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May 14, 1982

Preparing a Child for a Good-bye Visit to a Dying Loved One

JAMA. 1982;247(18):2571-2572. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320430075040

DEATH is never easy to explain to children, particularly younger ones. Experts may compound the problem by giving parents vague generalizations, such as "explain death honestly to the child," without suggesting specific phrases to use. The parents still remain at a loss for words and may feel even worse than they did before they received the advice, because now they think they should know what to say.

Preparing a child for a "good-bye" visit to a dying loved one is an aspect of death that probably has received the least attention. It is not customary, in the United States, to take a child on such a visit. The epitome of this exclusion may be found in "Gone With the Wind": when Melanie is dying, all of the most meaningful people in her life get to say good-bye to her, except her child.

When my father-in-law was dying of cancer, my