If you Google the words "estranged father dying," about a half-million hits pop up. The Internet is filled with shared stories and advice-seekers questioning whether they should visit a dying relative who they haven't spoken to in decades. Will such a visit pick the scab off a deep wound? Will it result in peace or more suffering? Is it better to regret going than to regret not going?
We asked our Huff/Post50 Facebook followers about their experiences. We also contacted Ellen J. Windham, a hospice nurse for 15 years who assisted more than 5,000 families and is the author of “Hospice: The Last Responder.” Here's some of what they told us:
1. There is no one "right" answer.
At this point, the concern is focused on you. A year from now, how will you feel about your decision to make or not make a deathbed visit? What is best for you? In the broadest guidelines, the consensus is that you shouldn't bring along your kids who have never met their grandpa. And it isn't wise to go expecting an apology or forgiveness. Go because you want to. Closure is possible, but elusive.
2. If you do go, make it an "hello" visit, not a "goodbye" one.
Hospice nurse-author Windham says that some estrangements are based on misunderstanding or simply "two different paths chosen early in life and an inability to forgive for far too long." But if you go, go to say "hello," she said. Save your goodbyes for another time, even if it's the next day. If it's closure you're seeking, it is now or never. And now may not be the optimal time.
3. "I have no regrets of being too kind. I do have regrets of being not kind enough."
Those are the words of several people who offered advice. They are wise words, but they require that you step over your own hurt feelings. Common wisdom -- and science -- says that letting go of anger is healthier than harboring it. It's much harder to do than say, though.
4. Consider whether your dying relative wants to see you.
There are at least two sides to every story. You have yours and they have theirs. Run the idea of a visit by a family member before you show up as a surprise. Nobody needs more hurt.
5. Being asked to come is empowering, but that still doesn't mean you must go.
Power in any relationship belongs to the person who cares the least. Your mom is dying and wants you there. You haven't seen her in decades since she married your step-dad who excluded you from their lives -- and she let him. Now he's calling saying she wants to see you. Again, do what's best for you -- not anyone else.
6. Accept that some rifts are outside your control to repair.
One reader shared how her dad turned on her after her mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Intellectually, she understood that he was facing his own health issues and the prospect of losing his beloved wife. But he quickly became unstable and targeted her. Despite her best efforts to reason with him, he ordered her to "leave and never come back." They remained estranged until his death a few years later. She says now, "In reality, I lost both of my parents to pancreatic cancer, even though only one had the disease." She did attend his funeral.
7. Don't rely on a medical team to help you know what to do.
The same reader says, "It was frustrating that even though doctors and social workers and cancer center staff saw this all happening, no one had any idea how to help us. And they told us they see this all the time."
While hospice is there to assist families through a stressful process, maintaining the patient's comfort and well-being is their #1 job.
8. Consider involving a third-party negotiator.
That's the role Jennifer Williams of Los Angeles played when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her mom and her mom's sister hadn't spoken in 10 years in a dispute over money. They lived six miles apart. Williams initiated the contact and spent a lot of time reminding both women of all the good times they had had together and with her as a child. "I think [a third-party] can help show that some situations are not what the dying person's perceptions of them are. [It brought] a lot of peace [to both of them] knowing I had good memories."