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Out of the mouths of (terminal) babes


I read an online article based on the Cape Town pediatrician, Alastair McAlpine,  who gave some of his terminal patients an assignment. He asked the young patients, short on time, about the things that really mattered to them. They gave this life advice, "Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them." Following any or all these suggestions will make us a better person.

His patients also had worries about the people and animals that really mattered to them. They worried about whether their parents would be alright after their death. The author Janice Bell Meisenhelder wrote the book “Surviving the Unthinkable The Loss of a Child” which was published in 2017. It bills itself as “A gentle, practical guide for grieving mothers, family and friends” according to the cover. Chapter 7, “Your Identity” outlines how the loss of a child changes one’s identity. It points out how the small talk’s innocent question of “How many children do you have?” points to a difficult position for grieving parents. The chapter continues by outlining the impact on self esteem. Studies (Engelkemeyer & Marwit, 2008, Mancini et al., 2011) have pointed out that bereaved parents who were able to hang on to their feelings of self-worth had less depression and fewer traumatic-stress symptoms.

If I, as a death doula, were working with a family and the terminal child asked me if their parents would be alright after their death, I would answer them honestly. Yes, they will be alright, but experiencing a loss and working through the grieving process will take some time for everyone.


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