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How to Prepare My Son For Death of Terminally Ill Father?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 13 Aug 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Teenagers Teens Teen Terminal Illness

Q.

How do I prepare my 13 year old son for the eventual loss of his father.

My 45 year old husband has become terminally ill and the doctor says there's not much chance of him recovering. I don't know how we must deal with this information.

(AK, 8 February 2009)

A.

Teenagers are caught in the middle of childhood and adulthood. On the one hand they are still dependent on their parents for their livelihood but on their other they are beginning to discover and assert themselves in order to build their own futures. When it comes to the illness of a teen's parent, there is no way to know how that teen will cope with the information. But, teens do deserve to know if one of their parents is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Telling your son that his father has become terminally ill is important so that your family can remain as open and honest as possible with each other during this difficult time. If possible, yourself and your husband should present the facts of the matter together. It is likely that your son will have questions, so be prepared to answer them. Don't tell him that he doesn't need to know something, or that he shouldn't worry himself about things. The fact of the matter is that he wants to know and he'll worry anyway, so helping him towards understanding his new reality is key to helping him come to terms with it.

Your son will probably have some questions that only your husband can answer, such as how your husband feels about facing death and if there is anything that your husband particularly wants to do with his time left. Allow your husband and son time to talk about these matters. Try not to feel as though you are being shut out or that they are keeping secrets from you. No doubt your son will come to you for comfort and understanding in the future, so remember that you are a vital source of strength and support for him as well.

Regardless of their ages, many children feel an intense pressure when they find out that a parent is terminally ill. They may feel that they need to be perfect in order to make their parents' last days/weeks/months as nice as possible. They may feel guilty, that if only they had done something or not done something then their parents would not be ill. They may feel frightened, and ashamed of feeling frightened when they know that their parents are feeling even worse. Make it clear to your son that it is normal to feel many mixed emotions about this topic, and that you are willing to talk about any of them with him.

It may be that your son finds it hard to open up to you or your husband. If this is the case, offer alternative adults with whom he can discuss the situation. Members of the clergy, teachers, coaches, relatives and mental health professionals are all excellent options to help teens cope with the news of terminal illness in their families.

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