So you have the diagnosis, what comes next? For us it is time. Time to process, to think, to plan, to deny and to accept. The official diagnosis came only days ago for us, so we are all in a state of flux as we each move through these stages differently. We don’t even know the timelines yet, as I said it’s all new. Tomorrow’s second oncologist appointment may shed further light on things and will no doubt lead to more grieving and processing for all of us. With the official diagnosis we felt it was important to share the news. I couldn’t face telling our closest friends in Bangkok, so I took the chicken’s way out and sent an email with the basics and left it at that. With that done it was time to tell the kids. We received the diagnosis on Friday, I was at work so I at least had time to process the news and compose myself before I faced the little ones.
My kids have recently had birthdays – having turned 7 and 3. My son (who is 7) is a quiet, reserved and thoughtful kid who feels and thinks deeply. I call him my old soul. He witnessed his Poppy’s ill health in Bangkok, saw him in hospital and knew that things were not great. After much deliberation I decided to forewarn him that Poppy “might” have cancer. He took that news as well as could be expected. It was hard on him, he cried, but he was okay. On Friday night I avoided for as long as I could. It was right before bed that I chose to tell him, hoping that he would have a long sleep to heal some of the hurt. I can’t begin to explain the pain he showed when I told him the news. I kept it as simple as I could “Poppy went to the doctor today, he has cancer, it’s bad, the doctors will try some medicine, but the medicine probably won’t stop the cancer. The medicine, called Chemo, would probably make Poppy sick as it attacks the cancer and the good bits of his body at the same time”.
He knew. He might only be 7, but he’s not unfamiliar with cancer. A dear friend of mine passed away when Finn was an infant, she was 29, a mother of a 4 month old, and was taken by leukaemia less than 2 weeks after her diagnosis. One of his friends at school only has a dad, because her mum died of breast cancer. It’s a dark cloud that he knows about, but has never experienced first hand until now.
So Friday night I held him, he wept until I thought he couldn’t possibly shed another tear and then the next wave enveloped him. His sister, who is 3, cried too, though more because we were crying, than because she understood. She knows Poppy is sick and that he might die. It’s a horrible word to say to your kids, but from everything I’ve read it seems better to give kids the information in concrete terms rather than metaphors.
But, in all of this, the kids have been a shining light. They bounce back so quickly. Friday night was tough, but sleep did heal and Saturday was mostly a good day. There were a few tears, but more to do with other things than with Poppy’s condition directly.
I had a big cry last night and my son joined me. I was reading “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness, having heard it’s a good story for older kids to read about the death of a loved one. It was beautiful, a powerful story and as raw as things are now, I’m glad I read it. Spoiler ahead but the message is that it’s okay to want someone’s pain to end and also to want them to not go. I was reading it hoping it might be a good story to share with my son, and when I finished it he asked if he could read it too. He’s 7, it’s aimed at an older audience, but the concepts are clear and it’s well within his reading range, so I think we’ll read it together.
I’ve also done some research about books that help kids address death. In our school library there are three that I want to grab and check out, they are 1. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, 2. Dr Seuss’ My Many Coloured Days and 3. Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle. I’ll write more after I’ve read them with the kids.
As hard as it was I feel good that we’ve told the kids and we’ve been honest. Death is hard to talk about and to face, and even harder when we are trying to protect our children from the pain of death. But by talking in metaphors we don’t explain anything and just confuse them more. I don’t know if this will help my kids in the long run, but at least I know they aren’t being left out of this experience in our lives.