How to Tell A Mother Her Child is Dead

How to Tell A Mother Her Child is Dead

Ha Tran, MD 01/07/2018 5

Without a doubt, the hardest part of practicing any type of pediatric medicine is delivering bad news to the parents. It is very common for me to inform parents that their child has renal failure, needs dialysis, and a kidney transplant. There are a lot of tears, but with reassurance, there is comfort in hope for the future.

When it comes to telling parents that their child has died, it physically hurts me to do so -- burning eyes, chest tightness, queasy stomach. I need a moment before and after in the restroom to sob, to look in the mirror, take a deep breath and compose myself. Knowing that all eyes are on me when I deliver the news, it takes the world to control the shaky voice, the dripping nose, and the blurred eyes. There's not a tremendous amount of comfort I can provide in the moment, but I can listen, I can give them time to process, and just be there with them in that surreal numb space.

What the public doesn't know is that the aftermath of a child's death for physicians takes quite a toll. It takes weeks, sometimes months to not think about it on a daily basis and to not let it affect your sleep and thoughts. I'm eternally grateful for my colleagues, past and current, who have supported me through these moments. Don't hold it in. Minimize the effect that it will have on your personal life by talking to non-family members about it. You can always calls me. I will be there for you.

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  • Emma Scott

    Doctors always feel gloomy to break the news but only a parent can feel that pain all their life.

  • Adam E

    I’m not the ones who had to do the telling, I was one of those to whom the information was told and that was painful....

  • Shaun Munce

    People who need to deliver such terrible news either detach themselves from the whole situation, or become immersed in it out of compassion or an overflow of kindness.

  • Craig McBlaainy

    Some doctors' reactions are different.

  • Tammy Nguyen

    It is very hard, but also a truth, so you should say it in a soft way of speaking and stay with him or her in this hard situation. God bless all children!.

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Ha Tran, MD

Healthcare Expert

Ha is a Global Clinical Development Strategy Lead at Baxter International Inc. with formal training in Epidemiology and Clinical Research with both academic and industry experience in drug safety/pharmacovigilance and clinical science/development. She completed her education at Ross University School of Medicine and Stanford University School of Medicine. 

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