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rbk mama

children and dying grandparent question

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DH's father is dying (aggressive cancer).  They live a few hours away, and we've been trying to see them every few weekends.  My younger two are 11 and 8, and they recently had a really nice visit with their grandparents - grandfather was lucid, able to joke with them like he usually does, etc.  He is now slipping fast and very confused.  DH feels like its better for the girls to have their last memories of their grandfather be happy ones, and that they don't need to see him now.  I can see his point, but am wondering if it would be good/better for them to see for themselves that he is fading and leaving soon.  Would love to hear others thoughts on this. 

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I agree with your DH, too. My grandma died a few years ago. Before that, my kids and I would visit whenever we were in town. So they did see the decline over the years. As her time got closer, there were a couple of instances when the care home called the family. My mom would call me and ask if I wanted to be there. I went for the completely selfish answer of being happy to remember her from when I last visited. It’s the same reason I don’t visit open caskets.....

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I agree with your dh.

My kids are young adults and I had them *not* come to the hospital when my dear sister was dying this past May.  Their last memory of her was when they hung out with the laughing smiling aunt they always knew.  I know my sister would have chosen that.  I trust your dh would know what his dad would want.

Many (hugs)

 

 

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Do your kids have any strong feelings one way or another?  If so, I would take that into consideration.

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My daughter and I spent most weekends with my grandfather before he passed, helping to care for him. This was when she was 7 or 8. She has never expressed any negative feedback on this. We talked a lot about what was happening to him and how his impending death was affecting us. She knew it was important to me to help care for him, as a sign of love and respect, and I think she kind of took on that belief as her own. 

I guess it’s important to note that she helped my husband care for me when I was having major surgery and chemo, when she was 4. So she already had a context for some of this.

She definitely does remember those last weeks, but she also remembers lots of other good, healthy times with him. I’m glad she was there so much.

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It sort of depends on what the children want, what their personalities are like, and what sort of death it is.  When Great Granny died at 98.5, my kids went and saw her while she was dying, and it was fine.  They took her pictures that they drew, and she was basically asleep.  It wasn't a scary death, with lots of gasping, and she still looked like herself.  It was a good closure, because they could see she was dying, but it wasn't scary.  I have a kid with super severe anxiety, who was actually medicated already, and she was not traumatized.  

Other deaths, painful deaths, deaths where the person looks significantly different...I wouldn't take them to that unless they had a strong desire to go.  11 and 8 are definitely old enough to have their feelings honored.  

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My dad recently passed away.  from cancer. We'd been visiting more or less monthly throughout his ordeal. right before our last visit, my sister called. She wanted to let me that that dad was really near the end and to consider whether or not I wanted to make the trip. I was very confused. she then asked if I wanted my kids (oldest is 8 yo to be there when grandpa passed). Worrying about that hadn't even crossed my mind.

They knew he was sick and going to die. And I didn't want to give up my last chance to see my dad. And finding overnight care for multiple nights for 4 kids is...not easy. So yes, we were going. And we did.

It was the first time we saw him in a hospital bed (he received hospice at home). My kids weren't phased by it at all. They ran in and said hello to grandpa just like always. That night before bed I told them they should say goodnight to grandma and grandpa. They were so enthusiastic and cute. I honestly have no idea if my dad was aware at that point. But I treasure the memory of them saying goodnight.

Just a couple hours later, my dad was gone. When my kids woke the next morning, I told them they wouldn't see grandpa downstairs as he had passed away and the funeral people had come to get his body to prepare for burial. They said "okay...can we have breakfast?" (or something to that effect).

Frankly, my dad never said if he wanted kids/grandkids there at the end. But I am at peace with how it played out.

As so many posters were agreeing with your DH, I wanted to offer one perspective from the other side. BTW, I am sorry you are going through this.

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Thanks everyone so much for your thoughts!  Very helpful.  DH doesn't have a really strong opinion on this either way, just was tending to want to protect the kids.  The kids are ambivalent, but leaning towards not wanting to see him (they'd go if we said it might be good for them.)  They had one really bad experience with him after he came home soon after surgery (we were at his house to support MIL and weren't expecting him home so soon) -- he was a completely different person - angry, raging, didn't even notice the kids were there.  After he recovered, they've had only positive times with him.  They are a bit scared to see him if he's not going to be the same person they've known and loved.  FIL is dying of brain cancer, so his mental state is affected (though since he's recovered from surgery, he's been mostly fine mentally.)  I think it makes sense at this time to keep them home.  Thanks again everyone!!

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So glad to hear you've got a plan.

I was also just going to add that sending your dh solo can also be a gift to his folks--it allows for some special one-on-one time--without all the pressure of logistics, bigger meals, lodging, & keeping all the kids occupied.

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2 hours ago, rbk mama said:

 They are a bit scared to see him if he's not going to be the same person they've known and loved.  FIL is dying of brain cancer, so his mental state is affected (though since he's recovered from surgery, he's been mostly fine mentally.)  I think it makes sense at this time to keep them home.  Thanks again everyone!!


Having a a plan is good. I reassured our children many times throughout my dad's illness that even if he acted or looked different, he was the same grandpa in his heart, where it mattered. I explained that sometimes the disease or the medications for it might make grandpa seem different, but that he would always be the same loving grandpa in his heart and our hearts. Maybe that's a tactic you could use if they end up going.

Also, I definitely agree with a pp who said it might me nice for your DH to be able to go solo. I would have loved to have made that happen with my dad. It didn't due to DH's work schedule and the logistics of finding care for 4 kiddos, but it would have been so nice.

Again, I am so sorry you are walking this path. Cancer sucks. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

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I would lean strongly toward not taking them because we experienced some traumatic moments during my sister's last week (died in hospital under hospice care for cancer). She was clearly restless, uncomfortable, and often in pain despite the meds, they had a hard time getting the right mix. She said a lot of things very out of context, we think she was hallucinating from the meds. At one point, she appeared to be sleeping and called out for my brother. When he said he was there, she opened her eyes and asked, "I need help, why won't you help me?" That absolutely devastated him. And I think the death itself would have been very hard on them if they had been there, because she didn't just slip away silently. It wasn't terrible, we knew what to expect, but there was audible gasping for breath and so on. My kids were younger than yours, but that would frighten an older child also, I think. 

On the first day when she kind of turned that corner, she said, the kids were here in the morning, right? I said yes (they were not), and she said something about seeing them in a few days but never brought it up again and did not notice they weren't there. As long as familiar faces were around, she was fine. 

Super hard decision. I was grateful that my sister wasn't really aware the kids weren't there that last week and didn't keep asking for them, that would have been a dilemma. I would have wanted to bring them to make her happy, but I was terrified they would start to cry or not go to her (her appearance and level of lucidity changed fast). I probably would have tried to put her off, because she was really not aware of time after the day above.  

If they recently had a very nice visit, I think I would leave it at that. They can certainly send photos and his favorite candy and drawings/crafts (more for their sake than his at this point). 

 

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I completely disagree with your husband. I hope my children do not abandon me in my final days. My one sister did not visit our grandpa at the end, saying she just wanted to remember how he was when he was healthy. But I feel he needed us. And I hope if I am ever in that situation where I am dying that my family comes to me and is with me, rather than staying away at the end because they don't want to see me that way. Death is a part of life too. It has never settled well with me when people stay away from their loved ones when they are dying.

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My dear sister was not abandoned.  I *know* she would not have wanted my kids' last memory of her to be of her barely breathing, dying in a hospital bed.  When she was still conscious she was incredibly out of it and again I *know* she would not have wanted that to be their memory.

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51 minutes ago, Janeway said:

I completely disagree with your husband. I hope my children do not abandon me in my final days. My one sister did not visit our grandpa at the end, saying she just wanted to remember how he was when he was healthy. But I feel he needed us. And I hope if I am ever in that situation where I am dying that my family comes to me and is with me, rather than staying away at the end because they don't want to see me that way. Death is a part of life too. It has never settled well with me when people stay away from their loved ones when they are dying.

What a terrible thing to say to someone wanting advice in a difficult time. Not taking children is not abandoning someone. 

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i think it depends on the situation and the kids.  If someone is not themselves, and angry and raging, being mean to the loved ones, that could be rather traumatizing for a kid.  My kids saw FIL the day before he passed.  He was in the hospital but his death was still sudden, we were scheduled to discuss discharge and rehab the day he passed.  And so, when the kids saw him, all they really knew was that he was sick.  He was never mean or nasty and was always lucid, engaged etc. 

 

 

On a related tangent, I am a person who freaks out around dead bodies.  Nearing phobia levels and it takes a lot of composure to deal with funerals.  It’s a completely separate thing from the grief and hard to explain.  The point though is that, going to the casket and speaking...for some people, that’s helpful, it gives them closure.  For me, forcing me to do such a thing would turn a ceremony of an expression of grief into something horrific.   

And for me, I can’t imagine forcing a kid to do something like that if it makes them uncomfortable.   At the same time, I can’t imagine depriving them of something like that if it would be helpful for them.  

I think an adult should do their best to support a dying loved one as best as they can acccording to the wishes of the person suffering.  I don’t think ANYONE should force a child to deal with this sort of thing in a way that may be traumatizing for the child.  

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I would take my dd, but she's not had a life that protected from those sorts of things. If she was bothered, we would talk it through like everything else. Grief cycles, stages of trauma etc.

To me, the real question is about how pragmatic you and hubby are. By that I don't mean unemotional, I mean how good you are at acceptance.

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I think the most important thing is that you talk to them about it beforehand. I think the worst outcome is when a young person (and especially for an 11 yo, I think this can happen) feels they were excluded to protect them and is resentful about it. Dh has strong memories of being kept from a dying grandparent around that age. I don't know if it was "for his own good" because she was "too sick/irrational" which absolutely may have been the case. But he's not left with a good memory - he's left with feeling like he was left out of an important family moment.

I took my kids to my grandmother's death. I'm glad they were there. They're glad they were there. But they're slightly older. Some kids wouldn't want to be there. Or would essentially want to be shielded, especially if a parent said, we have this good memory and now things aren't so good. Basically, I don't think there's a right or wrong answer here, as long as you talk to them about it.

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5 minutes ago, Farrar said:

I think the most important thing is that you talk to them about it beforehand. I think the worst outcome is when a young person (and especially for an 11 yo, I think this can happen) feels they were excluded to protect them and is resentful about it. Dh has strong memories of being kept from a dying grandparent around that age. I don't know if it was "for his own good" because she was "too sick/irrational" which absolutely may have been the case. But he's not left with a good memory - he's left with feeling like he was left out of an important family moment.

I took my kids to my grandmother's death. I'm glad they were there. They're glad they were there. But they're slightly older. Some kids wouldn't want to be there. Or would essentially want to be shielded, especially if a parent said, we have this good memory and now things aren't so good. Basically, I don't think there's a right or wrong answer here, as long as you talk to them about it.

Not just before, but after also.  Situations can change fast and that can leave kids really confused.  Keeping things honest and age appropriate are really the biggest things, I think.  

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2 hours ago, Janeway said:

I completely disagree with your husband. I hope my children do not abandon me in my final days. My one sister did not visit our grandpa at the end, saying she just wanted to remember how he was when he was healthy. But I feel he needed us. And I hope if I am ever in that situation where I am dying that my family comes to me and is with me, rather than staying away at the end because they don't want to see me that way. Death is a part of life too. It has never settled well with me when people stay away from their loved ones when they are dying.

 

Now, now, Baby Jesus doesn't like ugly. 

No one is talking about a grown-up abandoning a parent in his final days; her husband said that he is not sure he wants his young children to see their grandfather during the dying process. The grandfather is dying, he is heavily medicated and very confused. It sounds like they had a good relationship with him and recently had a great visit; they gave grandpa their love and attention while he was well enough to enjoy it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding not to take the children to visit (just as there is nothing wrong with taking them if the parents feel it is best). 

I think you may have misunderstood the post, but you still should not have responded with talk of abandonment. That's not helpful to anyone. 

 

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OP, I meant to address this in my first post and forgot: you talked about them seeing for themselves that he is fading and will die soon, but I personally don't think that's necessary to consider. It sounds like you guys have been honest with them about what is going on and what will happen; it isn't going to surprise them and they are old enough to know what dead means. I know kids can all be different, but mine were only 3 & 5 and had no problem understanding that dead meant she was never coming back. 

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We just went through this with my MIL.  DH and I decided that it was better for our 3 kiddos (11, 8, and 6) to have a their last memory be positive.  We were honest about the situation especially since DH still traveled each weekend to visit his mom. 

In addition to wanting their last memory to be positive, my MIL was staying with my SIL and under hospice care.  My SIL house was just so crowded, and my MIL's lucid moments would occur at random times throughout a 24hr period.  All the adults were just able to get the call and just come over to my SIL house during my MIL's awake periods, and it wouldn't have been practical with the kids since we couldn't stay at my SIL's house.

As my MIL rapidly declined near the end, it got pretty graphic (blood pouring from her neck and mouth) at random moments, and I think it would have really scary/terrifying for the kids.

I don't know that there is a right answer, and it was something DH and I seriously discussed and weighed the good and the bad.  The night MIL died I got a lot of questions, many more than all the months we had been talking with the kids.

Many hugs for this difficult time for your family.

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My father died 2 years ago, and my kids saw the good, the bad, and the ugly.  They were 12 and 14 at the time, so a tad older than yours.  I actually think it's important for kids to see the entire cycle of life.  Not only that, but dying is tough and requires a lot of family members to be on deck and pitch in, so having them participate in grandpa's care will be something they will value for a lifetime (even if it's just keeping him blanketed and warm, preparing food and feeding, or reading aloud), and they will come to see how integral they are to the family's well-being.  They will feel privileged they got to share that with him, and honored that they helped care for him in his last days.  But brain cancer is tough because of the change in personality, so I would prepare them for that if they go.

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I don't think there's a right or a wrong.  I'd go with what I felt each child would want.  I can see my own kids wanting different things.  Some would want to have their last memories be happy and positive.  Some would want to just be with him, no matter what.  Either way is certainly fine.

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