My wife has been told that she has a limited amount of time left due to an illness, the average life expectancy is 7-8 years after onset, of which we have used up 7. With excellent management, and slow progression of the disease, people have been known to live up to 20 years after onset. But even in that best case scenario, my children who are both below 5, are likely to have their mother gone by their teens.

Is there something we could do to prepare them for that day?

I understand death of a parent can happen to any child, but is it right to pretend we don't know what's coming? Or to have the children take the burden of dealing with the situation because of our squeamishness? Needless to say this is a massive burden for any family to carry, and the pressures it places on us are enormous, but how can we best deal with this situation?

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    My condolences for your situation. Not an answer, but have you and your wife considered creating a series of video messages from your wife, to be shown to your children at various points throughout their lives (e.g. each birthday, first date, graduations, holidays, etc.)? That way she can continue to be a presence in their lives, and provide timely advice for important milestones.
    – user420
    May 2, 2012 at 14:56
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    I think that this is a situation where the services of a good professional would be a great help, and it may be better to start finding someone who's a good fit for your family sooner rather than later.
    – afrazier
    May 2, 2012 at 16:46
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    On Beofett's point: The last lecture by high-achieving prof Randy Pausch was an unconventional message containing very deep lessons meant for his three kids, the youngest aged 1. May 4, 2012 at 13:25

4 Answers 4


I understand death of a parent can happen to any child, but is it right to pretend we don't know what's coming?

Unless your kids are incredibly dense, they are going to figure it out sooner or later, and probably sooner. The only question is where are they going to get their information from. I was diagnosed with MS two years ago when my kids were 7, 6, and 3. My wife and I had to explain what that meant to our kids. We also had instances of them getting bad information at school. One kid told my 7 year old it meant I was going to die.

My advice would be to give a simple explanation and then ask them if they have any questions. Let them kind of guide you with their questions. Be honest but don't go into unnecessary details. Let them know that it is ok to come to you any time they have questions in the future. As they get older and have an ability to understand more, they will ask more questions.

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    I do not have personal experience with this, but there are probably some great picture books out there to help too. There is something on almost every topic that can help guide a parent in discussing emotional or sensitive topics with their kids - AND it helps you feel less alone in the matter to know that it is something so many people deal with a book was published about it. Nov 16, 2012 at 19:53

Above all, be honest.

  • Tell your children the basics
  • Use matter-of-fact language
  • Be open to their questions
  • Use language that they'll understand

I know this isn't easy, but it will help them prepare for the future if you help them understand as best you can. Children can be remarkably resilient, and the trust you build with them through honesty will be invaluable in the days to come.


That is very tough.

There are a large number of children books that deal with a wide range of parent illnesses, and the challenges both the parent and child will face.

With children under 5, then I'd start with colorful story books.

There are also a couple of Disney films that involve the death of one parent.

  • The Little Mermaid (Ariel is raised by her father)
  • Beauty and the Beast (Bella is raised by her father)
  • Pocahontas (raised by her father)
  • Pinocchio (raised by his father)
  • Bambi
  • The Princess and the Frog (I think Tiana is raised by her mother)

I recommend these only as a resource. I think @Kevin's answer is spot on. To keep is simple, let them guide you and as a family you guys will make it.

  • The Lion King, maybe?
    – user19768
    Jan 12, 2016 at 3:21

If you don't prepare them, your children will blame themselves for having been rude sometimes. They will blame yourself forever for not having prevented that by telling them. They will blame you forever for having forbiden them to fully live each moment they could have with their mother. These are just a few examples of how the situation can even worsen.

If you prepare them, provided they understand the situation, their behaviour is likely to change. I would expect them to lose some of their child insouciance, to become more mature. The relation with their mother will probably change as well. Maybe they will sound less "natural" at first, but chances are that they will become more obliging with her.

Maybe there are, but I can't think of any other effect which you wouldn't have if you don't prepare them (e.g. they may face school issues in both cases), so it's just a matter of timing if you can afford it.

In any case they will have to deal with reality at some point anyway. In some way it's your parent duty to prepare them. You may delay the moment, but do it early enough (I'd say at least one year in advance if you can), because they will likely need to go through the five stages of grief before they're able to enjoy as much time as they can with her.

As to how to prepare them, I would ask advice to a professional psychiatrist or someone like that. It may be better also if they can be accompagnied by a psychiatrist during at least the few months after the announcement, as well as when things go wrongier.

Hope this helps.

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