Chapter 5: Children at the bedside


The kids witnessed the decline of their mother but were also watching their own futures with this disease. They were not just losing their mother; they were witnessing their own future.

When a family member or friend is dying, many parents struggle with how much of the dying process they should allow their children to witness. It is not uncommon for a dying adult who lives with their children or grandchildren to choose against a home death in an effort to “protect the children.” While many families would welcome guidance in this area from their healthcare providers, few have received training on the topic, so there tends to be reluctance across the disciplines to offer such advice.

Should children be present?

Parents feeling uncertain regarding their children’s inclusion at the bedside of a dying loved one is a relatively new experience. Throughout much of history, the norm was for dying and death to happen at home in the presence of everyone who lived there, including the children. In many parts of the world, this is still the case. Excluding children from the bedside of a dying friend or family member can have unintended effects, such as depriving children of the opportunity to share their loved one’s final days. Much like adults, children benefit from having the opportunity to say goodbye to someone who is dying. In addition, when not given the option of being at the bedside of a dying friend or family member, many children will imagine scenes that are much worse than the reality.