How to tell your child you're dying: Advice from a mom who passed on

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Are you a parent with a terminal illness? Here’s how to help your child understand death, deal with grief, and prepare for the future.

Richelle “Issay” Tubig Tanabe was a wife and mother of three who bravely battled Stage 4 Breast Cancer. After being diagnosed with the disease in May 2012, she underwent a slew of cancer-fighting treatments and procedures including a double mastectomy.

She passed away on March 24, 2015, at 10PM.

On Issay’s GoFundMe page, her family had this to share about her passing: “She was surrounded by family and friends. She was strong till the end and left me and our girls lots of notes, instructions and letters as keepsakes. She was wonderful. She was NOT defeated…She is God’s finished work.”

Issay’s three daughters were 9, 13 and 15 years old when she first learned of her condition.

And before Issay passed on, this writer had the chance to talk to her about how she shared the news with her daughters.

“I didn’t think much about it. Maybe I did it that way because I wasn’t ready to deal with everybody’s emotions at the same time. I was alone,” Issay recounted. She revealed that she told her daughters separately and sans her husband.

“I assured all my daughters that we will do everything to get the healing that I need, but if death does occur, they shouldn’t let go of their faith in God.”

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Issay Tanabe with husband Doods and daughters Andi, Toni and Joey

Break the News Gently

According to social psychologist Ces Bulos, who used to teach at the Ateneo de Manila University, the dying parent should inform her child of her condition from the point of view of family communication, honesty, transparency, and other values, but the key is how the message is given to the child.

“It should be given in a manner that the child will understand what has happened and what will happen or the implications of the illness or situation to the child and the family.

The child should not feel that it was his fault or that the parents are dismissing or sweeping it under the rug.”

Bulos explains that for some, the task might entail a series of disclosures – depending on the ability of the child to understand – as giving the information in one fell swoop might overwhelm a youngster.

It is also important for the parent to be prepared regarding how the child will react to the news.  “The time, circumstance and the manner will matter a lot in the communication,” she reiterates.

Continue reading for advice on how to break the hard news to your child…

How to tell your child you’re dying

Guidance counselor Mark Laurence Que, who works at Xavier School in San Juan, suggests the following steps for when a parent is dying:

  • Explain the truth to your child first. This will help him prepare for what happens next. The pain of losing mom or dad is bound to be worse if a child is not prepared. Moreover, the child may feel hurt or angry if something this significant was kept from him.
  • Have a dialogue with the child about feelings. Let him ask questions and voice his fears. Answer any question that he may have. When she was diagnosed with cancer, Issay said it was unfortunate that her youngest daughter heard it accidentally from another person. “I just had to comfort her when she told me about it,” she recalled.
  • Help the child to avoid self-blame. Reassure kids, especially the young ones, that they are not the reason or the cause of a parent’s illness and nothing they did or said made mom or dad sick.
  • Take the remaining time to have closure and make the most of these last moments with your family. Spend time with your spouse and child. Create photo albums, scrapbooks, videos and similar souvenirs to keep the memories of loved ones alive.

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“In the end, there will still be grieving,” says Que, “but the child can always be prepared for it.”

Issay and her husband Doods did all these with their children. “I think we are coping well as a family. We make sure to have fun,” Issay shared. “We often do something together, even if it’s as simple as just eating together, but we make sure to build fun and meaningful memories with our girls.”

Issay continued to say, “We talk about the situation and not hide anything from them. I want them to be educated about the disease.  I want them to think about it and not just feel the emotions that follow in knowing that the disease exists within the family.”

Issay strived to remain positive and realistic at the same time, too. “We are all faced with the risk of dying. I try not to think of my situation as unique which helps me get away from self-pity and discouragement. I feel even more blessed because I take care of myself better now, and our family has become closer, friendships have become stronger, and my spiritual life has become even more real and vibrant,” she related.

Continue reading for tips on what parents should prepare for children in case of their death…

Provide for Your Children and Secure Their Future

If you are a parent with a terminal illness and wish to leave your son or daughter with funds and other assets, here are some wise moves you can make as recommended by Jenny Ferriols, branch head of EastWest Bank in San Juan:

  • Turn over everything to the husband or surviving closest adult relative who will manage the funds.
  • Draw up a last will and testament and discuss this with a lawyer. Ferriols says this is ideal for a dying parent who wants the allocation done according to her request. The lawyer will execute the distribution of funds. If property is involved, the lawyer will also be in charge of taxation procedures.
  • Open an account under the child’s name. The child can handle the account himself when he turns 18.
  • If the child is still very young, the mom or dad can open a living trust account for the child. The Trust Department of banks can handle the investment of the funds and distribute them according to the parent’s specifications even after the parent has passed away.

theAsianparent team extends their deepest sympathies to Issay’s family. We appreciate the honest insights you shared with us, Issay, and wish you a glorious afterlife in Heaven above.

If you have any insights, questions or comments regarding the topic, please share them in our Comment box below. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Google+ to stay up-to-date on the latest from theAsianparent Philippines!