45 Years Ago (wrritten a few weeks ago) or When Should a Parent Tell Offspring That Parent is Dying?

I wrote this earlier last month. I didn’t know this forum well enough to know where to put it. I posted an update to what happened on this day 45 years ago. Both the December 15 portion and the December 31-January 1 portion merit comment. Thus while I did not keep a diary I posted it in diary form.

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December 15, 1972

Exactly 45 years yesterday, on December 15, 1972 (also a Friday) I was a 15 year old high school sophomore. I came home from school that icy day, hoping that the Holiday concert I was due to perform in wasn’t going to be snowed or iced out.

My father had had a rectal cancer resected in late August 1971. After a promising start he began developing pains in July 1972. He had a liver scan and his doctor flat-out lied to him about the results; they told him it was “clear.” While he had his good days, many days were increasingly painful by October. My doctor said he told my mother the outlook and at some level I think he was telling me the truth. When he gave my mother a surprise party on November 7, 1972, her 40th birthday, I think she was pretty sure it was near the end, though he still went to work in NYC every day.

He had another liver scan on November 24, the day after Thanksgiving. His doctor told my mother that he was close to death, though that day he felt well enough we even talked about his returning to the ski slopes that winter. His last day of work was December 8; he was checked into New Rochelle Hospital on December 11, a Monday. One of the doctors there told my mother “don’t you think it’s time you told your son”?

When I came home she tried to be indirect. It didn’t work, since I knew from my reading at the library what the real outlook for his disease was. I insisted on calling his doctor, since teh lack of candor seriously bothered me. He told me he had told her in October, but that he knew from before the 1971 operation my father was finished. I called my cousin in another state, who confirmed that I had read the literature correctly. That night, since my mother didn’t feel up to driving, I took a cab to the High School to play at the concert. It was too icy to bike the six or so miles.

I wanted to tell my father what his fate was to be. My mother would not permit me to do that. my father died on January 5, 1973, exactly four weeks later.

The question I throw out there is, in that kind of situation, when should a son or daughter know what’s going on? I did my own reading and came to my own conclusion. Thoughts?

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December 31, 1972 - January 1, 1973

On New Years Eve, 45 years ago today we visited my father in the hospital. While he had a “good day” the day before, he was semi-conscious, his legs waving in the air and the rest of him tied securely to the bed. The providers had unhooked the feeding tube, telling us that he (involuntarily) struggled too much. We understood it to mean that they knew the end was near and there was no point.

His sister and her significant other showed up after a New Years Eve engagement. My mother was told by the nurse that she was in party gear and wreaked of alcohol. She ordered the tubes reconnected, so they tied my father more securely (the way you would tie a cord of lumber) and put him back on. When I came back to the hospital I was livid. My mother said to just “let it be.”

I went back to school the next day at the end of the holiday break. With a few dimes in my pocket to keep my tabs on what was going on. He died Thursday night/Friday morning.

Thanks for sharing JBG. Is there a right answer? Certainly seems that there are some wrong ones. Should one fight to the end and never say “I’m dying”? Seems to me that talking about it is a way of healing before the pain of separation even begins. I don’t know - certainly there are wiser people here to share what’s best.


That may have been the case before September. But after that, especially when the liver was involved, the emphasis should have shifted to preparation.

Also I think lying is, in general, bad policy.

Don’t altogether disagree, JBG, BUT…and it’s a significant “but”…some children are simply too young to understand death and telling them about it at too young an age to understand simply would scare them needlessly. Children should be allowed to BE children for as long as possible since they’ll be adults with adult responsibilities for MUCH longer than they’ll be kids.

I can’t agree with this, PD. Death is a reality, and it happens to children, too. I feel that the problem stems from approaching it from a secular worldview. Secularism offers no hope whatsoever concerning death. Instead, it offers the three Ds:

1 Deny
2 Defy
3 Delay

Obviously, denial doesn’t change the reality that death happens.

Defiance is a spectacular excercise in futility. I note that futility when I see images on Facebook of people who have survived cancer symbolically flipping the bird to their disease. It’s meaningless in the end.

Which brings us to delaying. There’s only so far one can (if one can) delay death, and it isn’t even a drop in the ocean next to eternity (so is a trillion eons; oblivion is oblivion, no matter when it happens).

JBG is Jewish and has different beliefs from me, but I feel this is where Christianity offers something that many other beliefs- especially atheism- cannot. We have a hope of salvation that transcends death, and is eternal. To offer this hope to children is the very best way to let kids be kids.

Emphasis mine.

This is a topic that does NOT lend itself to quick responses. It requires some substantial forethought, and I’m still not sure I have my arms around it completely.

A parent instinctively wants to protect a child (which is essentially what PD was saying). In that regard, your mother’s behavior is understandable.

However, I’m not sure she thought it through (understandable again because of the stress of the situation).

Here’s what I mean when I say she may not have thought it through. Sooner or later, you were going to have to deal with his death. And “later” was pretty much in your face immediate.

So while it may be understandable that she was trying to protect you, you were going to have to face it anyway . . . no matter what she did.

Now for some questions . . . because the details are not clear . . . to me, anyway.

The crux of the issue is that your mother did not tell you that your father was dying, was it not? My reply above is based on that, so if I’m wrong here, my reply is wayyyy off.

There’s a “when” in there:

So perhaps I should state the crux as “your mother did not tell you that your father was dying AT THE RIGHT TIME”. (Not sure there is such a thing as “the right time” to tell you about it when the issue is that a parent is dying. ANY time would not soften the blow.)

{digression} My middle son died on his tenth birthday, exactly. (That was in 1982, so he’d be 45+ now.) He had gotten salmonella meningitis when he was 6 months old, and the prognosis . . . when the infection was finally stopped, but not before it had completely destroyed his optic and auditory nerves . . . was that he would not live more than another year. He lived for 9½ more years.

I knew every day was a gift and that he was likely to die at any time. My point is that I knew he was going to die any day, but as much as I thought I was prepared . . . I WAS NOT.

When he died, I was hysterical for three days. Didn’t eat . . . just curled up on the carpet floor and cried like a baby that whole time.

So, there is NO right time. {end digression}

Any idea why?

Young doctor . . . old doctor . . . experienced doctor . . . inexperienced doctor . . . what?

Wait a minute . . .
Is this the same guy?

Whoa . . . whoa . . . back up.
We have “his doctor” and “My doctor” and “One of the doctors” . . . so just how many doctors do we have in this mess?

What exactly do you mean by “indirect” here? Do you remember her words?

Did she lie to you?

How do you know that he didn’t know already?


Curious . . . did they do this with your mother’s consent?

Did the sister do this with your mother’s consent?

TIA for any response.

I have to say that this topic is very sensitive. I don’t know why we have to have open caskets. Looking upon a dead corpse made up to look “alive” to me is barbaric and totally unnecessary. When my father died at age 57 (I was 27 at the time of his death) we had an open casket wake service. I refused to look at him because I wanted to remember him alive and breathing, not his dead corpse. It was, for me, a barbaric and ugly thing to do. I did the same when my mother passed away. For children to see a beloved parent or other loved one made up to look like they’re alive–which is usually pretty grotesque–could be traumatic. I was 27 and 41 years old respectively and I couldn’t bring myself to look upon them in that state.

I think children should be told that a parent or loved one is dying or has died, but that they are in Heaven happy and no longer sick. Children can accept that. I don’t think children should see their loved ones’ corpses in an open casket. Personally, I think open caskets should not be allowed.

My family all know my wishes about this. Anything that can be reused is to be donated for that purpose. What remains is to be cremated and my ashes emptied into the Brazos River from the bridge 4 miles west of Mineral Wells, Texas. I’ve eaten hundreds of fish from that River and I figure turn-about is fair play! In 200 years, no one–including any descendants–will know a single thing about me, probably including my very name.

Ah, but there is One who will always know your name!

True CT, but He won’t need some “monument” or gravesite to recall it.


Deleted and moved

45 years ago today, January 5, 1973 in the wee hours of the morning, my father passed away after his battle with cancer. The trip to the Jewish funeral home was beyond disgusting. Seeing my mother and I, both red heads (coincidence) sitting there the guy said “you know, this is a Jewish funeral home.” Then he tried to convince us to buy a casket that was more expensive than we needed, for a cremation. Flatly against Jewish custom if not law. Now lets stop with the bad things.

28 years ago tomorrow, I met my (now) wife for the first time. She is the love of my life. The moral of the story; good things follow bad things.

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The GP was the person who controlled the information. I remember him as being about 55 or 60 at the time. He was by default my doctor too when my pediatrician died in 1969.

She started out by telling me that my father saw that it was snowing and he knew I’d be happy since I was going skiing over the Christmas break. Then she told me that my father’s roommate at the hospital was going home since he was getting better but then said “but your father isn’t coming home.” I said “that’s obvious” and then I asked for more details. My mother said the cancer had spread to the liver. I asked if his pains during the fall were from the cancer and she said “yes.” When she was slow with details I told her I knew the story, and picked up the phone and called the doctor. She was definitely “beating around the bush.” But at that point she wasn’t lying. I did ask how long she had known.

She told me that she didn’t and I heard her lying to him the day after Thanksgiving. And as to “why” she wouldn’t let me tell her she had no good reason. I don’t think she could withstand the conversation that would ensue when he asked her questions about the lies.

Not direct consent but we both approved after the fact. The fact is that unless he was tied very tightly the tubes would have ripped out of his body, the way he was moving, leaving a bloody mess.

No. They weren’t on talking terms.

What is “TIA”? (I think it means “thanks in advance.” And feel free to ask.).[quote=“Pappadave, post:5, topic:68441, full:true”]

15 year olds aren’t kids. Even with my 79 IQ I was able to read up; and my mother was well aware of that.

Jewish funerals absolutely bar open caskets and disfigurement of the corpse, and in all but unusual cases embalming. That’s why we try to bury within 24 to 48 hours after death.

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TIA = “Thanks In Advance”

And feel free to ask anything. If I don’t feel comfortable I’ll say so. But I have very little to be unconformable about that period even though there was some very bad behavior by my mother’s friends.

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The “TIA” I was referring to has something to do with a very mild and indistinguishable stroke. I don’t know what it stands for, but “Thanks in Advance” would be very funny in this case!

I think I recall that when I lived in south Florida. I worked with a lot of Jewish people and had lots of Jewish friends. I remember them sitting “Shiva” (sp?). That lasted about 5 days, didn’t it? I don’t understand why embalming became the norm. I don’t want to be cremated either. Just throw me in a box and bury me.

Bobjam can answer his intent better than I can, obviously; but my impression is that he’s wondering if your father just knew without being told.

That’s my impression.