When Parents are Dying: Coping & Planning

Death is never a pleasant experience. As I watch my father slip slowly away, I try to come to terms with reality, but since no one in my family has ever learned how to cope with the cruel nature of life, so goes our lack of outward empathy in death. I’ve never had anyone close to me die, and all that’s going to change — whether in a year or five years, I don’t know, but my father’s cancer is back with a vengeance, and regardless of how much I avoid acknowledging reality, the day will come when I won’t see him alive again.

In the meantime, there are arrangements to be made. Uncomfortable arrangements. Who wants to discuss plans for after they part with the world? My mother and I had a brief conversation today about what her plans are in retirement — selfish as she is, with everything always about her, her sadness only formed in confusion over next steps in her life without the normal next steps for a husband and wife approaching retirement.

The question of what happens to her after he’s gone is one I’ve avoided getting deeply involved in. I told her that I don’t want to be the person to help her decide what to do with her finances because I would not feel comfortable telling her to spend or save money that may have some effect on a one-day inheritance for myself or my sister. I’d rather she discuss this with my father, and make her own decisions, or at least with the help of a trustworthy financial adviser.

Meanwhile, at lunch today, she managed to make me feel terrible, though not on purpose, about previously asking whether she’d be willing to contribute some future financial support for the various fertility treatments I’ll likely have to go through one day in order to have children. As my mother has made numerous comments about wanting grandchildren, I don’t expect her to help me financially with treatments, but if she could help when the time comes, it would be appreciated. But today, in front of company, she made some comment about how I said that she “has to help me” with affording having children, which was a very uncomfortable moment, that took its time to set in before later making me extremely upset. She claims she didn’t mean it that way at all, but it was her friend that responded that she really didn’t seem like she wanted to help me in this situation.

But anyway, I digress. The point here is that these things that will come up in the future are my own costs; but it is up to my mother if she wants to help out ever. I don’t want to be the person to ask her or tell her what to do. I apparently shouldn’t even mention these things, as just vaguely mentioning that I’d appreciate her help if it turns out I’ll need costly fertility treatments turns into a huge deal where she clearly doesn’t want to help, she just feels like she has to. I don’t want her help unless she wants to give it. And she never will.

And, at the same time, I deep down do want to “help” my father at this point — even though he’s often cruel to me — and I can’t. It’s always walking on eggshells around him. His reactions are never something you can guess, and with his illness he’s become, justifiably, even more moody. But I question my own motives for wanting to help — perhaps my motives are inherently flawed and narcissistic, after all I’m still just a little girl seeking her father’s approval. Wanting him to feel comfortable confiding in her about his feelings, without actually being emotionally prepared or strong enough to survive what that actually means. For better or worse, he doesn’t want to talk about it. He wants to mope and be depressed on his own, then get angry over little things that don’t matter, to criticize his family, to avoid his own complete lack of control, his life slowly slipping from his hands as his health manages to fail for all his many medical problems unrelated to the cancer, leaving his last years of life filled with discomfort up to pain. I’m a sick person for at some level wanting him to suffer — but not to die, not to suffer and then learn a lesson in taking your depression and issues out on everyone else — and then to go on with life a new person, a nicer person, one who has learned how to care about other people in a way that doesn’t involve control and manipulation. That’s a story that will never play out. The reality is his suffering only going to get worse. I may be here to see it, I may be home on the other coast, hearing detailed stories from a woman who will complain about having to waste her days helping him, feeling guilty for not being here, feeling guilty for not feeling guilty for not being here, and so on.

The practical questions of what will happen to my mother after my father passes away are ones I haven’t been able to ask, for I can’t bring myself to talking to my father about death. I’m even angry at him because had he gone to the doctor regularly they could have probably caught his cancer early, and with prostate cancer it’s usually curable if caught early. But he didn’t want to go to the doctor because of his weight, which also likely increased his risk of getting the cancer.

Here I am at 27, having finally almost come to accept my own future death, but I am not prepared to watch either of my parents go. Not even my father, who was destined to die early with his morbid obesity, diabetes, and other health issues, even before the cancer.

Life is so short, and it’s passing by so quickly. I was miserable throughout my childhood, yet I’m nostalgic for the few moments of happiness, or even boredom, wasting away lazy summer days, with all the time in the world, all the life in the world. And now, it slips, with ends looming behind every corner.

 

 

 

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One comment

  1. I'm sorry to hear this story. I'm 27 too and my mother also has cancer. She was diagnosed 8 years ago and doesn't have an awful lot of time left. Being stuck in this limbo for so long can be crushing at times; mourning someone who is still alive is just about the most sickening thing I've ever experienced. Even though my mum puts on a brave face and tries to keep her spirits high, I find it difficult at times to be around her and I'm quite ashamed of that. At times like these, I guess all we can really do is make the best of what we have left and ask ourselves what we can do to help.

    My best wishes to you and your family,
    Ash

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