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Cancer Health Center

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No Regrets: Discuss Death With Dying Child

Parents Need Hospital Staff's Help in Facing Death of a Child

No Regrets

"We had no parents who regretted their decision to talk to their child. ... They all seemed very satisfied with their decision," Kreicbergs tells WebMD.

Also, those parents who instead chose to focus their talk on life were also satisfied with their choice. It's important to respect a parent's decision to go this direction, she notes. "We should not encourage parents to talk about death if they have made a different decision," she tells WebMD. "They think that is right, and we have to support them."

But for parents who couldn't face "the talk," there was true regret later, Kreicbergs reports.

"Even though they knew that death was coming -- and they felt that their child was aware of imminent death -- they could not talk about it," she tells WebMD. "It's a situation where the child is trying to protect the parents, and parents are trying to protect the child. It's such a hard situation to witness. I think we could help those parents and children. I think it's easier for parents who have had this discussion."

In fact, it is conceivable that children are aware of their impending death -- even if parents or health care workers do not always notice this awareness, she says.

How can parents bring up this sensitive subject? Watching a special movie like The Lion King -- where death occurs -- is one way, Kreicbergs suggests. "Just ask a very simple question about death, let them express how they feel about it. How they feel will be based on the child's age, religion, culture. But just letting the child talk will help."

Many parents said their child "adopted" the movie as a sort of symbol of their struggle, she adds. "They often didn't bring anything else to the hospital except a copy of that movie. So many children are aware of the situation, are aware they are going to die, and are trying to prepare themselves for it. They want to see these stories where death occurs, to really identify what death is."

Child's Age Makes a Difference

Eugenio Rothe, MD, professor of child psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine, was not involved in the study. But he offered his insights on preparing for the death of a child.

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