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

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 Answer

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