Violin Sculpture

A Difficult Subject


Dear Tracey,

This is a grim letter to write but I feel I must. I need advice from someone outside of my family.

My mother, a widow for the last 15 years, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She is 80 and has all of her mental faculties, which somehow makes this even harder. She is very afraid of her situation. For now, she will continue to live alone but she has already made plans on how she wants her final days to be handled. It’s an amazing bit of organization she’s done, all things considered.

The problem is she doesn’t have a will and the last time I brought it up – months ago when she was very healthy and in good spirits – she got so sad that I dropped it. I haven’t mentioned it again and now, I think she’d really get upset. I feel like a vulture but it really needs to be done. She has some property and there are some family heirlooms I know she’d like to make sure are given to certain family members.

I am an only child so I can’t turn to any siblings for help. I love her so much – the last thing I want to do is make her feel even worse. How do I ever bring up this topic at such a terrible time ?

Broken-Hearted Daughter

Dear Reader,

Yes, you must be truly heartbroken to have received such devastating news about your mother.  I am very sorry for you both.

It’s to your mother’s credit that she has been so organized in other areas of her life. Because of this, it seems out of character that she is having difficulty facing this last, very important detail. I wonder what this is about for her?  Is there any family history of trouble regarding wills and inheritances? How did your father handle his estate? Are there other issues that might be getting in the way for her? Understanding what may be influencing your mother may provide you with a different way of approaching this difficult subject.

Then again, you may not be the one best suited to approach her. As her only child, it just might be that this type of discussion is simply too painful for your mother, no matter how logical it may seem to you.  Who else in the family would be a good person to address this issue? If not a family member, perhaps one of her friends could help you.

I certainly hope that your mother has been referred to Hospice. They are a wonderful organization that provides excellent care through an interdisciplinary team that typically includes your mother’s physician, a visiting nurse, a home health aide, a social worker, a chaplain, and a volunteer.  They will work closely with your mother and you to make sure that your mother’s pain is fully managed and that you are both supported throughout this entire process.

But Hospice workers are also quite capable of addressing your mother’s emotional and/or spiritual needs as well. These highly trained professionals and volunteers are caring, sensitive, and thoughtful people. Their only mission in life is to attend to whatever their patient requires. And they do so in manner that is both respectful and open minded. Hospice is not there to judge but simply to support and provide care. It is truly an amazing organization.

Which is why perhaps a member of your mother’s Hospice team may be the one to best broach this subject with your mother. Naturally, it will take some time for your mother to establish a comfortable relationship with her care providers but I’ve seen these relationships develop rather quickly too. The bond between patient and caregiver is unique and can be quite special. Speak privately to the social worker and express your concerns. Hopefully, he/she will be able to help you determine the best  way for this discussion to take place.

My thoughts are with you.

(Click here to return to The Second Half online archives)