Jonnie Irwin has opened up about her concerns that her young children “won’t remember me”, having previously been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The 49-year-old host of A Place In The Sun and Escape To The Country said it was hard to see good things happen for his family, knowing he “wouldn’t be around much longer”.
Earlier this month, Irwin said he didn’t know “how much time I have left” after lung cancer spread to his brain.
He revealed that the first warning sign of his illness occurred while filming in Italy, when his vision blurred while driving.
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The broadcaster shares three-year-old son Rex and two-year-old twins Rafa and Cormac with his wife Jessica.
“Every time something really good happens to them, I have this thing knocking on my door saying, ‘don’t get too happy because you’re not going to be around much longer,'” he told The Sun.
“Then I think they won’t remember me, they won’t.
“They are very young and if I die this year there is no chance they will have memories.”
He added: “Someone will probably create them. I did the hard yards with them and someone else will do the easy part.
Having chosen to keep his illness private until recently, Irwin previously told Hello! magazine that he hoped sharing his diagnosis would inspire others to “make the most of every day”.
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How to prepare children for loss
Losing a loved one is a painful experience at any age. But for children, who often find it difficult to understand their feelings, dealing with a future loss can be a real struggle.
But difficult as it may be, preparing a young person for the news that someone close to them is not going to get better is a vital aspect of the grieving process.
“Preparing children for the death of a loved one is important, but it is often replaced by the desire to protect them,” explains bereavement coach Dipti Solanki.
“It’s really natural to want to shield them from the reality of death and the sadness that can come with it – so it can be a double-edged sword.
“But when we fail to prepare children, it can lead to anxiety and depression further down the road, because there are often many unanswered questions, curiosity about the process, what may have happened to their loved ones, and fear about what will happen. for everyone around you.”
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That’s why Solanki says it’s essential that we manage to talk to children about the subject, no matter how difficult it may be.
choose your moment
Choose your time and environment carefully when talking to them, says Solanki. “Make sure you feel safe and unhurried.”
Macmillan Cancer Support points out that it is often easier for children to hear information in small chunks rather than all at once. “You may need to repeat simple messages several times,” the site adds.
use clear language
Macmillan Cancer Support recommends using simple words, such as ‘die’, when telling young children about an approaching death.
“Try not to use phrases that could confuse them”, explains the website. “For example, saying you’re going to ‘go away’ or ‘go to a better place’ can make the child feel like you’re abandoning them.”
Likewise, Solanki recommends avoiding terminology like “they go to sleep.” “This type of language has led some children to be afraid to go to sleep in case they don’t wake up”, she explains.
To see: A Place In The Sun host Jonnie Irwin explains why he kept his cancer diagnosis a secret
Be open and honest
Solanki recommends that you answer the child’s questions as best you can. “Be guided by your curiosity and anxiety,” she says.
continue the conversation
Make sure the kids know it’s not a ready-made conversation. “They need to know that they can come back at any time and ask them anything big or small,” explains Solanki.
Show children how to express themselves
They may struggle to find the right words, so encourage them to show how they’re feeling through writing, play, and art.
normalize your feelings
Children can feel a range of emotions, including anger, fear, introversion, extroversion, so it’s important for them to know that whatever they’re feeling is okay.
“Let them know that whatever they feel is normal and natural and that it won’t be like this forever, that their feelings, thoughts and questions will change over time,” explains Solanki.
“It’s important to make sure they know there is a constant place they can return to, a safe haven during what is likely to be a period of change and turmoil.
“Generating a feeling of emotional security should be at the heart of these conversations,” she adds.
See more information: Most Parents Concerned About Children’s Mental Health: How to Identify If Your Child Is Struggling
Let them find their own approach.
Solanski says it’s important to keep in mind that children approach things very differently than adults and we have to be careful not to project our experiences onto them.
Organizations like Winston’s Wish or Marie Curie provide information on how to support children and teens when an adult is dying.
You can also search for local bereavement services near you on the Childhood Bereavement Network.
Macmillan Cancer Support has an End of Life: A Guide booklet with more information that parents and carers may find useful.
Childhood Bereavement UK produces information on support for children when a parent is not expected to survive.