Getting support for you and your children

Preparing a child for loss can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but you don’t have to do it alone. You can ask for help from the health professionals looking after you, such as your GP or your specialist nurse. Friends and family may also be able to support you, but sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who’s not directly involved.

There are organisations who provide information about supporting children and teenagers when an adult is dying. There are picture books that you can read with your children to help explain what is happening.

When a child has a parent with terminal cancer, they are likely to have complicated emotions. It is important for the school, nursery or club staff to be aware of the cancer diagnosis and any extra support the children may need. If your child is facing exams or coursework, keeping the staff updated on how your child is coping means they can offer the right support.

Teenagers may look for information about cancer on the internet, so try to signpost them to accurate websites. They may also feel more comfortable joining an online support group, rather than speaking to someone face to face.

Getting support

There is a lot of support available to you and your family. It’s important to ask for help or to talk to someone like your doctor if you feel you’re not getting enough support.

Health professionals

If you’re the person with cancer, your cancer specialist and your specialist nurse can offer support and advice. You can also talk to your GP if you need emotional support, whether you’re the person with cancer or a relative.

Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who’s not directly involved. Your specialist or GP can usually refer you to a counsellor or psychologist who can help.

Your local hospice will offer different services to support you and your family. You can use these services even if you do not want to go into the hospice. They will also offer support for your family after you have died.

Call our cancer support specialists for free on 0808 808 00 00. They can tell you more about counselling and can let you know about services in your area.

We have some easy read booklets that use simple language and pictures. They can be useful for anyone who finds it hard to read. The booklets are about care at the end of life and after someone dies.

Other organisations

Organisations such as Winston’s Wish or Marie Curie provide information about supporting children and teenagers when an adult is dying. The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) also lets you look for bereavement services near you. Your local hospice may also be able to support you and your children.

Schools and clubs

When a child has a parent with terminal cancer, they are likely to have complicated emotions.

It is important for school and club staff to be aware of the cancer diagnosis in the family and of any additional help and support the children may need. Let teachers or group leaders know what you’ve told your children. It is important that your children get the same message from everyone. Let your children know who you’re going to tell and why.

It’s a good idea to tell nursery or school teachers, and the school nurse. They can be sensitive to your child’s needs, and it will help them understand any unusual or difficult behaviour. Explain exactly what your child knows and what sort of support you think they may need.

Teenagers may be facing exams or coursework at school, college or university. If they’re finding it difficult to keep up with their studies, it is important that their teachers or tutors know what is happening so they can offer extra support. If your teenager has exams coming up, it is good to speak to their teacher about how they are coping and if any extra measures can be put in place to support them during the exams.

You should speak to your teenager before doing this. School or college may be one of the few places where things still feel normal, and they may be hesitant about letting people know. Asking them will also reaffirm their trust that you’re telling them everything and including them.

It may be important to speak to their school or college about how they’re coping. Teachers or staff can offer support, and they may notice issues or behaviours that aren’t always apparent at home.

School were considerate of needing time off and listened to my concerns – they knew if she was tired, upset or needing a shoulder to cry on.


Online support

Teenagers in particular may look for information about cancer on the internet. You or your doctor could help them understand whether the information they find is accurate and relevant to your diagnosis. Some teenagers may feel more comfortable joining an online support group rather than speaking to a counsellor.

The websites and might also be helpful. They are for teenagers who have a parent with cancer. You can also use them to search for other useful organisations that can help you.

Cruse Bereavement Care has a website for bereaved children and young people, as well as a free helpline on 0808 808 1677 (Mon–Fri, 9.30am–5pm).

Going forward

Talking about death and dying with a child who is facing loss is one of the hardest things anyone is likely to do. We hope the information here has given you and your family some ideas on ways of approaching this sad and difficult task. You are likely to want to talk to your children in stages, with the help of your close family and friends, and the healthcare team who are helping you manage your illness. Hopefully this information can help you at these different stages. There are also different organisations that will be able to help and support you and your loved ones, during your illness and after your death.

Children are amazing. My boys have come out the other side. Life will never be the same, the pain never goes away but you learn to live with it.


Books and other resources

Books for children whose parent is seriously ill

  • The Secret C – Winston’s Wish
  • Flamingo Dream – Jo Napoli
  • No Matter What – Debi Gliori
  • When someone has a very serious illness – Marge Heegaard
  • When Dinosaurs Die – Laurie Krasny-Brown
  • Always and Forever – Debi Gliori
  • The Sad Book – Michael Rosen
  • The Memory Tree – Britta Teckentrup
  • The Copper Tree – Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley

Books for adults with life-limiting illness

  • As Big as it Gets – Winston’s Wish
  • Late Fragments – Kate Gross

Other resources

  • Stepping Stone Postcards – Childhood Bereavement Network
  • Muddles, puddles and sunshine – Winston’s Wish
  • Making a memory box: Activity sheet – Winston’s Wish
  • Memory boxes fact sheet – Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Grief Encounter work book – Dr Shelly Gilbert

Back to Relationships

Making a memory box

Making a box filled with special things can help your children or other loved ones to remember times that you spent together.