal idea.

Good luck, mama.

~*The days are long, but the years are short.*~
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#7 of 9 Old 07-05-2009, 06:42 PM
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You are a loving and kind soul to take this child in at this time in her life.

I wanted to second the dinosaur book and also recommend Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie. Lifetimes is a children's book but I love it as well.

Can you speak to this child's parents and her last caretaker? It's sure to be a tough conversation but I would ask, "What does she know? What do you want her to know? How would you like me to answer questions about this illness and death?" I would be very clear on how they have handled death so as provide consistancy with their belief system.

Best of luck to you, Mama. I'll be checking in to see how you are doing.
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#8 of 9 Old 07-05-2009, 11:38 PM
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You're doing a wonderful thing, taking in another child under these circumstances.

Originally Posted by Thisbirdwillfly View Post
Can you speak to this child's parents and her last caretaker? It's sure to be a tough conversation but I would ask, "What does she know? What do you want her to know? How would you like me to answer questions about this illness and death?" I would be very clear on how they have handled death so as provide consistancy with their belief system.

And just give her all the loving she needs. She will need alot.

I pray for the day Family Court recognizes that CHILDREN have rights, parents only have PRIVILEGES.  Only then, will I know my child is safe.
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#9 of 9 Old 07-07-2009, 11:32 AM
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Oh my heart goes out to you and this family. Thank you for helping them. What a beautiful gift. I imagine her mother would be so grateful for your kindness.

I agree with the PP about finding out what the family's wishes might be with respect to talking to her or finding her some support.
I would probably ask her if she wants to do anything for her mother - paint pictures, record a song, make a journal etc.
I think I would turn to hospice or a community mental health service for suggestions and resources.
I would also see if there are resources you could draw on for your family - some kind of hospice resource, or a religious one - that could help make sense of this for you.

I'll be thinking of you and of this family and wishing you peace.


Blessed partner to a great guy, and mama to 4 amazing kids. Unfortunate target of an irrationally angry IRL stalker.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. ~ Buddha

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