Dear Savvy Auntie,

My sister in law is very ill. I am hopeful she’ll survive but she’s got stage 4 cancer and not doing well. I am helping with the kids as much as I can, naturally. But they come to me to ask what will happen if their mommy dies. I’m only 28 and really not equipped for this. The girls are 6 and 4. I don’t even think the 4 year old understands what death is. I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Who can I go to for help?

SIL is Ill

Dear SIL is Ill,

You are a dear and more mature than you think sister-in-law! First ask your nieces’ parents what they would like you to say about the illness and death. It is important that you follow their lead. You can prepare for this very difficult conversation by contacting Cancer Care where you are located and speaking to a counselor as well as reading their literature. You can also contact Gilda Radner’s organization, Gilda’s Club. You may have a branch where you live. She was a young comedienne who died of cancer and the organization is very warm and humane. Lastly, speak to a social worker in your local hospital who specializes in cancer. Although the girls may not be old enough to understand it is important to answer their questions as honestly as possible…just their questions; no lectures. Children accept illness and death better than most people give them credit for.

With Sympathy,
Natalie Robinson Garfield


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