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How to handle a last goodbye?


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My fil is entering hospice care when he leaves the hospital in the next few days. The kids (ages 17, 13, and 4) haven’t seen him since last Christmas because of Covid.  When he goes home, we want to take the kids to see him one last time while he still looks like himself (degenerative disease will cause him to lose weight and muscle mass near the end).  We’ll just tell the 4yo we are going for a visit, but the other 2 know what’s going on and what to expect.  We lost my dad to the same disease last year.  How do we make this a good visit and not just a sob fest?  

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Sorry to hear this.  Is FIL mentally aware?  If so, a visit with the 4 year old might mean a great deal to him.   I would give the kids the freedom to come in and out of his room as they want.

Is he local?  If so, I would continue to allow the visits if the kids want.  It is hard but for some kids, it really helps with closure.  For others, they would rather not visit 

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1 hour ago, Ottakee said:

Sorry to hear this.  Is FIL mentally aware?  If so, a visit with the 4 year old might mean a great deal to him.   I would give the kids the freedom to come in and out of his room as they want.

Is he local?  If so, I would continue to allow the visits if the kids want.  It is hard but for some kids, it really helps with closure.  For others, they would rather not visit 

I did give the older 2 the option not to go, but they want to.  They live about 2 hours away, so we don’t see them super often.  He is struggling cognitively, so that’s another reason to go sooner.  He would probably at least recognize them.

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Go armed with good memories to reminisce about - you might want to help the kids thing of things ahead of time. If they don't have many due to distance or whatever, ask him to tell the kids stories of his youth and so on. Photos, photos, photos! Old ones and current ones. Get them printed to hand around. 

If he's going to look okay, I'd bring the four-year-old as well. I might or might not tell them ahead of time that grandpa was very sick, but I would tell them afterwards. My kids were 3 and 5 when my sister died, and they knew she had a disease and that she might die. I would always say that this disease makes it likely to be much earlier than most people, but you never know when and the important thing is to enjoy the time you do have. When we knew it was near the end, I told them that as well - we still can't know, but it's likely to be very soon. I think that kids are generally very aware when something stressful or sad is going on, and it's much harder on them to have a vague sense of that with no concrete knowledge. And, at 4, it might be even harder to handle if it's a complete surprise, if he doesn't have a framework already for the possibility of people in his life dying. 

I didn't say she was sick, because kids associate 'sick' with a bellyache or a cold. I'm forever grateful to the people who gave me a heads-up on that one. I tried to emphasize that it was a specific disease that most people don't get, and that not all diseases will kill you. I'd probably buy some grief/death books for children now, to have on hand when needed. 

It's also okay to cry, even in front of him (I assume he knows his prognosis). You get over it faster, and back to normal conversation, if you don't try to suppress or hide it. 

I would let the kids know it's okay to take breaks, and I'd probably bring distractions that don't require much thinking, like a handheld video game. Playing a mindless game can reduce stress. 

Best of luck to you. It has to very hard coming so soon after your father's death. 

Edited by katilac
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Any books or games or puzzles or music you have a history of sharing and enjoying together? Reading a passage, or listening to a song, or playing a turn or two of a game might bring joy and some structure to the visit ("we talk for a couple minutes, listen to this song, then we say goodbye and leave before  tiring g'pa too much")

And I am so sorry your family is going through this, but grateful for the love and thoughtfulness you have and are modeling.

Edited by Karen A
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The photo thing is what we did with my grandfather and I feel that was exactly right. He had, unfortunately, decided that he wanted to die as soon as possible and that the universe just needed to get on with it from pretty much the moment of his diagnosis and was nasty to all of us about it all - my poor grandmother - he was so unkind to her in his bitterness at the end, which was not really like their mostly easygoing relationship. But he did perk up and tell us some WWII stories and talk about some other things and it turned out to be a good memory for me and my mother.

When my kids were little and my step-father died, we had lots of warning. I made a memory read aloud book. It just has photos of him and the kids and memories of them together told like a little storybook. He read it aloud to them the first time. And then I kept reading it aloud for the next few years to solidify memories of him. That might be a good thing for your little one. Maybe the older two can even take it on as a project sort of on behalf of your youngest. I just laid it out in a simple photo+text layout book and printed it at home. I had it bound, but just at Staples with a little ring binding and a plastic cover.

With my grandmother, we just went and sat on death watch for the next two days. I don't recommend that, though it was nice that we were able to get there and say goodbye while she was still alert enough to know us. She clung on for dear life. She didn't die until everyone had briefly left and only my aunt was there and she stepped out to the bathroom. That's when she let go. My other grandmother was the opposite. Didn't die until we'd all showed up at the bedside. She passed less than half an hour after the west coasters finally arrived.

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My kids drew pictures and memorized a poem to recite. This gave them the opportunity to bring joy they are still grateful for. When she passed away her daughter didn't care for the pictures so I asked for them back and put them in their memory boxes.

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