Is it OK to wish that my father would just hurry up and die?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Is it OK to wish that my father would just hurry up and die? I'm caring for a parent who is dying from emphysema. That is not the hard part. The hard part is that he is a very angry, controlling person. He has also racked up $15,000 in debt that my brother and I will inherit. He is very hard to live with and I find myself just wishing he'd hurry up and die so that I don't have to deal with his miserable attitude and behavior anymore.

Expert Answer

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

There is nothing "wrong" with having such feelings. It is very difficult to control feelings, and the feelings themselves hurt no one, but perhaps you. It sounds like you have plenty of reason to be angry with your father, and based on the depth of your frustration; I suspect the problems with him date back many years. Under the best of circumstances, it is very challenging to take care of a dying parent. When you feel the parent has not been there for you, has not been kind or caring with you, it takes incredible discipline to be a helpful caregiver. Sometimes it feels impossible; you are being asked to draw on accounts that are bankrupt. I would suggest both for your sake and perhaps to benefit your father as well, that you have a frank, dispassionate discussion with him. Perhaps there is a way to heal some of the wounds he has inflicted by talking with him in an honest manner and asking him basic questions to help you understand why he behaves as he does. It may be that such a discussion will give you some insights into what makes him tick, and that will help improve what time you have left together. Furthermore, you may gain new insights into yourself. Our parents are incorporated into our sense of who we are. If you don't come to understand him and make sense of the way he treats you, you are likely to continue to struggle with bad feelings about him and perhaps yourself, even after he dies.

Given the tremendous frustration you feel with him, I would suggest you consider meeting with a mental health professional, perhaps first by yourself. You may find such a professional can help you gain understanding about the feelings you have about your father and may be able to participate in the discussion with you and your father. It is best for this discussion to not simply be an opportunity for you to express your anger. That will only distance him and lead to more defensiveness and poor behavior. The mental health professional could help make the discussion more productive for you.

If your father refuses to meet with you and a mental health professional, perhaps there is someone else you both trust, who could help facilitate a useful discussion between the two of you. Candidates might include a religious figure, an old friend, or another relative. Ideally, this discussion will help put your father's behavior into some perspective so that after he dies you don't feel guilty and the feelings you have about him do not continue to interfere with your happiness.