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Festive period

For parents of dependent children, Christmas may traditionally be a time of excitement, mystery and suspense.

But when a parent has received a diagnosis of an incurable cancer, their worries they may seek to keep, are far weightier than what lies under the Christmas tree. Understandably, parents may want to protect their children from the truth, for as long as possible. At RSF we understand how hard it is for parents to find the words and the courage, to talk to their children about death and dying.

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What we know, is that children are often attuned to even the most subtle changes at home and may already have noticed that a parent is looking or behaving differently.

A child may be aware of unexplained absences, whispered conversations and changes to their routine. Unexpected disruption to their home life, can give rise to feelings of anger, insecurity, fear or resentment and when a child is faced with such uncertainty, they may create their own worrying thoughts, to explain the unexplained.

Talking to families where there has been a parental diagnosis of a cancer that cannot be cured, has taught us that no matter how painful or frightening the truth may be, children often do want to be informed and involved and that they can really benefit from having the opportunity to make the most of the time they have left with their parent.

Research tells us that when children are not prepared for the death of a parent there may be a long-term impact on their emotional wellbeing, mental health, relationships and life experiences. On the other hand, when children are given age-appropriate information and are communicated with openly and honestly, without the use of euphemisms and when they are given the time and space to process and share their feelings, children are more likely to develop resilience and vital coping skills. For mums and dads, the knowledge that their child will not simply survive, but can still thrive after parental bereavement, is a gift that lasts way beyond Christmas.

Crissy Duff

Clinical Lead Family Support Service

Making Christmas a special time filled with lasting memories

Here a few ideas that families have told us can help make Christmas extra special. Using simple arts and crafts you can create special moments and lovely keepsakes for the children for years to come.

  • Record mum or dad singing a Christmas carol
  • Order our free ‘Me and You’ workbook to complete together
  • Create Christmas cards together
  • Take a special picture together and frame it. A lovely gift for under the tree!
  • Create your own bauble with finger prints of the whole family – a plain bauble and finger paints should do the trick

Remember to make one for each one of the kids so that everyone can have their own keepsake.