Their father is dying, 6000 miles away.
September 15, 2012 2:33 PM   Subscribe

My partner's father is in the early stages of death. They are in the Midwest. I'm in the Middle East. Snowflakes.

He (the father): was diagnosed with a rare cancer 5 years ago. It has progressed slowly, but he's begun to drop weight, treatment options are dwindling, and they just found malignant cells in a new location. He is in his mid 50's, and is a wonderful, incredible man. The world is losing a great soul. I'm not sure how much time he has left, but my intuition says a year at most, perhaps less.

We: have been together about a year. I am 20, they (gender-neutral pronoun) are 24. I met the parents in April, and we've visited a couple times since then. The parents have told me they love me, I love them, I'm part of the family. My partner spent time with my family in June, and they love each other also. We lived together May-August in a room just large enough for a bed, and came out of it more in love than ever. In short, we think of our relationship as long-term, committed, with a lot of potential.

I know that we are young, especially me, and we both attempt to maintain a balance of presence in our current feelings, and realism about the changes that await each of us as our lives progress, and the ways that that may or may not impact our relationship. And for all the realism I have about the futures that might await us, I am in love, this person is extremely important to me, and that means that I ought to support them in every way that I can. In addition, if we do stay together, I want to have known their father as much as possible.

I am in school in Cairo until mid December. I had planned to spend an additional semester living here (as a break from school) to further develop my language skills outside the classroom, and to get some experience living alone internationally. My partner moved home to the Midwest the day after I moved, to support their family. We had thought they might spend the spring in the Middle East (they lived here before), but that's obviously no longer an option.

As it turns out, it is really really hard to watch your father die. I spend a fair amount of time on phone and skype doing support. I don't feel like I'm removed from my environment, but the situation hovers in the back of my head constantly. I want to be there with them and their family, offering support in whatever way I can. I also want to be here, having the experience of a lifetime, and worry that the mingled feelings of deep love and loyalty will allow me to neglect my own interests in this situation -- I am doing very well at an elite school, studying Arabic, thinking about the future, with my partner or without.

I've committed to spending time in the Midwest with them after school ends in December. This would likely be 2-3 weeks in length, living in the family's basement. After that, under the current plan, I would return to Egypt. I don't know what sort of condition their father will be in come December. It could easily be grim. I pray it won't be.

What does one do in this situation? I have considered: moving to the Midwest for next semester and working at a coffee shop; moving back to the states and returning to college, so that I could at least be in flying distance; delaying my return to Cairo (spending a month or two in the Midwest) to see what happens. And beyond the tachlis, how do I support my boo and their incredible family?

tl;dr: How can I best support my long-distance partner whose father is beginning to die?
posted by femmegrrr to Human Relations (6 answers total)
I think you stay where you are and do your best to get on with your life while giving your partner as much support and love as you possibly can. As much as you want to be there, your partner is going through something deeply personal and terrible, and while I am sure your presence would be so welcome, you might also be adding to his/her stress and anxiety. Your partner would likely feel guilty that you gave up the experience of a lifetime to be with him/her. In addition, if you move to their town, (where, presumably you don't know anyone but them) and you are dependent on them for all your social needs and company; this is an additional pressure for them and their family at an incredibly difficult time.

It's a hard thing to support someone through from a distance, but you are where you are; he's not your father, and a one year relationship at your age doesn't make you a member of the family, no matter how much they loved you. Do your best from a distance.

Also, I wouldn't assume that your December plans are particularly viable at this stage, and you should offer as soon as possible to cancel that trip or find another place to stay.
posted by yogalemon at 3:32 PM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

You continue with your plans and support your partner from wherever you are. They and their family are saying goodbye to their beloved family member. While your presence may be appreciated, I am not sure it would be helpful. I think your partner needs to do this on their own. You clearly love them, and being there in December may be something your partner can look forward to in order to keep him or her sane.
posted by Sal and Richard at 4:22 PM on September 15, 2012

This is going to sound hard-nosed but please beleive me when I tell you it's the truth:

The best thing you can do for your partner is have a life not in her basement and far outside the tiny focus of that family that you can tell her about, that brings you some joy you can share.

And as gently as possible, while you and your partner may be each other's family, you are not part of this family. Be respectful, step back, and quietly support your partner from behind.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:28 PM on September 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Caring for a dying parent is a deep intimate experience. It's very heavily emotionally involved. So their focus may be on that, understandably. Allow your partner to experience that, and don't give up your studies or goals, because even if you were there at this time, you don't have the child-father bond that allows for the emotional turmoil within the family dynamic.

At your age, please continue your studies and progress toward your own personal goals. There is nothing you can do to prevent that which is occurring, but a lot you can do toward just being there for your partner. It seems like you are already doing that.

People get ill and die. It's a fact of life. It's unfortunate that this happened at this point in your relationship, but do the best you can with the resources at your disposal. It may sound hard, but you can't give up your goals due to this circumstance, nor would your partner want you to, correct? Just give support as best you can and continue on with your personal goals.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:44 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The time you are spending listening is the best thing you can do, mixed with a few visits. Save enough money and square it with your professors so you can make it to the funeral no matter what happens. But your partner and their mother and siblings are dealing with this as a family and probably working through all kinds of stuff and being a sort of neutral third party is really going to help your partner when things get rough. Because they always do, even in the best family there will be some disagreements about treatment choices or if the mom is working herself to death or whatever.

One thing you might do is send long chatty letter with funny photos or observations of life in Cairo that your partner can read or even read to the parents.
posted by fshgrl at 8:01 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry that you and your partner are going through this. When my mother got cancer, I was nearly a decade older than you, and in a much longer-established relationship - we had been living together for about 4 years. I responded by dropping everything, pretty much - I put my study on hiatus and dropped out of community commitments. My partner and I decided to cancel our previous plans to go and live overseas, and this change of direction damaged my partner's career and left him stuck in a job where he was being bullied by an awful boss. My partner was an absolute tower of strength for me during this time, but the resentment that came out of these decisions and their repercussions really damaged our relationship, and it has taken a long, long time to recover. So I would think very hard, as the partner of someone going through this, about abandoning any plans you have previously made. If you can arrange to take a longer break with family, that may be a good plan, but as others above have noted, that may not be what your partner and their family need right now.

If I had the power to go back and do my mother's illness over, I'm not sure what I would do differently - for me at the time, it was important to know that I'd done all I could, and I have to say that was quite comforting to me, and probably lessened my grief after she was gone. However, I had a different kind of grief after she was gone, when I looked at the holes in my life where the accomplishments I'd been working towards should have been, where my important community activities should have been, etc. Once you lose someone after a long illness, the emptiness is hard to bear, and abandoning things that are important to you only makes that part of it worse.
posted by Cheese Monster at 4:41 PM on September 20, 2012

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