What do I say to my dying father, from whom I'm estranged?

Lee823 asked...

My father and I have been estranged since I was 17 and he has not been part of my life since then. Now that he is likely to die soon, my stepmother emailed me asking me to call him so he can at least hear my voice. He has ALS and can no longer talk, but can still hear and is coherent. But I still don't know what to say to him that will be genuine.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

You have a long and strained history to overcome when you make this hard call.

But you will never be sorry that you did it -- and would surely regret the opportunity you could miss to get what the shrinks sometimes too glibly call "closure."

 Make the call to your father about him, not about you. Since you and your stepmother have been able to bridge the communication gap, enlist her help. Find out what he might have regretted or lamented the most about your relationship, then find it in your heart to be compassionate and forgive wrongs and imagined wrongs from the past. And resist any temptation to rehash them.

If the "L" word seems too strange and strained, at least you can reassure your father that you care about him, have thought of him often -- and wish him the best.