“The importance of counselling for parents post a childhood cancer death”

AS we join the rest of the world in commemorating International Childhood Cancer Day; it is important to note that comprehensive palliative care is essential to the health and the well-being of children facing life-threatening illness especially cancer. The aim of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for the children and their families and minimise suffering by providing physical, psychological, spiritual and social care throughout the entire course of illness. Counselling and support are an integral part of palliative care.

By Eunice Garanganga, Executive Director, HOSPAZ

Parents share a special bond with their children and view them as the future for the family. Breaking this bond due to any life-threatening illness such as cancer is devastating for the parents. The death of a child is a particularly devastating loss, leading to complicated, long-lasting grief because parents do not expect their children to die before them.

Yet, every year thousands of parents are faced with this heart-breaking tragedy, shattering their hopes and dreams.  A mother who had lost her only son due to cancer said to me “Satan visited my home and struck where it hurts most”. Often parents talk of their world having been shattered when a child dies.

Having cancer in the family, more so on a child; seeing the child suffering from pain and any other distressing symptoms is heart breaking for any parent. Such sadness and helplessness as above require support. Hence counselling and bereavement support is key for the parents. The importance of counselling for parents post childhood cancer death include but not limited to the following:

Counselling helps bereaved parents talk, identify and express feelings related to loss, such as self blame, anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness among others as well as helping parents live without the deceased and able to make independent decisions without the child. In addition, though difficult for parents, counselling helps them in beginning new relationships and emotional separation with the dead child.

However, it is important to note that each parent grieves differently, their way of coping is not uniform. It is key to help them in finding time to grieve as well as to understand their coping methods.

Bereavement and counselling support provide an opportunity to identify coping mechanisms and make recommendation as one works with the bereaved parents.

The bereaved generally rely for support from their family, friends, and social and religious communities to help them cope with the death of the child. They may, however, also depend for support from health care providers who are trained in palliative care with whom they have developed a trusting relationship.

The role of healthcare providers is particularly important in the modern context were social communities are fast disintegrating or weakening. All in all, bereaved parents need to be provided with a safe, comforting place to talk and express feelings, thoughts and needs as they struggle to cope with their grief. Above all grieving is not an illness that one gets over, but a natural process which needs emotional space and support.


About the Author: Eunice Garanganga is the Executive Director, HOSPAZ



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