Nurse & Case Manager,
Zen Hospice Project of San Francisco
“ … you cannot hide that you are (sick or) dying from your child.
It empowers them to be a part of it, not to be pushed away
or left outside the door.”
Buddhism values the calm mother so much. I worry that have brought so much anxiety into our home around my illness. How can I find and project a calm when I am experiencing so much internal agitation?
Children are so much more able to live in the present, which is all they have so it becomes dear to them. They have that so naturally, it is real. You can join them in today, in the moment. Because for all of us tomorrow is really an illusion, we only know for sure that we have today. The care of a good hospice worker can also help you center on what were your joys, today. Also, if you have the energy for writing letters to your children to open at different times in their lives, this can be a wonderful meditation for you, and very centering.
Now that I am closer to dying, I don’t feel like I have to “fight”. How do I explain this shift to my children?
This shift can be very sweet actually. All the time that you spent at doctors appointments and going to hospitals and here and there for treatment, now you have that time back – to spend with your family and your friends, as you wish. The quality of life can really improve, and it can be a huge relief. You can talk with your children about how happy you are to have that time with them.
It is hard to imagine bringing my child to hospice. Can you talk about how children fit in to the picture?
Of course it depends on the age, and the child. But their role or job really, is just to be a child. In my experience, it is best for them to be with you, and, if possible, talk about what she would like to do for you, and be able to do that—read to you, draw for you, just sit and talk with you. And then they need a break, too. It is good if someone who can be open and honest about what is going on can come and take them out for a snack or to the park. But you cannot hide that you are dying from your child. It empowers them to be a part of it, not to be pushed away or left outside the door. They need to hear you say you love them, and be able to say they love you, as much as they want to.
I am concerned that seeing me in hospice care will be too scary for them. Should they really be there?
The child naturally wants to stay involved with her mother, and be with her. Some parents feel the child should not be “bothered” with the events of dying, but this only makes it more traumatic at the very end of life, and when you are gone.
What can I tell them to expect as I transition from home or hospital to hospice?
The hospice environment is more like a home, not a hospital. There are no people in uniforms or bright lights and bells and attendants rushing, it is much calmer. It is a place filled with family, dogs, and a lot of life and laughter, usually. You will have space and privacy. As you may grow too tired to do things, you can make sure the child is reminded that you can hear her. They might like to climb up in the bed and talk to you. Young children actually have an intuition of what the right thing to do is, and they will do it.