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I appreciate how you unpacked this reading. What really resonated with me was your catching how missing the trip at Christmas was the first loss/grief. I think you are onto a good point about communicating along the way with the children if it is a case of illness and slower decline as opposed to a sudden death. I wonder how much our tendency to protect our kids from the more difficult and painful parts of illness actually hinders them in the work of grief when death happens.
Just a few quick thoughts here.