PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Dealing With Death: When Someone Is Sick

Sometimes, we lose a loved one very suddenly and unexpectedly, such as in a car accident or because of a heart attack. Other times, when a person is seriously ill, we know his or her death is coming. Is one easier than the other?

The truth is, having some advance notice about death can be just as difficult as having it happen without warning. Here are some ideas to help you deal:

Stay in the person's life
Parents and other adults sometimes think young people should be "shielded" from someone who's sick and dying, but many experts think this isn't such a great idea. If your grandfather is in a nursing home and might not live for much longer, for example, visiting him will probably raise his spirits and show him that you love him. It might also help you understand that death is natural, even if it's sad and a little scary. Later, after this person is gone, you'll likely be thankful for the time you had together near the end.

Understand what the person is going through
The more you know about what's happening to your loved one, the less mysterious it will be. Ask trusted adults to keep you in the loop, and find out about medicines, equipment, procedures, and anything else you hear about or see that may be unfamiliar. Some things will be private, between a patient and his or her doctors, but you have every right to understand the basics about why someone is sick. You might even find that the real facts aren't as frightening as the ones you have in your head.

Offer your love and support
When people are coming to the end of their lives, they need love more than ever. If someone you know is very sick, do your best to express your love with visits, letters, cards, and anything else you think will be meaningful to her or him.

Say goodbye
The "forever" goodbyes that come when somebody we love is dying are probably the toughest ones we'll ever say. But NOT saying goodbye can be even more painful in the long run. No matter how much it hurts, and no matter how much we might cry, saying goodbye gives us a kind of ending we can hold inside our hearts whenever we think of the person we lost. This can help us deal with our grief later on. Even in cases when the person we love can't hear us, at least we know we've said our farewells.

It's okay to feel relieved
When someone is sick for a long time, whether it's in a hospital or at home, it can be difficult to watch him or her suffer. Is it wrong to feel like you want this person's pain to finally end? Are you a horrible human being because you want your house back to normal, or for everyone to be able to move on with their lives? When death finally comes, should you feel guilty for being relieved? No. Emotions like these are natural and healthy. You are not disrespecting the person who is dying; rather, you are accepting the reality of what's going to happen and seeing through the sadness to something positive.

Remember: If adults keep you "outside the loop" and shield you from the truth about a parent or loved one's illness, it can make it even harder on you once the person is gone. By knowing the truth ahead of time, you will be able to prepare yourself, start saying goodbye, and won't be taken by surprise. Ask the adults in your life to be honest with you and respect your right to know what's happening.

Copyright © 2005 CastleWorks, Inc. All rights reserved.