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Ask Ellie: Be open with kids about dad's serious illness

Dear Lisi: My husband is sick and he will probably die sooner than we can handle. We will all fight to save him, but it will be a struggle. My son is in shock.

Dear Lisi: My husband is sick and he will probably die sooner than we can handle. We will all fight to save him, but it will be a struggle. My son is in shock.

How do I help him navigate this tragedy? And how do I support my husband at the same time? I don’t think I have the strength for any of this.


I am so sorry you are all going through this and I hope that you find help everywhere you turn. I hope for you that you have doctors who are willing to go the extra mile and do the impossible for your husband.

Without knowing your son’s age, my answer can only be generic. Obviously, we have to talk to, explain things and help a young child differently than a teenager; and be wary of the very different reactions they could have. In cases like these, I believe giving children the age-appropriate language to use and the right tools can help them more than brushing everything under the rug.

I am not an expert in the field of medicine, palliative care, or child psychology, so I asked around. The overwhelming response was that we have to remember that every single person grieves differently based on a multitude of factors, and that grief is fluid and its effect on a person can change (anger, despair, frustration, etc.) from moment to moment.

Outsource as much as you can — find your son someone to talk to, find yourself someone to talk to, and get all the help you can for your husband.

Dear Lisi: My son has a friend he really likes. They’re nine years old. The child is nice, fun to be around, always smiling and laughing. I can see why my son likes him.

But the mom is something else completely. She’s always screaming — on the phone when we’re making plans, in the car when she’s dropping him off — at someone in her family. Then she starts ranting at me about her crazy life and how her kids make her crazy, and blah, blah, blah.

She invited my child over but I’m actually afraid to let him go there. She doesn’t seem stable and I don’t want my child in an environment like that.

How do I politely decline the invitation without losing the friendship between the two boys?

Prefer Calm

I appreciate your issue … it’s hard to let your child out of your safe haven. Obviously, children have to go to school, and programs, and other people’s homes at some point. But you do not have to say yes to something that makes you uncomfortable.

Until he is old enough, you are your child’s advocate and protector. So, no — you don’t have to let your son go to a house where there’s constant screaming.

She doesn’t sound like someone I’d want to get into it with, so I think I would just keep inviting her son over to yours for as long as possible. If it does get awkward, and you feel as though she’s catching on to your tactic, you could bring your child over, but stay and chat for a little bit just to see for yourself.

It’s a tricky situation.

Dear Lisi: My five-year-old is unable to let COVID go. She insists on always wearing a mask, using antiseptic spray on her hands after she touches anything germ-y, and she doesn’t like to go inside anywhere she doesn’t know and trust.

She was very young when COVID became part of her life, and we were quite careful as my mother-in-law has some complicated health issues.

My daughter was great about understanding all the nuances and has been most adaptable. Until now.

She won’t move forward to a world where COVID exists, but we are no longer prisoners.

My husband and I both got COVID, at separate times, since January. My husband was pretty sick, but nothing more than a bad flu. My daughter had never seen him unwell. I wasn’t that bad, and was able to function.

She doesn’t press her opinions on her schoolmates, but she’s quite bossy, especially with her grandmother.

How do we help her move forward and out of her COVID shackles?

COVID caught

Your daughter was very young when COVID became all-encompassing in her life. She probably doesn’t remember much pre-COVID. For her, this IS normal.

It sounds like her biggest fear is her grandmother. Maybe let her take the lead. Have her show your daughter that some things are safer now, and get her to lead by example.

If that doesn’t work, you may need to get her some professional help.

Ellie Tesher and Lisi Tesher are advice columnists for the Star and based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email: [email protected].