Parents Regret Not Discussing
Death with Dying Children
It is OK to discuss death with a dying
child and in fact desirable, Swedish researchers reported.
Parents who talked about death
when their children were dying of cancer almost never regretted
it, while those who could not bring themselves to raise the issue
sometimes wished they had, the survey of 449 parents found.
The findings should reassure anxious
parents, doctors said. In recent years, medical groups have urged
physicians to be frank with patients about their illness, regardless
"I have seen children with cancer
respond to the idea of their dying with startling maturity," wrote
Dr. Lawrence Wolfe of Tufts-New England Medical Center in a commentary
in the New England Journal of Medicine, where the results also
"A 9-year-old boy left a legacy
by giving his prized possessions to his friends, planned his funeral,
and decided what he would wear to his burial," he added.
The study found none of the 147
parents who said they talked to their child about death regretted
it. But of the 258 parents who did not raise the issue, 27 percent
said they wish they had done so.
The regrets were mostly likely
to come from parents who had sensed the child had realized he
or she was about to die.
Not talking about an imminent death
had consequences for the survivors as well. The parents who wished
they had not kept silent had twice the risk of depression, said
Ulrika Kreicbergs of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who
led the study.
She and colleagues found that 21
percent of the parents who did not regret talking to their kids
about death had moderate or severe depression. But 48 percent
of the parents who wished they had talked with their children
about death suffered from moderate to severe depression.
"Perhaps these parents felt that
the child was left with his or her thoughts, alone and without
comfort," the researchers wrote.
The survey also found that parents
were more likely to discuss death if they were religious, if they
were older, and if they sensed that the child had realized he
or she was about to die.
"Most children (63 percent) were
not informed that their illness was incurable," the researchers
But many children figured it out.
Twenty-one percent of the parents said their child sensed when
death was still a month or more away, 32 percent of the children
seemed to know by the time death was a week away, and 22 percent
realized it during the final week.
Reference Source 89
September 16, 2004