The boundaries of any family are fluid, ever changing with different stories to tell, yet all families will have stories that encompass either loss or victory with cancer.
In November we recognize and make time to remember /fund raise for numerous types of cancer.
Loss is part of the human experience and too often we underestimate children's ability to process death so we protect them from it and in doing so leave them with unanswered question and emotional painful that is every bite as real as our own.
We each have lost family, significant friends or community members to cancer where the loss profoundly affected the family system. Telling these stories to our (grand) children builds resilience in them in. It gives them a starting point, a historical reference of resilience from which to begin the process of resolving their own grief.
Start this conversation with hope
1) Provide your (grand)children a story of hope, a story of recovery from cancer.
2) If you or your partner have had or have cancer in age appropriate terms tell this story and if you are speaking with children over 12 talk about your fears and your hopes.
3) Point out how cancer affected you and the family for example: loss of relationship, employment, driving a loved one for cancer treatment.
As a children we always had our birthday parties at the home of two wonderful great aunts. Aunt Adela made the most amazing Barbie doll cakes and I looked forward to both the new Barbie doll and cake that was always made from scratch. Aunt Adela died of cancer and as a young child I was kept away, protected from this event the result being she just disappeared from my life. This remains an empty hole in my life’s story and almost 50 years later every time I see a Barbie doll cake I think of her and questions charge up to the surface of my consciousness about last days her, her death.
4) Describe how your family has responded/changed as a result of cancer for example: change in life style or diet, remarriage after the death of a partner, stopping smoking etc.
5) Discuss how your family fund-raises or supports cancer research and/or cancer patients today. Remember that doing nothing is a choice and should be discussed as well.
Use this opportunity to join with your (grand)children in getting involved in an event in support of cancer, building in them a sense of community support.
In November we also stop for a minutes silence on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 am, remembering and honouring those men and women who have and are fighting in wars around the world.
War is unfortunately a part of our reality. We all have family stories about war. These stories are often difficult to tell and once again out of a misguided attempt to protect children not told.
As a Mennonite in my childhood I heard stories of how father’s, uncles, older brothers were sent to take the place of men at war in key industries. As a Russian Mennonite child I heard stories of my great grandmother’s struggle to bring her children including my grandfather to Canadian religious refugees.
These are stories that require we take time to plan and practice the telling. Ensuring that at the end of the story we leave our children feeling safe, and able to move forward with their lives.
6) Starting with WWI talk about anyone in your family that went to war as either a combatant, or as part the large infrastructure the traveled with the war. Take out pictures explain where these people fit into your family system and their war story.
7) Describe the impact on your family’s home and daily life during that time.
In my grandfather’s home the blackout curtains still hung on the windows and he would talk about that time, young men leaving and never coming home again of the telegrams that needed to be delivered.
We would sit in awed silence at a girlfriends home has her mother talked about sweeping the barn floor for the last of grain to make gruel out of in Holland and the sound of thunder as soldiers march across the wooden bridge by their home.
And an employer of mine talking about being a child in a prisoner of war camp and how she and her sister survived because they learned to eat bugs for protein.
8) We will be retelling stories that have been told to us, describe who told you, how old you were and what your reaction was.
9) Apply the same questions to all subsequent wars.
10) Discuss with your (grand)children how your family remembers, commemorates those who have been injured physically, psychologically, mentally and who gave the ultimate sacrifice their lives. Again if this is something your family does not do talk about this as well.