This information was provided by Dr Ros Taylor, who has worked with families at the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted and The Royal Marsden Hospital.
We know that those who are left behind hugely treasure memories that have been crafted and created especially for them. This is especially important for children. There are so many creative ways to continue your voice, your hopes, your dreams into the future, and your children or grandchildren will truly treasure this. It can be really uplifting work but it’s also sad and emotional.
We have often found that it’s best to work with a close friend or family member, or perhaps a hospice nurse or therapist who will have the skills to help you. Many hospices have teams who can support children who are facing the loss of a parent. A meeting with your local team before death can provide some vital continuity for your children in the future. There are now so many simple, creative ways to capture precious memories, stories and your voice. Involving the children will make the work even more special and keep your memory alive. We know from the work we do with children who have lost a parent how important this is. Children often talk about the creative times when mum was ill. Times of real closeness that will sustain them in the times ahead.
If you have children you may want to consider creating a memory box for them. This is a special box filled with photographs, treasured objects or souvenirs from trips. It gives reminders for your children of special moments with you and your relationship with them. This can be heartbreaking work to do, and so easy to put off, but is really treasured.
You may want to leave letters to be opened on every birthday. We know a young mum who left a special sum of money in her will to buy Christmas presents for her children every year.
It’s so easy now to make videos on our phones, capturing special moments, or simply sharing thoughts and hopes for your children, perhaps telling a favourite story or remembering a holiday. Recordings of your voice, or videos of times together will be treasured. Don’t leave it too late. Short messages recorded on your phone when something comes to mind might be easier than one long emotional message. There are a growing number of memory apps available that can help you collect photos, messages and music on your phone or other devices.
Planning a future for your children
There are often huge practical concerns about your children’s future care, particularly if you’re a single parent. These may feel like unbearable conversations, trying to imagine your child’s life without you. But it’s so important to make your mark on these plans. You know so much about your children, what makes them tick, their likes, their hopes and their fears.
Your children’s guardian in future may be your husband or wife, partner, family member or someone else. Once you know who this will be there’s so much information you could share that would make the job of bringing up your children easier for those who have that honour. We remember a mum who was really worried that no one could do her daughter’s hair properly. Her husband had simply never learnt how to plait her daughter’s hair and she was worried that this would be a source of distress after she died. Of course she taught her husband how to do it. These treasured moments can actually bring you closer and make you feel more at ease that your children’s lives will perhaps be disrupted a little less.
We know how resilient children are in the face of loss. But we also know how keen they are on routine. It’s these routines, that perhaps only you might know, that need passing on in a certain way to those who are going to have a big role in your children’s lives in the future. If you need professional help to plan for your children’s future, or just need advice on how to talk with them, then the local hospice may be a good place to start. Many have a family and children’s support team, or will know where you can get local help. If you don’t have a hospice near to you, then your child’s school or your GP will know of local support services.
Support for your children
Here are some resources that can help children of different ages, who are facing loss:
Winston’s Wish provides support for children, young people and families who have been bereaved by serious or terminal illness
riprap is a website for teenagers who have a parent with cancer
The Story Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin which suggests stories that help children with all sorts of difficulties they might be facing
Last reviewed: May 2022
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