To the deathbed of my estranged father -- go or no?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 13, 2016
Pretending asked...

I spent the better part of 4 decades trying to convince myself that I didn't "need" my fathers love or attention. After a lifetime of close to zero contact (2 visits in 43 yrs), I discover, by complete surprise, that my estranged terminally ill father has only a few weeks to live. Evidently, he gave my phone number as emergency contact to his home care agency who found him alone in his own fecesse. After two days of non-stop phone calls, including my reporting him to adult protective services, he's been transferred to hospice.

I feel ambushed by the attack of emotions I now face. I am adult, a 50 year old mother with a two teen daughters, a pending divorce, and very complicated set of mixed feelings that I can't even identify let alone process or put into prospective. Do I fly across the country to see him in hospice...? I don't wish him any ill will. I not do intend to bring conflict or resentment to his deathbed. Nor, do I expect any sort of hollywood-style loving reunion. Should I go? Will I find some sort of closure? I wonder if he'll even care? Maybe my visit will bring him peace. In some way I feel compelled to make amends for a problem which I, as a seven-year-old little girl, did not create. Am I setting myself up for another landslide of rejection? Or, is this my one and only chance to make sense of a lonely past that I pretend never happened?


Expert Answers

Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N. and Attorney is the author of author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. She has over 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. As a nurse, she has extensive experience with geriatrics, chronic illness, pain management, dementias, disability, family dynamics, and death and dying. As a trial attorney, she advocated for for the rights of injured individuals and neglected elders. She is also co-founder of AgingParents.com.

Dear Pretending:

I am sure that this request has been very upsetting and puzzling. There is no way to figure out what is going to happen. However, you asked: "Maybe my visit will bring him peace. Am I setting myself up for another landslide of rejection? Or, is this my one and only chance to make sense of a lonely past that I pretend never happened?"

Yes, this is your one and only chance to see him. You have an opportunity to forgive him and that is worth the trip. Forgiveness is crucial to anyone's peace of mind. It can uplift you, even if he does not receive it well, respond as one might hope or do anything for you in return. Expect nothing from him. Go there to give him one thing he can leave this life with that he can't get any other way: forgive him and forget the past for now. Imagine yourself not asking him anything substantial. Imagine being able to cry. Imagine letting go of the pain and resentment of his rejection from the past. There is a reason he wanted the agency to call you. Whatever it is, he needs something from you as he looks at the end of his life. Perhaps it is only your presence. Perhaps it is to say what needs to be said. Perhaps he is not clear about it. Facing your fear and summoning the courage to do this calmly will free you and empower you. I wish you love and support in doing this task. I think you will be glad you did. Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, Mediator


Community Answers

Brenda avadian answered...

There is no simple answer to whether or not you should see your dad before he dies; however, these two perspectives should give you some grounding.

First, the fact that you took time to post your question says you do care.

The fact that you describe being "ambushed by emotions" and "mixed feelings" means that there is still a connection between you and your father.

If you felt nothing you would not have written. You would have done your duty and could wipe your hands of this.

However, WHAT IF?

What if you go and the unexpected happens? Something, you cannot anticipate right now in your time of grief as your life is turned upside down by your father's need, your impending divorce, and the responsibility for two teenage daughters.

What if, as one man exits from your day-to-day life another needs you at the end of his? I am left wondering why he gave your number as an emergency contact?

Please consider your answers to these questions in making your decision. Once your father's blood stops coursing through his veins and he is gone you will be left only with memories (right now, they're not good ones).

At some level, the universe may be helping you along in your journey through life. How? Only you can discover this if you choose.

In either case, I hope you take time to follow-up on this post. We will all learn what happens; whether you answer the call beyond what you've already done or not.

My heart goes out to you and I'll be sending you a BIG HUG.


Beau10 answered...

If you do not go, the only thing left in your heart for your father is what you now have in it. By going you may encounter further dissatisfaction but that would be ameliorated by your knowlege you did try - and that in itself brings a type of closure that allows you forward instead of being affixed to the negative you now feel. I was surprised to find a closure for myself in a most similar situation. Go - you will lose nothing by it.