I was saddened to read about Elizabeth Edwards death and keep thinking about her children. She is survived by 28 year-old daughter Cate, 12-year-old daughter Emma Claire and 10-year-old son Jack. And I am sure each age brings a different struggle with losing your mother.
Edwards has known about her cancer for a while and knew she would die from it so it makes sense that she started preparing the children to live without her. I was interested to read about her “death letter” to the children.
“Before her initial diagnosis with cancer, Edwards began writing a letter to her children with advice they could use after she died — such as how to choose a church or a spouse. The message became more poignant in her final years, brought home when Jack once asked who would be the grandmother to his children.”
“Letters from deceased parents become treasures, says Grace Christ, a professor of social work at Columbia University, who once led a community group where a mother dying of cancer wondered aloud whether she should tell her children how sick she was. Another participant, a man in his fifties, shared that his father had written him a letter before he died. ‘I’ve had it with me every day of my life,’ he said.”
“Now that Edwards is gone, her children — like any children whose parents have died — will have to grieve, then carry on. But unlike other children in similar circumstances, the announcement of each stage of their mother’s battle with cancer was headline news. ‘Everything is so public in that family,’ says Christ, who is also author of Healing Children’s Grief: Surviving a Parent’s Death from Cancer.”
“In her book — an analysis of 88 families and 175 kids who were tracked by a study before and after their parents died — Christ found that when children were appropriately prepared, a parent’s death actually brought relief. ‘Death is always shocking even when you’re prepared,’ says Christ, who says it’s important for a dying parent to emphasize three things — I love you, I don’t want to leave you, it’s not your fault. ‘But you can prepare them so that after, they are able to begin to move ahead with their lives. There is a kind of confidence.’ ”
Christ says it’s also important for the children to know who is going to care for them and what will happen. Time says John Edwards had moved back into the family home and it is believed he will care for the children.
” ‘You want the kids to leave with the feeling that their mother loves them and wishes wonderful things for them, that they will be taken care of,” she says. “Then the mourning takes place after.’ “
My husband lost his mother when he was 20 and his brother was just 13. They were both heartbroken by her loss but each faced different issues. Michael was pretty much grown but still missed her terribly. His brother was so young and will still being formed. He needed her daily care as well as her guidance.
Michael saw last summer an article about the Council of Dads. The basic gist is that when a parent is dying they designated several people, not just one, to help guide their child through life. It really makes sense to me. You may have one friend that’s great with money so you want that person to help your child with that area, and maybe another friend is very compassionate and loving so you want that person to help them with personal issues and teach them how to love. I think having a dedicated support group around you would be comforting for a child. The question is could you muster such a group?
So what do you think of the death letter (or written or recorded advice) from a parent? What do you think of the Council of Dads idea? Do you know who you would appoint? Do you have a plan in case of death? What do you think provides kids with the most comfort and security after losing a child?
(We have two topics up: Please check out our topic on Ted Turner. He says parents around the world should only be allowed one child. And suggests that poor people could sell their “fertility rights” to rich people. Please discuss.)
(AJC reporter Katie Leslie is working on a story about Elizabeth Edwards death. If you would like to share your thoughts on Elizabeth, her death or her children, please contact Katie.Leslie@ajc.com. She’s looking for moms, wives and husband to share their insight.)