Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Faraway daughter wonders whether to visit dad in hospice
West Coast: My dad has had cancer for three years. He had been doing well until about six weeks ago. I recently got back from a long visit to see my parents on the East Coast. Soon after I got home, I was told that he's being moved into hospice to await the inevitable.
I am 33 weeks pregnant. I don't know if I should make a mad dash out there while I'm still able, or whether I should wait it out, or be happy I just saw him when he was doing relatively well, or what. It is possible that he could make it six months or six weeks. Any thoughts? I am so confused.
Carolyn: I'm sorry, that's a lot to have weighing on you.
Even if you weren't pregnant, you wouldn't necessarily be able to travel to his side to say goodbye at just the right time. And being pregnant adds an extra reason not to make a "mad dash," but it doesn't preclude your going back for a short-notice but well-thought-out visit.
What makes sense now is for you to figure out what you'd want out of a return to his bedside. Do you want to make sure his whole family surrounds him when he goes? That, again, might not be something you can choose. Do you want to go once more to say goodbye? Then talk to your doc about traveling.
Or, are you confident he knows you love him, knows you'd be there if you weren't 33 weeks pregnant 3,000 miles away, and maybe even would prefer that you stayed home and concentrated on your baby? Then give yourself permission not to go.
It's obviously hard to think through intense emotions, but you have useful information available and you have a decision in you. It's just a matter of slowing down enough to see it all.
D.C.: Re: West Coast:
It must be very painful knowing he will not know her child. But, she needs to put the well-being of her baby, and by extension, of herself, first. Her father probably doesn't want to spend his last hours worrying about her and her baby.
If it is okay with her OB and her father is really close to death, she might make a quick trip. Otherwise, I suggest calling him and speaking to him even if he can no longer speak, or using Skype so he can see her, writing daily letters to be read to him, or otherwise making her presence felt. If he is alert enough, he might want to write or dictate a letter to the baby for when s/he is old enough to understand.
I am a mother and hospice physician, and this is what I would tell her if I were caring for her father.
Carolyn: Excellent, thank you. One of my friends suggested I videotape my mom reading children's books, so I could play them for my kids someday, and I couldn't bring myself to do it. Big, horrible regret, now knowing how much that would have meant to all of us.
Anonymous: Re: West Coast:
Best thing I ever did during hospice was to videotape my mom and her cousin discussing old photos of family. Priceless knowledge.
Carolyn: Priceless indeed, thank you.