FAQs #9

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Q9. My mother is dying now, from an inoperable brain tumor which has recurred for the third time. She is 79 years old and she understands that she is dying. She is at home with Hospice care. Mother has been active in the professional community here where she lives for the better part of her life. My question is, it seems that every time I read the paper I see another obituary for one of her long time friends. Mother is able to understand when we talk with her and though she can't articulate well, she is able to communicate with us. Is it a good idea to tell her about all her friends who are dying or would it be upsetting to her? it just seems so depressing to me; I'm afraid she would be sad. My brother thinks I should tell her, but I'm just not sure. What should I do?

A9. Karla Kauffman:
Since your mother still is alert and knows she is dying, you might consider talking with her about her thoughts and feelings about death in general. Is she able to discuss it as part of the cycle of her life? Does she see it as unfair and untimely? In other words, how resolved is your mother about her own death? This could give you clues about whether to bring up the news of her dying friends. Sadness is actually a healthy reaction as one faces death. It is a step in the acceptance of this finality. Good grieving allows for discussion of these losses and fears. Her sadness upon hearing the news would be appropriate. You might observe whether she declines conversation, or has other other signs of withdrawal as you discuss death. These could signal a depressive reaction which would call for intervention. — But sadness itself would not.

You might also want to consider how her dying is affecting you personally. It is easy for us to assume our loved ones react the same way we do to events, but that's not the case. Do you have someone with whom to talk about your own sadness and the immense loss you are facing? Once we are aware of and addressing our own feelings, we don't need to protect others from their emotions as much. Sometimes our parents are more ready to talk about this than we are.

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