Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Mom's news about her state of health is hers to tell . . . or not
Unsure: I worry my mother is hiding a health problem. It would be exactly like her to not want to bother me … but when I press her on it, she tells me to stop nagging her and that everything's fine. Anything I can do or say to be sure?
Carolyn: One thing is certain: If it's a big deal, you will find out eventually.
If you anticipate feeling angry about being kept in the dark, then work to pre-empt your anger now. Specifically, project what you would have done had you known, and start doing some of that now.
Without any information beyond your hunch, you can spend more time with her, you can ask her about family history, and do whatever else makes grieving people say, "I wish I'd had time to X before s/he died."
Now, this may all be a major overreaction; anything could be going on with your mom. However, we've all heard the "live as though you'll die tomorrow" advice, and, while that's not exactly practical, there's a reason it's in the Tacky Kitchen Plaque Hall of Fame: There's no downside to figuring out whether your priorities really reflect what you value most. Don't wait; do this with Mom now.
Anonymous: Re: Mother's health: My mother kept us kids in the dark about her cancer surgery recently — until she had a bad reaction to chemo, then it all came out. (She's doing much better now.)
I'm at the age where I should start maybe thinking about cancer screenings. Last year, my doc said I could wait another year or three, but now that I know both sides of my family have a history of cancer, I'm not waiting anymore. Mom needs to speak up for her child's sake.
Carolyn: I agree that "protecting" people from the truth denies loved ones the chance to deal with the situation as they see fit.
However, I believe the sick person's needs trump the loved ones'. There's a practical reason — it's the patient's information, and no one else's — but there's also a philosophical reason. Being seriously ill is arguably the worst case scenario of being out of control. You can't make yourself well, and often you can't even make yourself feel better. One of the few things that's entirely in your power is your own message.
So, if a sick person wants her message to be "Everything's fine!" then, darn it, everything's fine.
Loved ones do pay a price for this, yes — so I'll post your PSA. But I also hope that anyone who is kept in the dark will resist anger, and summon compassion instead.
Anonymous2: Re: Mothers: Several years ago I suspected my parents were withholding a health concern. I didn't voice my suspicions, but I did say that if/when there is a concern, I would appreciate it if they gave us kids a heads-up sooner, so we could process it, rather than blindsiding us with dreadful news later. That worked for us.
Carolyn: I especially like the integrity of it: If you want people to be open with you about their fears and concerns and needs, then it can't hurt to start that process by being open yourself about your fears, concerns and needs.