12 Suggestions for Talking to Kids about Death

A patient asked his hospice nurse, “How can I tell my kid that I’m dying?”

And the nurse later asked me.

It’s a scary question for parents and grandparents when they enter hospice care and have “six months or less to live.”

Before attempting answers, there are several good reasons to question my responses.

First, I don’t have children. I’ll never tell my own kid that I am dying. Second, I’m not an expert, but do have experience. A minister, I’ve supported families during the time of dying and grieving. Right now, in hospice, I work in bereavement support.

Now you’re aware of my advice-giver flaws! However, with conversations involving parents, kids, and dying, being open about your weaknesses (and not forgetting your strengths) is important. Read More →

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Childish Hospice Lessons

In my Christian tradition, Jesus said, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

You could find that passage in Mark 10:15. But this I also know: all religions have scriptures and traditions that affirm the importance of every single precious child.

And every single “child-like” adult.

I believe Jesus understood God’s realm in two different ways. The first was after death. Eternal life. But the second was equally important. It is the realm of the next moment and next relationship and next decision. The “realm of God” is where what is said or done can reveal how God longs for us to be in community, to be neighbors.

As a hospice chaplain, I witnessed both paths: the hope of life after death, the hope of life now.

Remember how you felt when hurt by the words or ways of another and they came to you, honestly seeking your forgiveness? I hope you have had those experiences. In that moment, as you gave forgiveness, you helped build or rebuild a “community” between you and another. Forgiving is a way for the selfish to become the selfless, the stranger to be greeted as friend, hate transformed by mercy, fists replaced by welcoming hands. Read More →

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Alert & Oriented, with Dying and Grieving

Alert and oriented might be my earliest hospice memory for describing a patient.

If a patient is alert and oriented, she’ll be able to tell you who she is, her location (“Community Hospital”), the date and time (“It’s Tuesday morning in June of 2018”), and the current president (“President Trump was elected around 2016”). While there could be additional questions, like a birthday or naming children in the patient’s family, those four are relevant and will be revealing about his/her situation.

If someone is confronted with a serious illness, would it really be fair to ask about last year’s Academy Award for best picture? Sure, film geeks may immediately recall The Shape of Water nabbed the 2017 Oscar, but even high-profile entertainment news slips and slides unnoticed into the 24/7 information overload all of us—well or sick—may easily forget. Read More →

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