When is the right time? What do you say to your children? How will they react? Will you say the wrong thing? Will they be scared? Do you go into detail? Where do you tell them?
I researched this and thinking about it was 80% on my mind. I went to the library for children’s books on cancer only to find most books are about mothers with breast cancer. I read through them and got really good tips but I went home and wrote my own to have on hand in case they had questions.
Last night was my wake up call to tell my kids about what was going on. I was going to take them to the hospital where John first went. I wanted to sit them in the lobby and talk about what a hospital was and who works there. I wanted to be in the moment with this. I didn’t want to tell them in the house or at a park. I wanted it to be where they can see people helping people. Plus, I am a Marker. A term I made up. I remember things vividly and mark them down. I can tell you what I was wearing, what I was watching on T.V. when we got the call my father died. . I can tell you details about my high school graduation, my wedding day and don’t get me started on the births of my children. I wanted my kids to be in a safe place and not in their home when I told them. I was on the internet researching a bit more when, from the couch I hear “Did Grandpa Jerry die of Mesothelioma?” this morning from my 7 year old.
“Does Dada have Mesothelioma?”
” “Yes.” I went over to her.
“He is very very sick, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but the doctors and nurses and everyone in the hospital are working on getting him better. They are getting him ready for the big surgery coming up.”
“The surgery that will take all day and make him better.”
“Yes. You know Mesothelioma is a cancer right? Dada has cancer”
“Yes, I knew he had cancer, I heard you quietly talking to the nurse when he was in the hospital” (oh man)
“Were you scared when you heard that word?”
“Dada has cancer but it’s not like a cold where he will sneeze on you and you get cancer. It’s something inside his body that is growing and it’s nothing we did or he did to make himself sick. You can hug him, kiss him and give him high fives. We can still have slurping contests with our spaghetti with him and you won’t get sick.”
“Is he going to die?”
“I don’t know. The doctors and nurses are working very hard to keep him alive. This is why he goes to the hospital all the time and he is strong”
“I don’t want him to die.”
“I don’t either. We will get through this. Whatever happens, we are family and we will continue to be.”
Then, as we are hugging and crying, KitKat turns around and says “Be quiet, I can’t hear my show.” Cue more tears.
I didn’t know she knew John had cancer and it must have been weeks of her holding it in (and yes, we did talk about this). She sees and hears and feels everything. So does KitKat, who is processing this as only a 4 year old can. The third time he came home from the hospital, KitKat came over to cuddle with me and she said “When you pick up Dada from the hospital, will he stay home forever?” There was so much hope in asking this. The other day John was walking down the stairs and Izzy said “Oh dada, you are moving faster.” They watch me give his meds and recently, watched me give his shot.
This conversation was short, simple, to the point and real. It was honest…although I did stumble when I said they couldn’t catch the cancer. I mean I know they can’t but…
This was a real relief to Izzy. Within 3 minutes, she was up and laughing. I saw the weight being lifted. Really. She was relaxed and in 20 minutes we were all on the floor laughing hysterically as KitKat was rolling us all over the livingroom floor. After all, we’re still us.