The Private Worlds of Dying Children

Winner of the Margaret Mead Award

A classic, moving study of terminally ill children that emphasizes their agency and shows how we can relate to dying children more honestly


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May 21, 1980
5.5 x 8.5 in.
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“The death of a child,” writes Myra Bluebond-Langner, “poignantly underlines the impact of social and cultural factors on the way that we die and the way that we permit others to die.” In a moving drama constructed from her observations of leukemic children, aged three to nine, in a hospital ward, she shows how the children come to know they are dying, how and why they attempt to conceal this knowledge from their parents and the medical staff, and how these adults in turn try to conceal from the children their awareness of the child’s impending death.

In contrast to many parents, doctors, nurses, and social scientists who regard the children as passive recipients of adult actions, Bluebond-Langner emphasizes the children’s role in initiating and maintaining the social order. Her sensitive and stirring portrait shows the children to be willful, purposeful individuals capable of creating their own worlds. The result suggests better ways of relating to dying children and enriches our understanding of the ritual behavior surrounding death.

Awards and Recognition

  • Winner of the 1997 Charles A. Corr Award in Literature