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Lisa Belkin

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Dying Parent: Woman Makes Decision About Visiting Abusive Father In Hospice

Posted: 11/15/2012 8:21 am

A few weeks ago, a reader who we called "SH" wrote to ask advice from readers about whether to go visit her dying father. He had been abusive to her mother throughout a 20-year-marriage, she wrote, and had cut all ties with his children back when SH was still in her teens.

Now her 85-year-old father was gravely ill, and in hospital-based hospice right near her mother, who suffered from dementia. SH wondered whether it made her a "bad person" if she did not make the trip 1,300 miles south, to see them. In addition to the emotional toll of such a trip, she said, there would be a financial one. She felt she could not afford time from work or money for travel.

Hundreds of you responded, with warmth and wisdom. (We've put the best replies in a slideshow below for others who may be facing the same issue.) You told her that if she decided not to go, then she was in no way a bad person. You said that if she did decide to go, she should do it for herself -- for the closure or peace it might bring -- but should also be realistic that the visit might not give her either.

She read every word, then made the trip -- grateful to everyone who sent their thoughts. As it happens, she was present not only for her father's death, but also her mother's, who passed two days later.

She writes:

Yes, I decided to go. I am not sorry I did. I feel like a better person for it. My parents were both in Hospice in the medical center in St. Petersburg, FL. They were in rooms right next to each other. I slept in my mother's room on the couch, as they permit that.

The nurse came in close to midnight and told me my father had died. He was alone in his room and I jumped off the couch and ran over to his room. He was alone in his bed, dead. I stayed with him for three hours alone... just the two of is. Because it was late it took time to get word out to others and for others to show up. So here I was with the man I had written to you about. three hours, just him and I.

I didn't do anything but sit in the dark next to his bed. I didn't call people or read a book. I just sat there. The nurse had called his present wife and my sister was on her way. The nurse stayed out of the room so I was literally alone with him for three hours.

I read every post your followers put up, and, at first, I had decided not to go see him. But my conscience about being a good person and good daughter got the best of me. Although I have been anything but the perfect specimen in my life myself, I had this feeling that I should not "sin" against my father.

I am glad I went. There was no happy reunion. He was in a coma-like state when I first got there so I never got to talk to him. I thought of you... I wanted all the people who had advised me and to let you know that I decided to go.

So what did I get out of it? I feel better about myself. Healing? There was no healing between he and I. But I have dignity I didn't have before. Somehow at the hour of his death my Catholic upbringing kicked in and I knew that if I stayed away from him out of hate, I would not be doing the Lord's will. And so I went.

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