Should I bother visiting a dying relative?
March 14, 2024 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Sounds jerky, I know. My dad has a terminal illness and my family doesn't want me to visit. Should I take them at their word? Lots more details inside.

My dad has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. I live on the opposite coast from my parents and much of the rest of my family. I decided to try and get a visit together with me, my brother, and my parents at the end of this month. It was difficult to coordinate but it finally came together and my parents seemed to be looking forward to it.

The problems started when I told them that I was going to visit them for half a week in City 1 and some other relatives and my brother in City 2 for the other half. (Brother lives in City 2.) After that, they told me that I should just go to City 2 and not see them. (Their relationship with my brother and these relatives is... volatile. I know this, but said relatives are also quite elderly, if in OK health, and I want to see them as well because 2024 is taking A TOLL so far.) After I told them that I had designed the trip because I wanted to see both them and my other relatives, they seemed mollified and were ok with me coming out to visit.

I bought plane tickets and decided to rent a car to drive between City 1 and City 2. It's about a day's drive, with a few scenic spots along the way, and post-COVID and Boeing I've gotten more squirrelly about flying. So the drive sounded like a nice way to decompress and get from point A to point B.

When I told my parents that I intended to drive from City 1 to City 2, I was again told not to come because I didn't understand the severity of their situation, the stress that they were under, and that I had "complicated things unnecessarily." There are parking spaces by their house, so it's not a logistical problem, and even if it was the severity of the response was out of proportion. The only way the visit can go forward without a lot of conflict is changing my plans so I fly from City 1 to City 2 and probably an apology on my part. I'll miss being able to drive up as I was looking forward to it. But part of me just feels like saying, no, I won't come.

So... Should I just take them at their word and cancel? Part of me feels like I should go in order to see my dad, even if they're acting irrationally, but I just feel really tired right now. I would understand if this was something completely new, but this is part of a very long pattern of behavior that pops up in much less dire circumstances--when my family is under stress, they tend to demand total control and if it's not given, they take it out on others, often in very cruel ways (name calling, slurs, even physical restraint). This is bringing up a lot of old bad memories. I do have another opportunity to visit, but my dad's illness is progressing and I wonder if he will be ok in a month or so. I don't even know if I'm upset about not seeing him or upset that we're not able to have an adult relationship where I can drive a car in peace.

I'm not really thinking clearly about this so hopefully someone here has been through it or can give me a knock on the head.
posted by kingdead to Human Relations (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think this is a situation you can navigate without having some regret over how it all went down. If you stick to your plan and drive their you'll get to see your father for perhaps the last time but there will be upset over you not flying. If you fly then you'll always think that you caved in to them for no good reason this one last time. If you don't go at all you'll have the regret of not seeing your father that last time.

My inclination would stick to my original plan and drive there but I don't know your parents and for how long they'd be upset over it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:26 PM on March 14 [14 favorites]

Don't let anyone gatekeep you. This is your dad! You get to see him whenever you and for however long you want to see him. Just... get a hotel room, etc. but do go and see him however it is convenient for you.

And then let the rest of your family know what your plans are, ask if they are available at the time you can make it to their place, and if they're not, they're not. They don't get to dictate the rest of your travel plans.

But whatever you do, please please please don't cancel your trip. Go see your dad. You only get the one.
posted by MiraK at 1:27 PM on March 14 [25 favorites]

I'm not really sure why they need to know how you're getting from City 1 to City 2? Or how they would find out unless you tell them?
posted by mskyle at 1:30 PM on March 14 [43 favorites]

I would prioritize seeing your dad, and I would not expect your parents to be acting rationally right now - I would also not tell them more than the minimum information they need to know since they are likely overwhelmed with medical information right now. Let them know when you'll be there, don't tell them anything more.
posted by coffeecat at 1:30 PM on March 14 [50 favorites]

Although I’m all for advocating for your autonomy and freedom from parental control in most situations, this is one where honestly in your shoes I might just tell them you’ve gotten plane tickets, and then at the last minute “change your mind” and rent a car. You’ll be leaving them at that point anyway, they don’t need to know or care exactly how you do it. If you think this might be one of the last times you see your dad, you can absolutely choose to tell a white lie or two and opt out of the power struggle.

But I only say that because you sound to me as if you really do want to go, at least in part. If you’re feeling more relief than anything at the idea of not going, then it’s okay to just not, given that you are anticipating abusive behavior from the people you are visiting.
posted by Stacey at 1:33 PM on March 14 [15 favorites]

Any chance they're upset, consciously or not, that your visit will be shorter than it technically could be? That you're not trying to use as much of the time you have as you can on your dad?

Anyway, I'd go. Better to try than not to, and it's not something you'd get to redo. I think it helps to go in with a mindset of forgiving them in advance for the bad behavior they might pull and resolving to remember the good things as much as you can. I know it's not easy, though. But I'd still rather have that than regrets.
posted by trig at 1:42 PM on March 14 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Popping back in because I think it was unclear--I'm flying out to see them. I was going to rent a car in their city, then when I was done visiting them, drive to another city. Then I would fly back to my place from the second city. The only change in plans was driving to City 2 instead of flying.

The response was that making these plans was selfish and didn't reflect the reality of their caregiving situation, so I shouldn't come.
posted by kingdead at 1:52 PM on March 14

I would go, I would say I was driving to the airport and....just keep going. Or go to the airport and pick up a rental car there. If you really want to get technical check what flight you "would be" on.

My mom gets really weird about logistics when stressed out, especially other peoples that has nothing to do with her. Honestly I just dont share/listen/ go with Coffeecat that the less she knows the less she can stress about.

I am also an uncomfortable flyer and would make the same choice you are. Go see your Dad. I hope you both get what you need and this is the most of the drama.
posted by zara at 1:53 PM on March 14 [14 favorites]

Don't cancel. I'm sure they don't actually want you to cancel. No parent is going to feel bad about their kid saying, "I don't care that you said not to come, you don't have much time left and it's important to me to see you again." Canceling would be like saying that visiting your other relatives and going on a scenic drive are more important to you than seeing your dad.

I don't understand at all why they care if you drive vs. fly and it sounds like you don't either. That makes it hard to say whether it's important to cave on the car rental thing. If you really think they would be so upset about you renting a car that it would keep them from getting any enjoyment out of your visit, I guess it might make sense to cave and do what they want. But I would be inclined to go with one of these options instead:

Lie and tell them you're flying, then rent a car instead and arrange the logistics so they never find out the truth. When you go to pick up your rental car and leave, tell them you're going to the airport.

Lie now and tell them you're flying, then tell them when it's time to leave that you changed your mind.

Tell them you tried to get plane tickets but there weren't any reasonably priced fares available and/or the flight times were really inconvenient. Maybe say flying would have meant you'd have to leave earlier and you wanted more time with them. If they say again that you shouldn't come, just say, "I've already bought my tickets and I want to see you, so I'm coming." And then go. They're not going to tell you to go away when you show up at their house.

Say, "Oh, you think flying would work better for you? I'll look into that," and then never mention anything more about your plans after leaving City 1.
posted by Redstart at 1:59 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]

I would go. When my dad was dying, my mom told me several times not to bother going. I eventually did, and it was too late.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:04 PM on March 14 [17 favorites]

The best approach might be to stop sharing any logistics with them other than when you will be at their house visiting. It seems like the talk about City 2 and the relatives there are stressful for them. It sounds like you've put a lot of work into complicated logistics, but they are reacting to whatever conflicts or hostilities they have with those folks, so any mention of the City 2 and those relatives, even seemingly benign, is going to start this whole conversation again. You don't have to lie and say you aren't going, but just be vague and bland and talk around it. Or lie if need be. ("Oh, my plans changed. I've got it sorted.") But just, stop talking at all about the other visit. Your reasons for going are completely legitimate, and they don't need to know anything about it. You're (unintentionally) pushing some sort of reaction button with them whenever this comes up, and they can't be rational about any of it, even if it doesn't impact them ("If you want to visit them and don't accept our squabbles with them as worth exiling them, you must not love us" or whatever).

You are sharing more information than you need to with them, probably out of habit, and behaving in reasonable ways, but they are unreasonable, so you will need to adjust accordingly. Give them the most basic bits of information for them to plan around your arrival, and don't mention anything else.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:08 PM on March 14 [36 favorites]

I think they’re upset that you’re using this visit (potentially your final visit) to “tag on” other stuff (go see other family, sightsee on the way to point B). I’m not saying they are right to be upset, but I can kind of understand it. They got upset a second time about the car info because it was reopening a painful topic they’d just pretended to be okay about.

They don’t need to know anything about your travel plans. Tell them you cancelled the other stuff, avoid the subject, whatever. Just say “I’ll be there from x to y, see you then.” Turn up.

I’m sorry, this must be stressful.
posted by distorte at 2:14 PM on March 14 [48 favorites]

My parents are like yours. They are treating any time on Their Coast not spent with them as insulting. Whatever, that’s one option.

If this were me, I would go. I would be relentlessly cheerful:

“Hi guys! Looking forward to arriving on the 12th!”
“Don’t bother since you are not here for exactly 168 hours.”
“Oh don’t be silly, of course I’m coming to see you. I want to spend time with dad.”
“Well we won’t be home if you come”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I love you, and I’ll be there in town. I’ll text you from the airport.”

The key skill for me is to bypass the bullshit and start in my truth, kindly:

“If you’re only able to take dad to rehab 3 days a week then I’ll just get someone else to drive him.”
Me: “I hear you, but I love dad. I do want to be there for him the three days I can. So why don’t I just start Thursday and you can let me know.”

Is this exhausting? Yeah. Do I have backup plans if they actually do block me (never happens.) For sure.

I’m this situation though this would be my mental pathway. My parents have mental illnesses that have impacted me badly, but for me part of recovering my personal power has been to choose my path both away from them and towards them. For me, when I think of my parents dying (and my dad almost did), I want to have shown up and just - be there to the extent they allow it. So I would do that.

From here on out, put them on an information diet.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:17 PM on March 14 [55 favorites]

You are right they are being pretty darn odd about this, and it sounds like their history of poor/unkind behavior makes this particularly stressful. However, you already have your flight booked to their city, you might not get another chance to see your dad—or at least not at the same level How was it of health/capacity that he has currently—and it would probably feel really strange to go to their city, but not visit them so presumably you’d also not be seeing your brother and your other relatives if you canceled. Given all that, I would advise you to go and if flying, rather than driving, really is the key to peace here then I would be inclined to go that route. It may end up being a good visit or it may not be, but this seems like a time when you might look back and feel like it wasn’t the right battle to pick.
posted by pie_seven at 2:18 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

when my family is under stress, they tend to demand total control and if it's not given, they take it out on others, often in very cruel ways (name calling, slurs, even physical restraint).

If you have access to a car while visiting your parents, then you can come and go as you please (including taking a break from them if/when they become abusive) and they can't exert physical control over your movements while in their city.

If it were me, I'd probably cancel, but you're not me.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:35 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

By the way, it sounds like you're feeling frustrated and hurt by all this, and that's okay. My inclination in this kind of situation is to say, "Okay, then. Catch you on the flip side." However, "this kind of situation" doesn't ordinarily include a dying parent I might never see again. If you choose to overcome the hurt and frustration, to act like an adult when your parents apparently can't, then you will be doing a good and kind thing for them.
posted by praemunire at 2:39 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]

I have so much sympathy. Not sure I have much that’s new to add here, just echoing the others — ignore the protests as best you can, make the trip happen, try not to ruminate over the things that don’t go well despite your best efforts.
This is one more step on the path of your parents coming to depend on you as (one of) the adult(s) in the room — and with a family with mental health issues, I know this path is a different kind of hard —but making your own travel arrangements, and not giving them a heckler’s veto, is all part of that path.
posted by eirias at 2:42 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Go, still go. Your dad's health is the key factor here. They are being super weird (like, I literally cannot understand the rationale for their complaint) and it might be unpleasant but you'll have seen him. It sounds like being able to go one last time is important to you, and it does not sound like a later visit is guaranteed.

Dealing with family members' jealousy about your good relationships with others sucks, but I'm glad you'll have that time with these other relatives on the other side of the visit. The good thing about driving is that if your parents become abusive while you're there you have the flexibility to pick up and go- saying goodbye doesn't have to mean you're there for the entire planned time. Best of luck to you; I'm sorry you're having to deal with this during what's already a loaded and difficult time.
posted by wormtales at 3:00 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]

I agree they're probably taking you not spending the entire week with them as abandonment, and then you took away one more day just for the pleasure of driving. I also have relatives where time limits like that are strictly necessary. Considering the situation I'd probably still go but not mention any other plans again.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 3:17 PM on March 14 [19 favorites]

I think they are behaving so weirdly and repellently that no blame attaches to you no matter what you decide. I hope that's some small comfort, because wow, they are making an already-fraught situation so much more fraught than anybody (including them) needs it to be.

I suspect also that you are in a no-win situation with respect to them. If you do follow their direct instructions and cancel, I predict they will put the worst possible construction on it, something like "wouldn't visit dying father what an awful disrespectful disloyal child." (My mother pulled some stuff like this -- not, thankfully, as severe -- on me before her passing. I've forgiven it because she was really not in her right mind due to illness and medication reactions, but it was pretty awful at the time.)

So you do you. If you can't win, minimize the losses to yourself. I'm not totally sure what that means for you based on your question, so I won't opine, but I emphatically aver that you get to decide it.

If you do go, I think the information diet suggested by several commenters above is the move that will limit the damage as much as it is limitable at this point -- they can't seem to hear about your brother and other relatives without stressing out and popping off, so the kind thing for all concerned is just not to bring those folks to their attention.

And I absolutely agree with heatherlogan that even if you do grab a plane ticket between Cs 1 and 2, you want that rental car while you're in C1. If they start in on you, as seems not-unlikely based on what you say of their past behavior, you need to be able to nope out immediately, not staying even as long as it would take to get a taxi.
posted by humbug at 3:20 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

Wow, my family would 100% do that! Right down to telling me I have to fly! I am so sorry your family is like that, it’s exhausting.

I don’t think you can win here, either you don’t go and it becomes a thing that you “wouldn’t do the one tiny thing we asked” (based on my family) or you do go and “wouldn’t do the one tiny thing we asked” (based on my family). You will lose either way, the game is rigged! So do what you want, and that feels like seeing your Dad while you can, taking a nice drive, and seeing family you also want to see.

I’m sorry about your father.
posted by lepus at 3:26 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]

My parents were very controlling too, about things that were not their business... it was exhausting. It took a lot of effort to get them to back off, and in your circumstances you don't have time for that.

So, go, and don't explain your further travel plans that they're being so weird about. So far as they're concerned, you show up at their door on day X and you leave on day Y. Don't talk about City 2 or how or whether you're getting there.
posted by zompist at 3:48 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

From their perspective, you have chosen to cut short what might be your last visit with your father by nearly an entire day, because you want to see some scenery. So you may as well not come then, if you don't care that much. THIS I think is what I imagine they may be thinking. I agree it would have been better not to tell them that.

Everyone is different and sees things differently. I don't know what your relationship with your parents is. Just offering an option about where their thoughts might be. Try to remember they just got traumatic, life-altering news. I don't understand people who are ascribing various manipulative reasons for their reaction. We don't know them. EDIT: I apologize, I just went back and realized I missed the final few sentences. But, it's still traumatic news and the last time you might see him. Hopefully they were not terrible ALL the time. Most of us are terrible at least some of the time.
posted by Glinn at 3:57 PM on March 14 [14 favorites]

I fully support your right to do whatever you want, it’s your life. And I understand everyone’s family dynamics are different, and some parents can truly be toxic.

BUT I think you are being insensitive and selfish here. Your dad is dying, your mom is going through the grief and trauma of caring for her dying husband and coping with his impending loss. Meanwhile, you’re planning your trip with one foot out the door as soon as you get there. If ever there was time to be there for your family, this is it.
posted by gnutron at 4:19 PM on March 14 [18 favorites]

I am going to gently echo gnutron and glinn, with the caveat that you know your relationship with your parents best. It is possible that they are saying "don't come" as a defense mechanism. They may view your goal to maximize time with other people on this trip as hurtful, as if visiting your dying father was an insufficient reason to justify a trip. It may have given them the feeling that you are selfish, in that you didn't think about ways your visit could help them. (Caregiving is exhausting - your mom may need some help.) It may have hurt their feelings that you are seeing this as an opportunity for a vacation, when they feel sad and trapped.

It doesn't sound like you harbor animosity toward them, so I'm guessing this wasn't the message you intended to send. However, when someone (anyone) is in a bad headspace, such as when they are entering hospice, they are unfortunately more likely to take a negative perspective on the situation. And honestly... it came across that way to me, and I don't think I am in a bad headspace.

Stop talking about any of your other plans with them. Focus your conversations with them on THEM. Make it clear to them that this visit is about your dad, and wanting to spend time with them and help them. Refocus your energy on how you can support them through the end of life process.

Having witnessed several people go down the hospice path, I regret absolutely none of the time I spent with them - it was ALWAYS to my (and hopefully their) benefit, even if it was hard.
posted by samthemander at 4:33 PM on March 14 [17 favorites]

Could you take your parents at their word and not visit the rest of the family? Prioritize visiting your parents, not the rest of the family.

As to how it makes things more difficult for them, logistically or otherwise, you don't need to understand the details. You just need to believe your parents when they react. You don't live near them, you don't know all that goes into their situation, including, who knows, any mental stress by even hearing about other family. Maybe there was a recent argument with a relative which you don't know about. There's a thousand possible explanations, and the point is, you don't know the explanation that goes to this situation. So believe your parents and prioritize seeing them over everything else. Does that mean missing out on seeing other family while being in the general area? Yes, quite possibly. Does that suck? Sure. But you haven't really given a reason to reject your parents' wishes, so put them and what they want first.

(And no one ever said you need to tell your parents everything, including your plans after you finish your visit with them. In your position, I don't think I would say "And after I'm done visiting with you, I'm going to visit people you don't get along with.")
posted by Meldanthral at 4:50 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]

So this is kind of a big ask, but would be viable within my family: could you ask your brother and the other relatives in City 2 to come visit you while you are in City 1? They could potentially fly or take a train between cities depending on infrastructure, and the group of them could travel together so nobody has to be fully alert the whole time.

Get a hotel room in City 1, even if you don’t sleep in it while focused on your parents. You can use it to decompress during the day or early evenings, and knowing you have a separate space to go can be a great comfort when handling volatile parents, letting you let things drop that would otherwise fester if you had to sleep on their couch or whatever.

Then, when your other relatives arrive in the city, you can use the hotel room as your base, to spend time with them not in a public place. Maybe they just come for an overnight, or a day, and you all go do something touristy or special like visit a favorite restaurant or see a performance. Maybe just your brother comes and you do some goofy old people video chats with your other relatives together.

My brother and I are pretty close and I would like to think that we will support each other as our parents begin to die. Right now our relationships with our parents are pretty good, but if one of us were on the outs with them we would still want to do what we could to help the other sibling out, so he or I could be in a better position to deal. Like, I’m the one who probably would end up with our parents mad at me before they die (politics, yo) and my brother lives in the same city as them. If my mom or dad were immediately dying I would still want to visit my brother to do what I could for him, even if I weren’t going to see my parents. He’s the one who will be alive afterward, anyway. Hopefully all of that is hypothetical for me, but in your case maybe your brother would be up to coming to you.

I’m sorry you’re having to navigate this minefield of familial angst. Once you get to City 1 and see what’s up in person with your parents you might get a new perspective and decide to change your plans one way or another. Try to stay flexible and do stuff like invest in returnable tickets and cancelable reservations.
posted by Mizu at 5:41 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

From the question:

this is part of a very long pattern of behavior that pops up in much less dire circumstances--when my family is under stress, they tend to demand total control and if it's not given, they take it out on others, often in very cruel ways (name calling, slurs, even physical restraint). This is bringing up a lot of old bad memories.

Given this history with your parents, I think you should do whatever it takes to give yourself the most inner peace. That might mean going and just not telling them about your plans, or it might mean staying away and visiting at another time. Only you know, and only you can take care of yourself in this. You have the right to do that, even if it makes your parents uncomfortable.
posted by rpfields at 6:05 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]

I recently lost a parent, so I'll acknowledge this is colouring my view of the situation.

Your parents are at the very centre of the Ring of Care. This obviously impacts you significantly, too, but at the moment, in their perspective, you are bringing them problems rather than care. Their reaction might seem irrational or overblown to you; if ever there is a time to give grace to family members who can be difficult at times, it's now.

Go see your dad, and make the trip as long as you can. Forget about the other relatives for the moment. We never know how much time we have with others, sure, but you do know that you have little time left with your dad specifically.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:51 PM on March 14 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers! It's good to get an outside perspective, because when you're in it, you just can't tell. After some consultation and a lot of fraught texting and calling by my parents, my brother made the suggestion to just pick up the car after the visit in City A is over, then drive it to City B. That way, there will no longer be any anxiety about parking the car. There is actually room to park the car, but my parents are extremely worried about their neighbors and HOA (they have a borderline conspiracy theory about the gym in their retirement community).

I do have to admit that after doing some caretaking visits in the past few months I was trying to conserve some energy with this one. My mom has high levels of anxiety at the best of times and when she's been in other stressful emotional situations, she's taken it out on others (I and other female family members have been called various kinds of nasty, selfish bitches; after I told her I was bi, I also got to get called a dyke, so that makes me unique, I guess). Having a fun road trip and some other relatives to see on this trip made it easier to face that prospect.
posted by kingdead at 8:03 PM on March 14 [13 favorites]

Kingdead, the context of your previous caretaking visits help me further understand your position. I can see their perspective, but still am finding myself more aligned with yours now.

I will share with you an anecdote from our life. In 2019, my husband’s beloved father passed, with my husband’s aunt (his sister-in-law) visiting for an extended period to support for the duration of hospice. In 2022, my husband’s beloved mom entered hospice, with my husband’s aunt at her side as caretaker. Our family was wracked with repeated, early losses (they were in their 60s). My husband and I only lived an hour and a half away, so we were there often and also stayed at their home for weeks with the aunt, as the walls closed in.

Then, the aunt became sick. We have called and visited, of course, and love her deeply. But the idea of seeing her in hospice, after she was there for my husband’s parents’ hospice… somehow, it cut so much deeper. When we got the call that she had entered hospice, we rearranged our jobs last minute (which was stressful, it took us each 4-6 weeks to get back on track after this) and found childcare for our preschoolers so that we could make the 7 hour drive to visit her. At 10pm, with only 1 hour to go before arriving at her home, we decided to stay the night at a roadside hotel. We needed a break. A pause, for us, to prepare. It is really hard to enter those situations, even if it is important and good and needed.

It’s ok if you need to build in your own pauses.

Sending you hugs through this challenging time.
posted by samthemander at 8:55 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

As someone who lost a parent recently, I know this is a stressful situation.

But the stress will pass.

The chance to ever do "more right" will also pass. You don't get a do-over.

So, this is the time to do as right by him as you possibly can. Be the best kid you can be for him. Whatever that means... it might mean you grit your teeth and put up with more shit from your mom, it might mean you inconvenience yourself more, it might mean you don't get to have a car and just walk or spend money on ubers when you need a break, it might mean you miss out on a nice drive to another city or a fun road trip or a hangout with fun relatives (until next year) because you make the choice to spend a couple more challenging days in a difficult house, BEING THERE with your mom to give her some respite as she loses her life partner, which might mean letting her be mean to you to discharge some of her terrible stress. And it might mean literally BEING THERE with your father and holding his hand, for as many days as you have, as he spends his last weeks on this earth.

Guaranteed it will be uncomfortable and difficult. But.... this is it.

You don't get another chance after the person dies. Don't half-ass it.

This is the moment to be as THERE as you can.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:02 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]

Grieving is like trying to carry a mixing bowl full to the brim with water. It spills out however careful you try to be onto anyone who happens to be in range. Do go, try to follow all the nonsensical instructions, and be as helpful as you can. Expect to spill from your own bowl and expect to be spilled upon from other people's bowls. Forgive everyone, including and especially yourself. Be as kind as you can be to everyone and notice kindness from others. You will remember all the small kindnesses later, and it will comfort you.

My father's sister behaved extremely provokingly after he died. I got outsized enraged with her and stayed in a fury for weeks. Later I realized that her simply being around and being her uniquely irritating self at precisely the worst possible time was actually a great service to me because it gave my overwhelming feelings somewhere to go. Now when I remember her at that strange time, I mostly remember a brief, quiet moment we spent comforting each other and that memory is inestimably precious to me.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:53 PM on March 14 [11 favorites]

I wonder if you could be in a bit of denial about the imminent death of your dad?

If I'm hearing this correctly, you have what's likely one week of time to spend physically with him on earth, seven days and that's it. Then, of those seven, you're planning to instead spend three with another set of relatives in good health, plus your brother. And spend one more of the seven doing a scenic drive to their place.

I don't know, it does sound like your mom has been acting out at some points-- but I do kind of understand the deep hurt of your child saying they're cool taking half of their seven remaining days with you and using them on a relaxing solo drive + a visit to somebody else. The passive-aggressive "well don't come at all then" would be trying to manage the cognitive dissonance around having to feel the bond with you but then also feeling painfully, obviously rejected by you, in a situation where almost everyone would say they deserve to be the priority.
posted by Bardolph at 3:19 AM on March 15 [9 favorites]

I just want to say it's all right. You can do everything perfectly and still people will get their noses out of joint. Months after my mother died, my father called me, all upset over some clueless thing my cousin said about her illness and death. I was surprised to even hear from my father because he was basically not speaking to me at that point over some other issue. I asked if we could sort of draw a line and not bring up grievances from that period because it was hard for everyone, but he just ignored that suggestion. Anyway I was more talking to myself, trying to persuade myself to cut my father some slack because his wife had just died. But it was really hard with the amount of stupid stuff we kept falling out over.

A character in a novel I once read said that after her mother died, it was like "the ship went down and we all got into different lifeboats." That is definitely what happened to us; some relationships have never been the same since. In some cases that's fine.
posted by BibiRose at 4:19 AM on March 15 [7 favorites]

Much sympathy. FWIW, I think your road trip plan sounds great, and trying to keep your logistics and other plans off your parents' radar sounds like a good strategy.

Very much anecdata, but my dying parent didn't transform into a different person along the way, and I'd figured out a long time ago that we could do happy-families for about a weekend at a time. Looking back from a few years later, I do not regret being realistic about what I needed, rather than maximizing time together.
posted by mersen at 7:03 AM on March 15 [10 favorites]

Lot of advice above. The one thing I haven't heard said is that, well, in my case, elderly relatives in OK health lived in that state for like 2 decades. I would avoid conflating that with your father's situation (like just don't think of their elderly state as a reason you need to squeeze this in on the same trip).

I wonder if part of the stress on everyone is thinking of this as the Last Visit Ever. If it's not certain to be, then scheduling another visit after this one, if that's feasible, could take the pressure off of this one.
posted by slidell at 8:04 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]

I love slidell's idea to remove the pressure that this is the Last Visit Ever. This is actually also how we approached our visit with our aunt in hospice (which I mentioned above) - we prebooked plane tickets for a few weeks later, even before driving up. (Ultimately, though, that drive to see her did result in our Last Visit Ever)
posted by samthemander at 10:41 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]

My (non-abusive) parents were recently going through some stressful health times and when I mentioned I was going to do some extra things on my trip to see them they asked me to spare them the details and make sure my visit with them was as uncomplicated as possible.

I didn't feel it was an unreasonable ask for parents who are stressed out of their skulls. I'd guess yours simply don't have the bandwidth to worry about their child driving somewhere or interacting with family members they're on the outs with.

So honestly I would chill out about telling them all your plans. Make everything around your visit with them as basic and simple as it can be. They don't need to know what you're off to do afterwards.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:42 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry about your dad's diagnosis. No question, you should visit him.

Whether you choose to tack on a visit to other family members afterwards is another question. How you manage the logistics of that and how long you spend is up to you. But no matter what, don't talk about that other visit or the logistics to your parents.

I would start with deciding on how long you are going to visit your parents.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:33 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]

my brother made the suggestion to just pick up the car after the visit in City A is over, then drive it to City B. That way, there will no longer be any anxiety about parking the car

Oh, so the problem wasn't that you were going to drive, the problem was that you would be parking a car at their house, and they would rather you not have the car when you are visiting them? It doesn't seem like they conveyed that very well.

Just in case they have some other weird objection, you might want to go ahead and tell them that you are planning to fly. There's lots of things that might interfere with such a plan of course, for example you might inadvertently forget to actually purchase a ticket for this flight and forget to cancel your existing car reservation.
posted by yohko at 4:19 PM on March 17

You're (rightly) wanting to set boundaries with your family, and they are resisting with all their might. They are also not realizing that, for you, the drive will be a chance to unwind from your visit with them and process saying goodbye to your dad. Go, be positive with them, leave when you planned to, and drive like you want to. God bless you - I'm sorry about your dad.
posted by summerstorm at 7:28 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]

« Older the "undifferentiated mass of organic sensation"...   |   Anyone recognize this anecdote about Western... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments