“Mom, what’s palliative care?”
When my 15 year old said those words last week my heart stopped in my throat. A few years ago he made friends with an older man, J, in the neighbourhood who he had come to adore. We often joked that our son had adopted a grandfather, though that joke was pretty close to reality. These last few months J’s health had been declining. He’d had many hospital stays and we knew it was probably a matter of time, so when my 15 year old asked me I knew where the conversation was going and I was heartbroken.
The discussion was a hard one, but one we needed to have. It’s funny, you think that all the hard times are over when your child is this close to being an adult, but then something like this happens and you realize these are some of the hardest times you’ll have. Younger children have more questions, but their questions are easier to answer. Teens have deeper questions, ones that you don’t have answers to. Ones where the only response is to say “I don’t know” while you hug them as they cry. When J passed away on St Patrick’s day C had even more questions that I had no answers to. As hard as this all is I’m glad that we had an open talk about it. Teens are smart. They don’t want you to sugar coat or baby the conversation. J was dying, it was inevitable. There was no changing that. Sugar coating it wasn’t going to change the outcome. Sure, it would be easier to go back to the time when a lollipop and a happy meal would make everything better, but we’re not there anymore, instead I had to face this head on no matter how hard it was for both of us. I’m glad I did because I think that being open and talking to him without the sugarcoating has been an important part of helping him to heal and work through the death of someone he loved.