Tuesday, March 21, 2023 | Sha'ban 28, 1444 H
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I didn’t know that one of my parents was dying...and then he/she was gone!

Life is usually fully of happy events and on other times, sad ones. With the passage of time, you notice something strange especially on events when you lose one of your parents.

May God protect our fathers and mothers and God have mercy on those who passed away — that you may forget the details you learned about his /her death and when?

You may also be wondering whether what you remember is the truth or is it a distortion, especially since you were a child when they passed away.

Here, I may wonder, what should you say to a child when a parent is dying? Perhaps the answers to this impossible question generally fall into two groups: telling them the truth or protecting them from the truth. The fact that the most compelling arguments in either direction may give you priority will be what is best for the child.

In fact, this leads us to the realisation that in the dark month of a parent’s health condition, for instance which was not normal, it was really possible for a child surrounded by so much evidence of suffering — and denied the whole truth about that suffering — to come out of that experience unscathed!

However, contrary to what many adults believe, children are not too young to grieve over death. Children can love when they are young, they can grieve and they will cry when a cat dies in the house!

In a way, when it comes to a parent’s illness, kids are smart, dealing with what’s going on in their environment even if they aren’t told the truth. I might say here that we must be honest about the illness or death of a member of that child’s family in a manner appropriate to his/her age. Because when children feel they have been lied to, they can begin to fear for their safety and become distrustful.

Of course the more we talk, the more we realise that the focus is on a binary question — to tell the kids or not to tell them? It may mask many other factors that shape how a child handles a loss. For example, we see how having a memory of helping a dying family member — bringing them medicine, making them laugh — can make children feel useful, not to mention it creates tremendous psychological comfort for them.

On the other hand, adults should be careful in dealing with the details of death, such as telling young children that a dying person will simply (sleep). Children may take these words literally and become afraid to sleep, for instance!

At end, adults want to keep children away from funerals, but that child has never been afraid to seek answers and feelings of loss. And here and at the funeral of one of the child’s parents, that child may hold his brother’s hand and shake it and his eyes shed tears because he is living for the first time for the moments he lost dear to him and says: Would things have been better if I had known the truth from the beginning?

Dr Yousuf Ali Al Mulla is a physician, a medical innovator and a writer.

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