Fly to see my dying dad? Or stay with my tiny baby?
July 2, 2016 8:22 AM   Subscribe

My dad is dying of cancer. I live a very long way away and have a small baby with health complications who probably shouldn't be flying just yet. Should I go sooner to see my dad before he gets too bad and leave my little baby behind? Should I wait for the all clear to travel with the baby and risk my dad getting really sick or dying without me seeing him?

I have a difficult decision to make in the next few weeks/months and would appreciate some outside perspective.

My dad has a cancerous brain tumor. He was given 1 to 2 years to live a year and a half ago. After responding well to treatment for the past year, things are starting to indicate that the tumor is growing again. It's starting to change his personality and making him increasingly more 'out of it'.

I live a hell of a long way away. To get to my parents' takes roughly 24 hours of travel time (3 flights and a 2 hour drive). It is, of course, not cheap either. I have a flight booked for September at the moment, but we're not sure how things will develop.

And now for the biggest complication: I have a lovely 2.5 month old baby. My original plan was to bring him with me in September, but his doctor isn't so keen on me flying with him in the near future. He seems to have hearing loss in one ear, so we're trying to be extra careful until we know more (which won't be for a few more months). On the advice of a children's neurologist, we've delayed vaccinations for the time being, though hopefully we'll get the all clear to proceed with them soon.

My husband has said he can take holidays and stay with our sons for a week, but I'm worried about how it might impact my baby's attachment to me (our older son is 4 and should be fine). The baby is also exclusively breast fed, so I'm worried that leaving him for a week might make it impossible to get back to breastfeeding when I get back.

My mom has said they both understand if I don't come anytime soon, but not seeing my dad again and maybe not even going to his funeral makes me unbelievably sad. I talk to them both on Skype (though not so much my dad who has never liked talking on the phone) and send them photos and videos.

So, what to do? What will I regret less? Have you had a similar experience? How important is it to go to the funeral vs seeing someone before they die? I've been lucky enough not to lose any close family members since I was 3, so I have no idea what to expect.
posted by brambory to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm very sorry you are going through this.

I don't think leaving your sons with your husband will have any lasting/permanent issues on your attachment to him. Since the flight isn't until September, can your husband start bottle feeding with breast milk in August?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:27 AM on July 2, 2016 [16 favorites]

It sounds like you're caught between a rock and a hard place and I hope the folks here help you solve this.

I know someone who donates milk to a global milk-sharing network for babies. So I just thought I would throw that resource out there in case it's of any use.
posted by aniola at 8:29 AM on July 2, 2016

September was the original plan. They're now trying to get out to see their father sooner than September, if possible.
posted by aniola at 8:30 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you see your dad as you may regret not doing so in time (not to heap guilt on you, I just know how I felt after my mom died). Your baby will still love and be attached to you. Pump ahead of time and pump and dump while you're gone. Your baby will be safe with your husband. You dad comes first here IMHO.
posted by cecic at 8:30 AM on July 2, 2016 [45 favorites]

I think the downside to possibly not seeing your dad before he dies or can't recognize you is WAY worse than parting from your baby for a few days. Start pumping now in addition to breast-feeding so baby can get used to husband feeding him with breast milk in bottles, and pump while you're gone to keep supply up, and go as soon as possible.

In my experience, funeral attendance is a statement you make to the survivors - in this case it will be a signal between you and your mom. You can decide about that when it's time. But seeing someone you love before they die, especially if you can get there while they're still cogent, is a very big deal for your relationship with that person, and your memory of them when they're gone.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:42 AM on July 2, 2016 [22 favorites]

I'm so sorry about your dad. My answer assumes you have a largely good relationship with your dad and would like to see him before he dies. If that's the situation, you need to go. As soon as you can arrange travel logistics. I think your worries about attachment and breastfeeding are so understandable, and I would have them too, but I think you need to set them aside and visit your dad. Your baby won't lose attachment to you! You're the mom and a week or two separation would never change that. A 24-hour travel day would be extra hard for you with an infant and would be difficult for the baby. The only situation I can imagine where I think you should bring the baby would be if you were a single parent with absolutely no care possibilities for the baby. But your baby has a parent who can care for him. Try to frame it as this could be a bonding time for baby and his dad. There are moms who stop breastfeeding for temporary periods and later begin nursing again, and baby adapts. Or maybe (maybe!) baby prefers bottles and you end up pumping breast milk for the rest of infancy. Even in that situation, you having the opportunity to see your dad would outweigh the breast feeding. That's my perspective and I know you're recovering from labor and focused on your infant, but I still think your choice is clear, even though it's a hard one to make. I'm really sorry for the situation you and your dad are in. Take care.
posted by areaperson at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm so sorry to hear about your father. As someone who dealt with a very similar situation last summer, my advice is always going to be to go see your dad, especially if the tumour is affecting his personality / "with-it-ness". The sooner you can be there to be with him while he is still lucid, the better.

If it helps to think of it this way - you have the rest of your life to be with your new son, but only months left to be with your father.

Sending strength to you and your family.
posted by some chick at 9:30 AM on July 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

I can't speak to the situation with your son, and I'm so sorry you're going through this, but my father also went through the final stages of brain cancer (glioblastoma in particular) last autumn. When the tumor started conspicuously affecting his behavior, we were about 2.5 months from the end. A month and a half later, he wasn't lucid at all. These things can move terrifyingly fast.

Every cancer is different, and where it is on the brain and what type it is will obviously determine how it progresses, but this is at least one plausible timeline, so I'm afraid there might not be much time left.
posted by jackbishop at 10:07 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

My half sister lived in another state when our father started to go downhill with a terminal illness. She had been given a weeks notice that his end was near. She delayed leaving repeatedly & arrived 2 hours after my father had passed. Even though I had just had my father pass away the look of pain & devastation on her face that she has missed the chance to say goodbye still breaks my heart.

Go see your Dad now, while he is still your dad. The later stages of illness are not kind & are not memories your father would want you to have of him, better to go sooner rather than later.

Your child will be fine, he will be with a loving parent one week won't make any difference, hell it will add to his attachment to what sounds like a very caring father. Let your children spend some time with their father while you go spend some time with yours.
posted by wwax at 10:18 AM on July 2, 2016 [12 favorites]

I think you should go now, while your dad is lucid and the two of you can enjoy being physically together, especially if he doesn't really like Skype. I do not think being away for a week will affect your long term bonding or your ability to breastfeed, although there may be some temporary disruption as the routine adjusts when you leave and when you get back. Pump while you're gone.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:27 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Go see your dad. You don't get any guarantees with him. Your baby will be fine. I say this as someone who had to fly out for a family emergency when my baby was four months old. I cried about leaving my baby. But everything was fine.

Just don't forget to bring your breast pump parts, as I did, and have to pay $$$ for one-day shipping by Amazon.

Don't worry about staying too long with your dad, either, as he may not be up for a long visit.
posted by Pearl928 at 10:34 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

As someone whose father and brother passed away within 3 days of each other, I was so happy that I got to see them both. Father was conscious and suffering a little but under good management, knowing that his end was near and he and I were able to tell each other we loved each other. Brother was already brain dead but it was a comfort for me to see him in his last days, a powerful man whose power had drained away, completely at rest for the first time in his life. I flew up to visit, returned home and learned that each passed away the next week. I would have had a far harder time processing their deaths had I not had the opportunity to visit while each was still alive. Your mileage may vary, as I did not have a tiny baby with health issues to manage as well. However, your baby represents life and the future and your father represents your past and where you came from. My perspective is that you can't move forward until you deal with your past.
posted by Lynsey at 10:38 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's a little different because you're the mom, but my husband was gone for 3 weeks right after the birth of our second baby. She is now 2.5 and has not the faintest idea, and frankly I don't think he really remembers either.

It's HARD to leave a baby and it's ok if you miss her terribly and cry about it a lot. But in this case the time with your dad is so much more important. And it will be great bonding time for your baby and his dad. Seriously. Being the sole caregiver for a week will be tough, but good, for your husband.

I'm so sorry you are in this situation. That said, as far as I can see it, the decision is clear (though not easy!). Best wishes to all of you.
posted by telepanda at 10:48 AM on July 2, 2016

My father just died of (prostate) cancer in mid-may. we knew the end was coming and i was able to make two trips up (400 miles each way) to see him.

The first time i brought my 16 month old son and while i'm glad my dad got to see his grandson one more time it made it difficult for me to spend significant time with my dad. i think i had about three 1 hour visits in the two days i was there.

The second time he had returned home to hospice care and i left my son with my wife for 4 days (2 weekend days and 2 days with daycare). The weekend was hard on my wife but she understood how important it was for me to be there. I got to spend some quality time with my father (upwards of six hours each day excluding the day i left) and he passed two days after i left. even that short visit the day i left was incredibly meaningful to me and it will probably be how i remember my father's final days.

In short, please go! You'll never know when that last visit will be...
posted by noloveforned at 11:07 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your baby doesn't have the concept of object permanence yet- so she may miss you, but she won't feel abandoned... My husband is very close to our baby and travelled when he was that age and they started up right where they left off when he came back. So definitely don't feel guilty.
posted by catspajammies at 1:23 PM on July 2, 2016

Go see your dad. Your baby will be 100% fine. It will be harder and more emotional for you than for him. The only reason not to go see your dad would be if you disliked him and weren't going to miss him when he was gone, but it sounds like this definitely isn't the case, so absolutely go now. I think you'll really regret it if you don't.
posted by MsMolly at 1:30 PM on July 2, 2016

As you seem to have plenty of argument from the 'go see your dad' camp, I just want to put out how I would treat it personally without knowing all the details.

Once I got married and created a family of my own, my feeling of personal responsibilities changed. All of my decisions now are made with my families needs put first. If my daughter at 2.5 months was having complications that involved neurologists, delayed vaccinations and recommendations to not travel, I wouldn't want to leave her for an extended period of time, let alone have her be away from her mother.

It's unfortunate your father doesn't seem to like Skype or other video chatting forms, but as someone that also lives thousands of miles from 'home', it does offer a much more intimate way to communicate than a regular phone conversation.

Good luck, this is not an easy thing to go through. Best wishes.
posted by wile e at 2:00 PM on July 2, 2016

Nobody can make this choice for you. But I think also that from an outside perspective just as there is no right answer, there is also no wrong answer. You clearly love both your baby and your dad and any decision you make will be with love. Your parents will know this, and so will your husband. Your baby won't be aware of it but he'll benefit from your care or the care of his dad in your place. It's a Scylla and Charybdis situation that you're navigating right now and you're going to have to pick a course and stick with it.

I don't want to sound callous, but this isn't about your dad, really. It's about you, because unfortunately your dad will soon be gone. What choice will give you the strength to process your grief in a healthy way? Do you think staying at home with your kids might cause you to resent that choice later on when you're mourning? Or do you think that being there to care for your baby will help you feel useful and mutually supported?

In everything there are benefits and drawbacks and choices. Maybe your mom could come stay with or near you after the funeral? Maybe you could plan to stay near your parents through the whole process and your husband could bring the kids along later? Maybe you could find an amazing nurse to help out with your baby for now and later during the funeral? Maybe you could try video chat a few more times with your dad and have an honest talk with him and get his input? Any choice you make will be okay, because you will have made it thoughtfully and with compassion for your loved ones as well as yourself.
posted by Mizu at 2:34 PM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe buy iPads for dad & you, and video FaceTime a lot? Then he can see the baby and you don't have to travel.
posted by TheAdamist at 3:10 PM on July 2, 2016

I missed seeing my dad by a week. I was flying up the following weekend. We have no massive deathbed confessions or anything left unsaid, you know, but it would have been so great to see him one last time, as I never get to see him at all now. And I never knew that the last time I did, was the last time.

Your baby will have no attachment issues in its relationship with you, promise. A week won't really do that.
posted by smoke at 4:47 PM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I just want to reiterate- you need to do what is right for you, and make the decision that you can live with. Absolutely do not feel guilty going to see him or let people tell you what your priorities should be. Yes, your frost priority is your new family- but you're part of that family and there will be times they need to rally around you. I just had a baby two weeks ago and he's my second baby in a year- ie- two babies under one! Not walking!

During the last couple weeks of my pregnancy my husband's mother had a pulmonary embolism and it looked like she wouldn't make it. We decided he needed to stay here for me and we couldn't risk him being gone when I went into labor. (We live in a foreign country)... But now I've had the baby, I've hired a mother's help, and he's going to see her next weekend. It will be tough, I've got 2 babies, one is 30 pounds, I've still got after pains- but he needs to see his mother! So that's one way another family approaches this type of thing.
posted by catspajammies at 11:02 PM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Adding to what everyone else has said, I would pump while you're there to maintain your ability to breastfeed (pumping as much as baby is eating to keep your supply up), but if your husband has to give your baby some formula while you're gone because you don't have a stash built up, it's not the end of the world.
posted by slidell at 1:02 PM on July 3, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the answers. I did go see my dad. It was so so good to see him and baby did ok with his dad. Everyone who said it was important to see my dad was absolutely right.
posted by brambory at 10:12 AM on August 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

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