Gransnet forums


Dying - to tell or not to tell

(34 Posts)
Nanban Sun 14-Apr-13 10:23:17

There has been a discussion on another website about whether estranged family members [sons or daughters] should be told that their parent is terminally ill.

I am of the very firm opinion that definitely not - it would be too cruel when a person is about to die, having missed so much, that the child turfs up for a deathbed reconciliation - it might make them feel better, but it makes leaving life a whole lot more difficult.

baubles Sun 14-Apr-13 10:32:11

Nanban perhaps the dying parent should be the one to decide. Who knows, the sight of the estranged child at last may make the final hours easier. The fallout for the rest of the family after the death would be another matter for them to deal with.

absent Sun 14-Apr-13 10:35:27

So many issues and unknown unknowns. I have no idea where a member of my own family who has separated herself from everyone else has gone. I could probably track her down but it would take a bit of doing. Does the terminally ill person want the estranged family member told? Is the terminally ill person able to make such a request in the first place? Would the t.i. person be distressed if the estranged family member said s*d off? Would the t.i. person be infuriated that other family members have taken it upon themselves to inform the estranged one? Might the t.i. person refuse to see the estranged family member?

It must be something decided within individual families in the light of their relationships and history – in fact, it obviously would be. What would definitely not be right is for others outside the family to interfere or make judgements about the course of action chosen.

Bez Sun 14-Apr-13 11:31:00

We often wonder about one of our family who estranged herself. We think maybe mental problems were the cause but no idea how things stand now. She is not married or in a relationship as far as I know and would now be retired. I have recently discovered her address and the question is do I make tentative contact?

absent Sun 14-Apr-13 12:15:12

Bez I don't think you can make tentative contact although you can make contact tentatively. That's surely what's so difficult because once you have made contact, it's a fait accompli. There's no turning back. It is then down to the other party to decide whether to proceed or not. A very hard decision I would think.

ninathenana Sun 14-Apr-13 14:05:23

I have this dilemma with my half sister. Our mum is in a CH has dementia and is near the end of her life. My sister cut herself and her family off from the rest of us about 30yrs ago.
I thought I should tell her (we have the address) when mum was admitted to the home but my brother didn't think so.
When her name is mentioned mum pulls a face and shakes her head. So maybe he's right.

Florence56 Sun 14-Apr-13 15:17:24


Have read this thread several times. Went away to think about it. I am estranged from my Father, its more his idea than mine and its not just me who is estranged. However, having thought about this I would like to know if he was dying. My arguement being that even if I chose not to do anything about it at least I had been given the choice. If I was told after the evnt I would be denied that choice. I know its a difficult subject and everyone is different - but thats just how I feel about ti.

kittylester Sun 14-Apr-13 15:34:48

Hi Florence, are you new? If so, welcome, if not, I must have missed you on other threads.

I was estranged from my mother, and two brothers, for 6 years which was largely down to my Mum and I did wonder whether I would go and see her if I was told that she was dying. Luckily, it didn't come to that as I could never decide what I would do.

Although I missed my brothers during our 'hiatus' my life was quite peaceful as I didn't have mum expressing an opinion about everything from our choice of stair carpet to the fact that I prefer to wear black rather than beige. smile

absent Sun 14-Apr-13 15:44:09

I have been trying to put myself in the position of a terminally ill person – somewhere I hope I never am. Except of course we are all terminally "ill" – or at least bound to die – from the day we are born. I would feel angry about other people taking over my illness without my consent. Clearly quite enough of that happens with clinicians etc. without my family joining in too. I have managed my own life – albeit fairly sloppily – let me manage my own death. I don't think I want Victorian scenes of deathbed reconciliation thanks.

Gorki Sun 14-Apr-13 15:55:40

I agree with absent. There seems very little point in reconciliation at such a late time unless the dying person really, really wants it. Sometimes people want to ask for forgiveness and in this case it would be important to meet but not otherwise. The passing on of information is quite another thing.The estranged family member deserves to be told but whether they should visit or not is a family decision.

Ella46 Sun 14-Apr-13 17:20:49

I would want to make my own decision,whether I was the person dying or the estranged one.
I don't want to be treated like an idiot just because I'm dying, unless of course, I have advanced dementia.

Nonu Sun 14-Apr-13 17:46:35

The only thing I think is that surely it is right to tell someone their parent is dying , it can be taken on from there .

My cousin many years ago lived in Hong Kong , My Aunt died very suddenly , the two other cousins did not tell her Mum was so seriosly ill, so she had no chance to get back to the UK.

Next thing they had buried Aunty with no consultation . It was quite heartbreaking all round .

absent Sun 14-Apr-13 18:08:52

A family member living abroad is quite different from a family member who deliberately cuts him or herself off from the family wherever they live. I don't think they do have rights. All the rights belong to the person who is dying.

Nonu Sun 14-Apr-13 18:22:54

HOw do we know what people who estrange themselves from their family and the people who are dying want .

Perhaps finally , a chance to make up .

Who knows ? it is very good to exchange opinions with different people ,
who actually knows what is right or wrong ???

Nanban Sun 14-Apr-13 19:09:11

From the responses, I am so glad to have opened the subject up. I don't think any of us should decide for another - in our case our son has taken himself away and nothing we can do, say, try it seems will bring him back or let us back into his life. There is absolutely no way I would tell him of a terminal illness; for me that would be the point of no return.

If I were the person who had cut myself off, would I want my close people to tell him, I do not stand in those shoes, and surely that is the point.

Such a difficult, controversial subject and maybe something we should all decide on before the need arises, just like making a will.

So much pain, so many different attitudes - now where's my magic wand?

absent Sun 14-Apr-13 19:22:16

The member of my family who deliberately separated herself was once very close to me but abandoned me (and absentdaughter) some years ago. Were I diagnosed with a terminal illness I would be very angry if anyone else in my family contacted her about it. (I don't care if they are in touch otherwise.) She would probably ignore the information, but if she didn't, she would undoubtedly want to crow over my situation. So no, even if you think you are effecting some sort of reconciliation. No! No! No!

cathy Mon 15-Apr-13 14:14:59

I disagree nanban I think that the terminally ill person should be asked if he or she would like their son or daughter to knowthet they were terminally ill, and then if so, the option should then go to the son/daughter as to whether they wish to visit the ill parent.

Its about everyone getting a choice I think.

Greatnan Mon 15-Apr-13 18:29:47

I would hate to die without my daughter having a chance to put right the things she has done. I love her, in spite of my hurt, and I would hate to think of her living a lifetime of regrets. I would ask her daughter to let her know if I had a terminal illness. (But she would probably think it was just a ploy to get her to see me).
My worry is that her drug addiction will mean I will outlive her - if I knew she was seriously ill I would fly from the ends of the earth to be near her (I will probably be living 12,000 miles away). I can only hope that my grand-daughter will keep me informed about her mother's health.

absent Mon 15-Apr-13 19:26:00

Greatnan That is the difference. A reconciliation with your daughter would gladden your heart and I devoutly hope that it will happen. A reconciliation with my sister will never happen – not because of how she has treated me but because I shall never forgive her for her cruelty to our mother who believed that the sun shone out of her and that she was the most special daughter in the world for almost all her [my mother's] life. She also wrote off absentdaughter and I'm not cool about that either.

Nanban Mon 15-Apr-13 19:33:16

Cathy - I think you have misunderstood - I think only the person who is dying has the right and whichever option they decide, absolutely no-one has the right to go tell.

On the point of my dying, I don't think I could bear seeing my son full of sorrow and regret - I would of course much prefer to see that while there is a chance of a better life - not a better death.

johanna Mon 15-Apr-13 19:43:12

Greatnan , am puzzled by the first sentence of your post: " I would hate to die without my daughter having a chance to put right the things she has done."

Does that mean that you think whatever has happened in your lives is all down to her? That everything is her fault?

Because if you do really think so she will sense that .

absent Mon 15-Apr-13 20:18:05

johanna Greatnan has posted about the sad story of one of her daughters who now has an addiction to prescription codeine as a result of dangerously botched surgery that is so intense it has seriously affected her view of reality. It is, as is so often the case, rather more complex a situation than it first seems from the outside.

Greatnan Sorry if I have jumped in. I had no intention to offend – I just know from what you have said over time that the situation is far from the sort of cut and dried picture that someone unfamiliar with the situation might think. I guess I was just being defensive on your behalf – as if that was necessary. Apologies.

Greatnan Tue 16-Apr-13 01:23:30

No need to apologise, absent, I am grateful for your post.
Johanna, my daughter suffers from paranoid delusions, including that I have stolen from her, when in fact helping her through the seven years it took to reach settlement of her medical negligence claim cost me tens of thousands of pounds. She has cut myself, her sister, her nephews and nieces and my sister out of her life, and has persuaded or forced three of her children to do the same. Only her eldest daughter, who lives with her partner and her two little girls in another village, maintains contact with us. I have never done anything to hurt my daughter or her children in any way - in fact, I gave up my lovely life in France to go back to England to help her and fought her case for her when she was too ill to do it herself.
Apart from my sadness and concern for her, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my life which is full and happy.

Bags Tue 16-Apr-13 06:25:09

Reading this thread with interest. It is not a problem I've had to consider. Looking at it entirely from the outside then, I think I agree with what nanban has said but, who knows, I might act differently if I were the terminally ill person estranged from an important family member. My gut feeling is that I would "play it by ear" at the time. Which means, in effect, that I don't think there is a right or a wrong approach: each person just has to do what they can cope with. And what you can cope with when terminally ill might not be the same as what you could cope with when fit and healthy.

cathy Fri 19-Apr-13 16:07:13

I guess your right nanban that the person dying's wishing are a bit more important, it all just sounds a bit sad to me.