What should we tell a little girl about her daddy's injuries?

Jerilyn - posted on 07/05/2012 ( 7 moms have responded )

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On June 9, my stepdaughter and her husband were involved in an ATV rollover accident. They have 2 great children--a 3 1/2 YO daughter, and a 1 1/4 YO son. Both parents were airlifted to hospitals (in different states). My stepdaughter suffered a moderate-to-severe concussion, but is doing a remarkable job working with OT and speech/language therapies. She was discharged home on 6/22. Her Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) necessitate 24/7 supervision, both for her sake and especially now that the children are home with her.

My son-in-law suffered much more serious TBI, such that he has great difficulty with his memory--sometimes he knows who his wife is, and sometimes he says she's his sister (he only has brothers). Complicating his recovery are some very serious physical health set-backs he's had recently, including multiple blood clots in both legs and both lungs. He was returned to ICU 6 days ago. Naturally, we are all very hopeful, but his short- and long-term prognosis is uncertain.

Their children spent the first 3 wks after the accident with her dad's parents and extensive extended family, which was a real blessing! The children returned home 4 days ago, but instead of Mommy and Daddy being home with her and her little brother, her "Grandma B" and her "Papa Tom" & me are alternating weeks of providing live-in care. She asks about daddy, and wonders why she can't see him. Both are very difficult questions to answer.

A couple of days ago, my stepdaughter said she wanted to take the children to see their daddy in the hospital, which I believe is NOT a good idea at all. It's quite likely Daddy won't know who his daughter is or remember that he has children, and he may very likely something "out of character" or inappropriate, which is very typical with TBI patients.

Could you please offer advice and suggestions on where (and with whom!) to start in helping the children understand the situation.

Iowa Stepmom

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Jaime - posted on 07/05/2012

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Really sorry to hear about your step-daughter and her husband. I can't imagine what you and your family have gone through in the past month. Is it possible to contact a grief counselor or someone that can be present when the little girl sees her daddy in case there are questions that you or the family are not quite sure how to answer? I think that no matter how you approach it, this situation is going to be a tough one but having some extra support might make it a bit easier on all involved. :)

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Jerilyn - posted on 07/06/2012

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Thanks again for your personal insight, Amy. I understand that personality changes can occur--only time will tell. Last night, Daddy's mom sent a picture to Mommy, who shared it with R. Daddy's injuries are not able to be seen,so, except for the "goofy" hospital gown, Daddy looked like Daddy, especially for his smile. Daddy DOES have pictures in his room, but he currently doesn't readily/consistently recognize or remember people closest to him.

Amy - posted on 07/05/2012

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She's much better and made a remarkable recovery. She has many many scars from the accident and has rods and pins in her joints that cause her some pain but all in all she is lucky to be alive. My father does think that because of her accident her personality changed but I was young so I never realized.

I will say I was never fond of the hospital after that incident, when my husband had his motorcycle accident I nearly passed out while visiting him. I would give her a time frame of when she can go visit her dad. Try to give it enough time where he may be further along in his recovery, but not too long where it's an eternity for a 4 year old. I'm sure you're doing this but maybe take pictures to her dad of both kids and have someone talk to him about them everyday to help him try and remember.

Another suggestion is when you do go visit since its a bit to travel is find something kid friendly to do there so if she does get really upset you can leave your step daughter to visit but take your granddaughter some place fun to try and ease the pain.

Jerilyn - posted on 07/05/2012

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Thanks, Amy, for your insight and memories. We are also quite a distance from the hospital in which my son-in-law is receiving care--over 100 miles away.

The point you make about talking with the 3.5 YO is good. Right now, she's hearing, "Daddy is really sick [the blood clots and other complications make this a true statement] and is in the hospital." "Daddy and Mommy were in an accident, Daddy was hurt a little worse than Mommy and needs to stay in the hospital longer."

The one thing I like to point out to my granddaughter is that hospitals are also places where GOOD things happen--I reminded her that she and her brother were born in hospitals, and that doctors and nurses work very hard to help people get better so they can go home.

If I may ask, how is your mother now?

Thanks again, Amy.

Amy - posted on 07/05/2012

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My mom was in a traumatic car accident when I was in first grade, she was in intensive care for a few weeks, hospitalized for 4 months, and when she finally came home she was wheelchair bound for another couple of months. The hospital she was in was over an hour away from where we lived, when I went in I literally did not recognize her because her face was bruised and swollen, I was hysterical and refused to stay! My father had anticipated my reaction and my aunt who lived nearby was there to take me to her house.

I was in school so I had a strong support system with counselors, family, and family friends who stepped up to help the family out. Even when my mom was moved to a closer hospital I still couldn't handle it so I rarely went to visit.

I would sit the 4 year old down and talk about the accident. As difficult as it is try to be honest with your answers and prepare her for what might happen if she does go see her father. If she knows what it might be like she may choose not to go, or may want to visit and leave immediately. I wish you and your family the best I know how difficult this must be for everyone!

Louise - posted on 07/05/2012

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This sounds so tough on the whole family. I would reccomend that you do take the children to see him but before they go in make sure he understands who he is seeing and who is coming through the door. Just let her settle for a few minutes with him so he does not become tired or stressed out. You must tell the child that she will only stay a few minutes because daddy gets so tired and she will not get upset when it is time to go. It is important that she knows where he is and that he has not just disappeared.

Jerilyn - posted on 07/05/2012

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Many thanks for your suggestion.

I wonder if mom and daughter might both benefit from counseling specialists. I am afraid that mom might resist it--there is still such a nasty stigma attached to counseling and therapy.

Do you know families who have faced a situation similar to ours? If yes, would they be interested in sharing their experiences?

Iowa Stepmom

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