Entries in Dying (4)


At the End of a Child's Life, Parents at a Loss for Words

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Debbie Lewis will never forget the day she had to tell her daughter, Emily, that the 12-year-old was going to die.

Emily had been diagnosed since age 9 with Wilms tumor, a pediatric kidney cancer.  The disease spread to her lungs shortly after, and she spent three years in and out of treatment, bouncing between progress and relapses.

Emily's doctors eventually told Lewis there was nothing more they could do.  She and husband John had to tell Emily that the cancer had spread too far.

"Emily looked at me, and said, 'Mom, am I going to die?'" Lewis said.

As hard as the question was, Lewis said she never doubted that she should tell her daughter the truth.  "She deserved to know as much as we knew, based on her ability to understand it," she said.

Two months later, in August 2009, Emily died in hospice care.

Few parents can imagine having to tell their child that his or her life will be cut short.  Parents faced with the task are often reluctant to speak candidly about death, fearing that the news will spark fear or sap the child's will to live.

Dr. Justin Baker, director of palliative care at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., said many parents ask him not to tell their child that they will die, even when the outlook is grim.

"They'll tell me, we just haven't been able to bring up the fact that he has cancer," Baker said.  "My first question for them is, 'How much do you think your child already knows?'"

Children often have some idea that their condition is serious from listening to doctors, being aware of their own bodies or even researching their disease.

"Sometimes, they're already making up details in their mind about what's happening because they don't have an explanation," said Angela Locke, a child life specialist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.  "Sometimes it's less scary when parents give the honest truth."

A conversation about death happens differently, depending on the age of the child and the cultural background and customs of the family.  But experts say it's important for all parents to be as honest as they can about their child's condition and what the future holds.

Research suggests that those conversations are beneficial not only for children, but for parents as well.  In 2004, Swedish researchers interviewed the families of more than 300 children who had died after a terminal illness, asking them if they had talked with their child about their death.  Nearly 35 percent of parents reported that they had talked about death with their child, and none of them reported regretting those conversations.

Of the parents who reported not talking to their child about their death, 27 percent regretted that decision.´╗┐

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


CDC Report Explores What Killed 2.5M Americans in 2010

Pixland/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly 2.5 million Americans died in 2010, and heart disease and cancer killed nearly half of them, according to a report out Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the first time in 46 years, murder fell out of the top-15 leading causes of death, replaced by pneumonitis in the 15th spot.

Life expectancy increased to nearly 79 years old, one-tenth of a year longer than the previous year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Following Horrific Loss, Stories of Recovery

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Have you ever wondered how you might cope with what seems an unbearable loss? The tragedies striking two Connecticut families have many of us confronting a question we hope to never personally experience.

At St. Thomas Church in Manhattan, hundreds of people gathered Thursday to mourn three young girls who died along with their grandparents during a fire on Christmas morning in Stamford, Conn. The mother of the girls, 9-year-old Lily and her 7-year-old twin sisters, Sarah and Grace, also lost her parents.

The grief of Madonna Badger, who escaped the blaze but lost her family, is nearly impossible to fathom.

So is that of Dr. William Petit, another Connecticut survivor of an almost unimaginable tragedy. In 2007, he was brutally beaten with a baseball bat by intruders who murdered his wife and two daughters. His wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and daughters, 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela, were strangled and burned in the brutal attacks. Their two killers were caught, convicted, and sentenced to death. (Both are on Connecticut’s death row.)

On Wednesday, Petit announced his engagement to photographer Christine Paluf, who had volunteered her time and skills to a family foundation set up to honor charitable causes in memory of his wife and daughters.

“It’s a life-affirming act on his part,” says Dr. Redford Williams, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center. “This is a clear sign that he has emerged and is still engaged in life and making a life for himself going forward.”

The stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) were introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.  Williams tells ABC News that survivors of personal calamities must also experience a profound awareness of what they are going through: “It’s clear that losses of this magnitude are going to have a gigantic effect on your mental state, your mood, your sense of being out of control. You have to recognize that how you are feeling is normal and give it time.”

While there is no simple formula for overcoming such loss, and all individuals react differently, the Duke psychiatrist says those who are successful seek out the bright side of daily life and work to forgive others. “Don’t expect to say the world is ‘hunky dory’ but do look for positives. Give compliments. Let the other driver cut in your traffic lane. That will make you feel better.”

Williams acknowledges such strategies don’t work for everyone. People who have histories of depression or genetic pre-dispositions to mental illness “are much more likely to have trouble.” They should seek professional counseling and, possibly, medication, he says.

Above all, Williams advises, understand that you will need time. “Time doesn’t absolutely heal all sorrows but it does allow them to gradually diminish in their impact. As time goes on, you will process the loss because you still do have a life to live.”

The engagement of Petit, four years after suffering the devastating loss of his wife and daughters, is a strong demonstration of human resilience, according to Williams. “I cannot imagine any greater trauma than what he went through. But getting on with his life is a genuine way of honoring the memory of his wife and daughters.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Actor's Double Tragedy an Experience Shared by Many

BananaStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Actor-director Tim Robbins is coping with the double heartache of his mother's death Sunday, 12 days after his father died, a shared experience that is supported by medical and anecdotal evidence.

Mary Robbins, 78, suffered a heart arrhythmia, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Her husband of 59 years, Gil Robbins, 80, died of prostate cancer April 5, the Los Angeles Times reported. Both died at their home in Esteban Cantu, Mexico.

The phenomenon among longtime couples of dying so close to one another is well documented.

A 2007 study at the University of Glasgow that followed more than 4,000 couples found that, on average, widows and widowers were at least 30 percent more likely to die within the first six months of a spouse's death than those who hadn't lost a partner. Another large study in Jerusalem found that the grieving spouse's risk of death during those first six months went up by 50 percent.

The Robbins were professional musicians in the 1950s and '60s. Gil Robbins was a member of the folk band the Highwaymen.

Of his father, The Shawshank Redemption star told the Los Angeles Times: "He was very charming, open and funny. He had a real strong moral center; he spoke up for what he believed in."

Like his father, Robbins is known as much for his outspoken liberal views, shared with former partner Susan Sarandon, as he is for his acting and directing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐

ABC News Radio