Dear Family Advisor

Everyone is in denial that our mother is dying -- including her!

Last updated:

October 12, 2010

Mom has lung cancer. It's spread, and the prognosis is terrible. My family wants to keep exploring new and alternative treatments that take a lot of money and time, including costly trips. They get mad when I bring up hospice or palliative care.

"You've always been Miss Gloom and Doom," my brother actually told me. Mom says, "Well, I might get lucky, you know." I think she mostly doesn't want to upset anybody, so she goes along with my siblings' ideas. But it upsets me! Meanwhile nobody wants to talk about the fact that Mom is likely to die within a matter of months. My family acts like they don't want me to come around, when all I want to do is to really be with my mom with the time we have left.

Many families, especially those with a cancer diagnosis, are in the same place as yours: They don't want to give up. It's hard. At what point do you face the reality that it's time to make your loved one comfortable and begin to say goodbye?

Two of the early [stages of grief] (https://www.caring.com/articles/stages-of-grief) identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are bargaining and denial. And they're where many people start when dealing with the emotions that come with the end of life. Your family members are mad or hurt with you because it's safe. For now, they'd rather have a "cause" to rail against than to have to face what scares them so very much -- that your mother is dying.

Let them be mad at you, if that's what they need to do. If you've talked with all the doctors and really feel that it's time to stop "trying" and start "being," then do all you can to convince your family that hospice and palliative care will make your mom more comfortable and relieve some of the stress you're all feeling.

Ask if they'll at least meet with hospice to learn about it, just like they're open to exploring all other kinds of options. Then let the coordinator know what he or she is up against. Hospice coordinators have experience with families coping with cancer, and their calm reassurance may convince yours of the benefits. Hospice isn't about giving up, it's more about giving in. It's about allowing the time with your mother to be comfortable, peaceful, and meaningful.

Consider approaching your mom with the idea of hospice first. After all, this is her decision, not theirs, or yours. Share your heart, listen, and emphasize that deep down she knows what's right for her. Let her know that it's okay to push away all the voices and her need to please others, and that it's time to decide for herself what feels best.

Then. . . you have to respect her decision. Many folks with cancer fight it to the very end because that's what feels right to them. Others would really like to stop fighting and begin to say goodbye on their terms but need permission to let go. They're ready to accept that life is shorter than they planned or wanted, but believe that there's still quality to their days.

Love your siblings right where they are. They're scared. They don't want to lose their mom. Neither do you. It may take time for them to realize you're not the enemy. But if you approach them with patience and understanding, I believe that most will come around.

Decide to honor your mother's passing your own way, regardless of others' decisions (even hers). Spend time thinking about her, writing her letters (whether or not you choose to give them to her), going through photographs and videos, perhaps attending religious services meaningful to you and/or your mom.

Give yourself the time and space to really experience this time of saying goodbye -- both its sorrow and its sweetness.