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Distance makes adult feel left out of dad's end-of-life care

In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says there's no reason this child shouldn't be able to see her father, who is now in hospice care.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
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Dear Carol: My dad and I were always emotionally close even after I became an adult. Three years ago, I moved 500 miles away due to my husband’s work, so it became harder to communicate since Dad wasn’t good with technology. I used to visit every month which helped, but of course, COVID distanced us.

Dad’s now in hospice care. Since we’re all vaccinated, I’m cleared to go, but my sister and Dad’s wife continue to hold me off. They say he’s still at risk even though I said that I’d wear a mask. Since he and I can’t communicate directly, I don’t know how he feels about this. I don’t want to alienate the family, but don’t I have a right to see my dad? — PW.

Dear PW: What a sad situation. My heart goes out to your whole family because of your dad’s condition, but particularly to you and your dad.

I don’t know your family history but from your description, there seems to be no reason why your visit would have anything but a positive effect on your dad. Having said that, maybe there are misunderstandings or negative feelings between your sister and you. This shouldn’t be a factor in your being allowed to see your dad at this time, but the human mind can justify anything.

It’s also possible that your sister has enjoyed being the on-site daughter so much that she no longer wants to share her dad. She might think, “I’ve been the one to take care of him all this time. He’s frail, so he needs his rest, and even vaccinated visitors are a risk.” This is selfish, but people can be selfish under such circumstances.



  • Older, sicker adults might want an additional end-of-life document In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says there's another document that tells emergency personnel exactly how far they can go to save your life.
  • Thinking of older parents as stubborn toddlers is sure to backfire In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says it's important to approach the discussion of moving to assisted living facilities with love and respect.
  • Grief over a death can hit again years later In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, a reader says they were recently struck by "enormous waves of grief" two years after both their parents died.

Another thought is that your sister and your dad’s wife seem to have bonded, so it’s possible that she’s the one who is resistant to your visit.
Whatever the cause, not being able to see your dad is unfair to you and to him. Therefore, try to start out with the attitude that they mean well and say something like, “I know that you’ve had a lot of strain caring for dad, and I deeply appreciate how you’ve cared for him. With all you’ve had to handle, you might not have had time to consider how important it is that we see each other at this time. I plan to arrive on…”

If that brings a negative response, try talking with the hospice chaplain. Chaplains are part of the hospice team and are trained to provide support for challenged families so that they can all say goodbye to the person they will lose.

I’ll add, though, that if your dad is very near death and gentler approaches haven’t worked, I’d simply tell them you are on your way and show up at the appointed time. If you're afraid of a scene, having the chaplain or someone else with you could keep the situation respectful because your dad doesn’t need to see his daughters feuding. Best wishes.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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