Speaking to your children about death

Speaking to your children about death

When her husband Paul died six months ago, the BBC presenter Sally Bundock had already prepared her three little boys for whatever might happen.

No one had any idea of how sick Paul was. He was diagnosed with the same cancer that Steve Jobs had, a very unusual one called Carcinoid tumours, which can only be fixed by cutting out the tumours and getting rid of the cancer that way, which in Paul’s case was not possible as it had spread too much.

Openness with the bereaved children

Sally and Paul had always been very open with their children and as practicing Christians, were very natural about their faith. In Sally’s words:  “We all go to Church together as a family, so we just talked to them about the fact that Daddy is unwell and Daddy needs special medicine and treatment to get better, but also, that we’re praying for Daddy and we’re trusting in God and believing in Jesus to help Daddy with this sickness.”

So right from the beginning the children knew about their fathers’ appointments, treatment and the effects. Sally is convinced that was a helpful approach: “Looking back, that was the best way to do it, because there was never any fear in them about what they didn’t know or what we weren’t telling them or of anything going on behind the scenes. I think they felt like they were with us on the journey.”

When children ask difficult questions

Children ask difficult questions all the time and Sally’s policy was just to be honest. When it happened that they didn’t know the answers they would just say “we don’t know the answers.” Some of the questions they’d ask were like “Why isn’t God healing Daddy?” Sally’s response was “I don’t know why God isn’t healing Daddy quickly or straight away or why he didn’t heal Daddy, but I do know that God’s got our best interests at heart and he’s there all the time with us through this journey and today, right now, God is good and he’s with us and He’s caring for us as we tackle this problem.”

To another bereaved Mum or Dad…

“I’d say don’t be fearful and don’t worry, the Bible says do not worry about tomorrow, it’s brilliant advice, worry doesn’t help you in any way whatsoever, and just keep your eyes fixed on the good. I kept my eyes firmly on Jesus – what does He say about my situation? What does the Bible say about my situation? I stopped listening to everything negative and that was going to fill me with fear or concern. To a degree that was the doctors, I’d listen to what they had to say -obviously it was very important what they had to say- and we did follow their advice to a great degree, but we attacked it with medicine, prayer and faith and with our own strength and love and we got to where we are and that’s the best advice I can give. Be really kind to yourself, try not to worry and please don’t allow fear to creep in.

For Paul and myself, if we had done this without a loving God, a caring God, a providing God, a God of strength, I have no idea how we would have done it and I don’t know how well we would have done it. I really give God the Glory for how well this journey has been and I’m on this journey now for a while to go still, as are the children.”

Where can you find help?

“We’ve been honest and open and asked for help anywhere and everywhere where people have been alongside to support us, we’ve thanked them and grabbed their help with both hands and that’s been brilliant for the children because they’ve had this huge support around them, from us, from family, extended family, friends and neighbours, and our Church family. So that’s partly why they’re feeling so secure, they’re not alone in this, it’s not just me and them now, we’re part of a big family who are all caring and loving in this situation.”

Coping with grief in the public eye

As a daily TV presenter Sally is very much in the public eye. When her husband died, she simply tweeted: “Due to a bereavement in my family I will be disappearing from your screens for a while. My lovely BBC colleagues will keep you company.”  She explained the reason why she didn’t name her husband in that tweet: “It was because I didn’t want it to become my story or try to get everybody’s sympathy and empathy; it wasn’t about that, I just wanted to explain to viewers why I wasn’t on screen, and that I’d be coming back. People have asked questions since, I’m extremely open with people. People at the BBC have been magnificent in their support and care, and I’m really open with my colleagues. Because prior to Paul dying I was open about our faith and our trust that he wouldn’t die. So that as well is a difficult scenario to work through, but I’m really open.”

Speaking about grief in the media

Last October, Sally chaired a conference in Norway with an audience of 7500 people. She interviewed Will Smith the Hollywood actor for an hour and spoke about his movie Collateral Beauty which is all about bereavement. Will plays a father who’s lost a 6 year old daughter to cancer and really doesn’t cope with the situation. As part of that interview Sally told him about her husband and how she and the boys watched his movie and how it felt in the light of their own loss. This led on to lots of social media conversations, it’s clear that many people wish to talk more about death. In her own words: “I’m very open about talking about it but I’m not putting it out there as ‘My Story’. I’m very conscious that we are all going to die and we all experience this in one way or another and so it’s everybody’s story, it’s not my story that I’m going to shout from the rooftops.”

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