How do I cheer up my MIL? And how do I prepare my son for the worst?
November 4, 2010 11:04 AM   Subscribe

My mother-in-law's lung and lymph cancer is spreading. Outlook is not good. I would love some ideas to cheer her up or show solidarity. I would also like resources for when the inevitable comes and I have to explain to my three-year-old why he won't ever see his grandmother again.

It started as lung cancer, spread to her lymph nodes, responded well to chemo and surgery, but now it's spread to her liver. We're remaining optimistic despite the odds, and so I'm looking for suggestions to cheer her up and encourage her, particularly from cancer survivors -- what did people do for you that stood out? I'm already thinking of shaving my head once her hair loss starts up again.

As I said, we're remaining optimistic, but we also want to be prepared, which means explaining death to my little boy. What books or videos are particularly good?

(Disclaimer to Facebook friends who know my real name -- please don't post anything to my wall about this just yet, if you're so inclined. We have family that still hasn't been notified -- this news is an hour old -- and I don't want them finding out through FB first.)
posted by middleclasstool to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst is still the go-to book about death and grieving for kids. Since it's about a bunny, your son might not make the connection with Grandma until/unless he needs to.

I am sorry for you all, especially your mother-in-law, that you are all on this tough journey together. My thoughts and best wishes are with you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:07 AM on November 4, 2010

Do you live close to her or no? Is she at home or in the hospital? When my MIL was going through radiation, I sent her a postcard a day so she'd have something small to look forward to. You could also send her some of your son's artwork on a regular basis- once a week or so? It turned out the little things meant a lot to her.
posted by questionsandanchors at 11:21 AM on November 4, 2010

We are in the same city, about 15 minutes' drive away by freeway. She's still at home.

Artwork's a good idea, I hadn't thought of that.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:23 AM on November 4, 2010

Grandma's Gone to Live In the Stars is a picture book for pre-schoolers that begins with a woman describing, in three short sentences, her death from illness. She moves throughout her house wishing goodbye to her family and pets before leaving this world. If you are willing to discuss concepts of an afterlife or a separate plane of existence with your child (the book places no other demands on its readers' beliefs), you may find it useful and also moving. I discovered this book about a year after my mother-in-law died, and if it affects you the way it affected me, you may wish there was an books on tape version so you can get through its 10 pages or so without stopping to cry.

My best wishes for your family.
posted by hhc5 at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2010

So sorry to hear about this. Kids are incredibly resilient. When my dad died unexpectedly, I sat down my girls who were five and three at the time and told them that their grandfather had gotten sick and he wasn't able to get better and that he'd died. And I told them that their mother and I were very sad about it and that it was okay if they were sad, too. And then I told them that we were going to have a funeral for him and that we were going to dress up, and a bunch of people were going to come to the funeral home to say goodbye to him, and that we would see him in his casket. And they understood all of this.

The main thing is to include them (more than anything, kids hate getting left out of things) and explain what is happening in simple terms. Answer all of their questions. If they have questions you can't answer, say, "I don't know, but I'll try to find out for you."

In the meantime, try to keep a sane home. Buy flowers for your wife and make sure she communicates her feelings. Don't feel the need to walk on eggshells. Be practical, logical, and efficient. Simplify. If the holidays seem overwhelming, scale them back to a comfortable level. Keep the peace.
posted by ColdChef at 12:06 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Disney movie The Lion King has a strong image of ancestors in the stars, then later when Simba's father dies, Simba sees his father in the stars with the other ancestors. Reinforces the idea that the deceased is always nearby watching over us, even though not physically.
posted by CathyG at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2010

I'm sorry for your family and your mother-in-law.

My aunt died this summer and her greatest regret was not being around to see her small grand kids grow up. You've already gotten good advice so I'm going to look further down the road for you.

Maybe (if she's up for it) you should ask your mother-in-law how she wants her grandchildren to remember her and follow her wishes. If she doesn't have any ideas, a video message or a letter from her won't mean anything right now to your son but when he's older or even a parent himself, having her words or her image would be something to treasure.

Also, pictures of the two of them together (and your wife with her mother and her child) will also be meaningful and treasured.
posted by jaimystery at 12:36 PM on November 4, 2010

My garandmother died some years ago, and far from here, and I am a little jealous that my nieces & nephews there got introduced while mine didn't. The "four generations" photo of Grandma E., Dad, my oldest brother, and his oldest child are amazing to me, and I wish I could have captured that kind of connectedness for my children.

Looking at the similarities in those faces would be an illustration of the continuity of life. It might help them appreciate that while we don't live forever, a little bit of us carries on from generation to generation.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2010

I had just finished reading this before I saw your question. While it offers little by way of a solution, it might help your family wrap its head around the thing as a whole, and possibly take what must be a very sharp pain, and reduce it to an aching understanding. From this week's New Yorker. Hope it helps.
posted by timsteil at 2:59 PM on November 4, 2010

Regarding your three-year-old, there's a perfect Miffy book for him. (Doesn't seem to be available on your Amazon, however.)

Seconding the artwork.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:19 PM on November 4, 2010

« Older Downtown Toronto   |   Printing, Laminating, and Folding a Lot of Paper Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.