Will living with a dying grandfather undermine a child's faith?
My wife and I are caregivers for her father who is terminally ill with cancer. He will soon need around the clock care, and we are considering doing that in our home because we love him and because of his limuited financial resources. We have two children, aged 7 and 11. We are a family with a deep faith in God. We fear that having him in our home in the final painful months of his life will undermine our childrens' faith in a loving and gracious God. How can we care for him without damaging our childrens' faith in God?
Caring for a terminally ill family member brings stress to families, and children look to us as parents to see the nature of compassion and faith. They absorb what they see reflected in us as parents, but they also have unique needs.
As parents, you are the experts at assessing your children's coping skills. But it is important to consider the personalities and psychological makeup of each child, as well as the resources and limitations of your caregiving situation, as well as the needs of all those involved. It's important to think about the following areas: Living spaces: Would your children retain their bedroom and play areas? Would your father have a private space that would allow you to screen the children from painful or difficult aspects of the dying process? Protecting Grandpa's dignity and privacy are important considerations.
Expressing feelings: How do your children feel about having Grandpa come to live with them? Have they expressed resentment or fear? Has Grandpa expressed his desires or concerns about where he would like to be or whether having children as part of his living environment might be difficult? Bereavement counselors can help family members express their feelings about these issues.
*Young children: Children under the age of 5 have a difficult time thinking conceptually. It's important to teach them about the process of death, dying, and faith, using concrete language and simple words. Try to keep bedtimes, meals, and playtime on schedule to keep children from becoming upset. Provide physical comfort and reassurance of God's love.
*Middle-aged children: Most children between 6 and 12 have a general understanding of the body and may be curious about the process of death. Be truthful, but don't give them information beyond their understanding. Let them know it's okay to talk about their fears, grief, and feelings. They will take their cues from your responses and emotions.
*Adolescents and young adults: Most adolescents and young adults will understand the process of dying but will need help finding ways to express their feelings. They may not want to add stress to your life. Encourage them to ask questions and discuss their fears and concerns. Children of all ages will remember both the positive and negative experiences.
Comfort care considerations. Hospice care can be an important consideration when comfort requires professional continuous care or when family burnout is a factor. Stress levels for children can sometimes be best alleviated when the daily tasks of caregiving are removed from the home and family can provide support.
Scripture is clear that God isn't insulted by our grief, sorrow, or questions, and it's important to teach children that death and grief are part of life. Caregiving helps us grieve later on, and one of the most Christ-like things we can do is to care for others in times of their deepest pain. This can be done in our homes, as well as in hospice and institutional settings where our loved ones receive quality twenty-four hour care. No matter the caregiving situation we choose, it's crucial that we allow our children to take part in the process and assist them in growing in their faith in a God who loves us through our times of pain and suffering.
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