Saying Goodbye: Talking to Kids About Death

Q. My aunt is dying. Should I take my 5-year-old with me to visit her in the hospital?

A. Ask him if he'd like to go, suggests Donna Swain, a clinical bereavement counselor at the Center for Grief and Loss at Stella Maris Hospice, in Timonium, Maryland. Since seeing a sick person in the hospital can be scary -- will she be hooked up to tubes and IVs? will she be able to talk? -- prepare your child beforehand.

When Michael Zacharias's sister Lynne was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, his two daughters, who were 5 and 3 at the time, visited her weekly. "They saw her decline gradually, so it wasn't such a shock," says the Glen Allen, Virginia, dad. "My wife, Melissa, and I explained that Aunt Lynne would lose her hair and later on that she might not be able to talk. But Lynne's eyes lit up every time we came, and I think seeing her disease progress made it easier for the girls to accept her death."

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