Child’s Play: The Role of Play in Mitigating the Fear of Death Among Pediatric Palliative Care Team Patients, Families, and Caregivers

Terror Management Theory (TMT), derived from Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death (1974), maintains that humans are motivated by the desire to overcome our fear of death by constructing meaning and significance in our lives in various ways, including making light of our mortality. In this paper, we examine the role of play as seriously ill children involved with a hospital-based palliative care team live out what may be the remainder of their lives. We question the function that play has, if any, in mitigating the fear of death among dying children and their caregivers. We explore formal and informal manners of therapeutic play among children and adults occurring in moments of terrible stress, pain, and the looming threat of death. We draw on playful representations of death from popular culture and from extended field research conducted with a pediatric palliative care team in a large regional children’s hospital caring for seriously ill children and their families, as patients, families, and caretakers struggle to make sense of their suffering, fear and loss. © 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Terror Management Theory (TMT), derived from Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death (1974), maintains that humans are motivated by the desire to overcome our fear of death by constructing meaning and significance in our lives in various ways, including making light of our mortality. In this paper, we examine the role of play as seriously ill children involved with a hospital-based palliative care team live out what may be the remainder of their lives. We question the function that play has, if any, in mitigating the fear of death among dying children and their caregivers. We explore formal and informal manners of therapeutic play among children and adults occurring in moments of terrible stress, pain, and the looming threat of death. We draw on playful representations of death from popular culture and from extended field research conducted with a pediatric palliative care team in a large regional children’s hospital caring for seriously ill children and their families, as patients, families, and caretakers struggle to make sense of their suffering, fear and loss. © 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

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