Dear Savvy Auntie,

My sister-in-law is very ill. I am really 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 ages 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. Can you help?

My SIL is ill

Dear My 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 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 with a social worker who specializes in cancer at your local hospital. Although the girls may not be old enough to understand, it is important to answer their questions as honestly as possible. And remember, just answer their questions - no lectures. Children accept illness and death better than most people give them credit for.

With sympathy,
Natalie Robinson Garfield

Homepage photo: Aletia
Published: February 22, 2017


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