Chapter 3: The visit

When children are present at the moment of death

“It's so important that we don't talk about death as being like sleep or children will be afraid to fall asleep themselves and not wake up. As such, seeing the person after they've died can be really valuable for helping them to understand, to give them just a chance to be present, and do what they want or need to do”. – Child life specialist

When death is near, tell the child that you think the person’s body is about to stop working. If they want to stay, let them know what to expect (e.g., how the person’s breathing might sound). Tell them how the team will respond.  

What if the death is likely to be, or becomes, traumatic?

Whether or not the child was present at the moment of death, explain to them afterwards what happened in clear and simple terms but avoid gruesome details. Explain that the person no longer needs all of the medical equipment, so it will be removed. Remind the child that the person no longer feels anything.

If CPR or other extraordinary measures are taken, have the family bring the child to a quiet spot to wait and let them know they can come back later. Witnessing a death where there is excessive pain or suffering (e.g., choking or aggressive medical interventions), will most likely be traumatic for a child, as well as for many adults.

Should a child be present at the time of death?