Here's How Families Can Stay Connected With Someone Who's Seriously Ill

New guidance from the Childhood Bereavement Network suggests safe ways for your child to stay connected to a loved one who's in hospital.

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Not being able to be with someone you love who’s seriously ill – or dying – is a distressing reality for many families in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

New guidance has been issued by the National Bereavement Alliance and the Childhood Bereavement Network, to offer support to those dealing with grief during the pandemic – particularly young children, who might not understand what’s happening.

It acknowledges that being separated, physically, from a relative or friend at a time when they might be close to death is an extraordinarily difficult and painful experience.

One of the ways it advises comforting children at such a uniquely difficult times is by reading them a children’s book called The Invisible String – which explores the strong connections we can have with other people, even when we’re apart.

“In normal times, families and palliative care services have lots of creative ways to support children and young people to spend time with someone who is dying, create memories to treasure in the future, and say goodbye,” Alison Penny, director of the Childhood Bereavement Network, tells HuffPost UK.

“At this very difficult time of the pandemic, many of these things have to happen in a different way,” she adds. “Our guidance has collected ideas to help children, young people and families stay feeling connected to someone who is dying, even at a distance.”

Here are some of those ways to help your child when they’re missing someone they love who’s ill – for the full list of suggestions, and ways to make them as effective as possible, you can see the full guidelines here.

You could also think up of your own, personalised ideas – or ask your children to come up with something themselves.

Keep in touch

Keep in touch with a loved one during a hospital stay using a phone or tablet. If they’re able to, you can try connecting via a Zoom or FaceTime session – but it’s important to prepare your child that their relative might not look as well as they did the last time they saw them. Remind your child to wish them “goodbye” at the end of the call as they would under any other circumstances.

Record a message

If the person you want to connect with is too tired or too poorly to speak, ask your child if they want to record a message for them to play on their own time.

Say it with sound

The sounds of home can be a comfort – even if they’re not out of the ordinary. Try recording noises such as the family dog barking, the ping of the microwave, the sound of birds outside or your children laughing and playing.

Listen to music

If you have a special song that you and your loved one like to listen to or sing together, record or send it to them. You could even coordinate listening to it at a certain time, so you know you’re doing it together.

If your child likes to sing or play, they could record their own song to send.

Write a message

Send a card, letter or postcard to the person who can’t be with you. Ask your child to draw them a picture if they’re too young to write. If you find it difficult to put things into words, here are some helpful prompts. You could even send family photos, or make a collage.

Hearts and bracelets

The guidelines suggest a sweet and simple way for your loved one to feel close to you and the children – by cutting out a heart from a piece of fabric at home, and giving it to them to pin to their pyjamas or hospital gown, if permitted.

You could make another heart for your child to wear, too; to help them feel connected or do something similar with friendship bracelets.

Something to hold

Give your loved one something from home to cuddle – such as a toy or piece of clothing. If it smells like home, it may bring them comfort in tough times. You could even spray it with a favourite perfume.

Pair up

If you have two of the same thing – even socks – then giving one to the person who can’t be with you, and one to your child, will help them feel connected.

Visualisation

‘Beyond the door’ visualisation is a simple technique you can try, with the help of whoever is caring for your loved one. It involves being on the phone – if you can – and asking the person you’re speaking to, to look at the door and think about how, beyond that small doorway, there are people loving and missing them and wishing they were with them. Here is more on how to do this.