Dear Carol: I dearly love my husband who is 81. This is a second marriage for both of us, but we’ve been married 23 happy years. Now, my beloved is dying from cancer. He has other health challenges, including emphysema, and he’s made his peace. All that he wants now is pain relief, so we’ve been working with hospice to provide what they can.
His grown children, who’ve seen little of him, have become aggressive in pushing their religious view that teaches that people must take advantage of every medical procedure possible to sustain life. Their view is that God will take him when God is ready. His doctors say that while they could perform more “procedures,” none of them will do anything but worsen his quality of life. I hate fighting with them, but I will agree to whatever he wants and there is no hesitation in this decision. According to the children, I’m a witch because I can’t persuade him otherwise. Please tell other grown children to never, ever do this to their parents. It’s cruel and unfair. — TR.
Dear TR: You and your husband have my deepest sympathy for his poor health as well as for the distress his grown children are causing. Your husband’s decision is allowing for the reality of his illness and his dignity as a human being. While his children have a right to their religious beliefs, they should not drop into his life now and try to force their view. This decision is his to make based on his own beliefs and preferences.
Certainly, they are unfairly taking their anger about their dad's illness out on you. My feeling is that much of this has to do with their own guilt about neglecting their dad over time. It's sad that these adult children can't see that their behavior is hurting their father.
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If he is able, maybe your husband could suggest that his children talk with his oncologist and/or primary care doctor for more clarity on their father’s prognosis, as well as the hospice chaplain. Most hospice chaplains regularly address complicated family situations, so your situation will not come as a surprise. It's possible that his children are misinformed about the purpose of hospice care, so a visit with the chaplain could be beneficial.
Frankly, though, I’m baffled that there’s even an issue for them. Your husband simply wants to let nature take its course when other interventions are considered extreme and unhelpful. This approach allows natural death. Hospice care takes the focus off of fruitless and possibly harmful medical interventions, offering instead comfort care and a chance for serenity at the end of life.
For you, TR, try to avoid showing anger toward your stepchildren, perhaps just telling your husband that you understand that they are probably conflicted. Work with hospice to provide him with the best comfort care going forward. Hospice doctors and chaplains are there to support you both.
Thank you for writing at this painful time. Your letter will certainly help others.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.