Chapter 6: Preparing for an approaching death

Spending time with the person who is dying

The expert says
Camara Van Breemen, nurse practitioner, talks about preparing kids to be with someone who is dying. (3:22)Video transcript

At first Gillian was reluctant to visit her sister in the hospital. It turned out, she really did want to spend time with Becca - she just didn't know what to do since they couldn't play the way they used to. Once we gave her some ideas, like reading to her sister or watching a movie together, she was really happy to visit. 

Children often wonder how to be with someone who's dying when that person has little energy and spends most of their time in bed. They benefit from concrete suggestions, especially if the person is no longer waking up. 


Depending on your child’s age, they can:

  • Help with mouth care.
  • Paint finger nails and toenails.
  • Apply moisturizer to arms and legs.
  • Decorate the room.
  • Choose music.
  • Hold hands.
  • Share memories. 
  • Talk about their day.
  • Sit quietly together.
  • Do homework at the bedside.
  • Enjoy other quiet activities like colouring or playing video games.

Staying close

If the relationship is physically close, help your child maintain that closeness as much as the dying person is able. Perhaps they can:

  • Nap in the hospital bed next to mom.
  • Ride on papa’s lap when he’s in his wheelchair.

Recording memories

Taking photos of children as they spend time with the person provides them with a record of the ways they stayed involved and connected. This can be particularly helpful for young children who may not otherwise remember this time.