Caring for a Dying Son

A mother wrote to me about her son diagnosed with a life threatening illness, an illness not just life threatening but not fixable, a slowly deteriorating disease from which he will die sooner rather than later.

“I do not want my son to die, but I do not want him to suffer. I feel so guilty because I know what the only alternative is (other than an absolute miracle which is always a possibility). Some days I am okay, others I just cry on and off all day. I am at a loss of how I should feel or think. I didn’t really realize how a person could grieve before the imminent death” were some of her words to me.

I was so sorry to hear of the challenge she and her son were facing. Our children are not supposed to die before we do. I cannot think of any grief more intense than watching our child deteriorate before our eyes. We grieve their dying and eventual death while also grieving what never will be, what they won’t do, won’t experience, what they won’t become. We grieve a future they will never have. These are all normal thoughts and feelings but that doesn't make them any easier to deal with.

We grieve our losses before they ever happen and while we are doing this pre-grieving (for lack of a better word) we are looking for the miracle.

There are no words that can really make anyone feel better when life seems out of control and we are faced with an inevitable and unacceptable future. I can only suggest for this mother to love her son, to be there for him, spend time with him, and to talk with him about everything - good and difficult. This is the time to make memories, to treasure what time they have.

Treasure what time we have -- isn’t that really what we all need to do, every day, in all our relationships? If nothing else this pandemic is teaching us just how precarious life is.

Something More... about Caring For A Dying Son

The multi award winning NEW RULES for End of Life Care is an educational kit that teaches people how to care for their loved one during the end of their life. Knowledge reduces the fear of death and helps with grieving. New Rules For End of Life Care is an educational kit to be read and viewed at the patient’s home, in a nursing facility, hospice/palliative care unit or hospital.

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Esther Ideker

This is beautifully expressed – my heart goes out to this dear mother – and yes, this pandemic is teaching us all the precious gift of life.

Althea H.

One of my closest friends is watching her daughter die from cancer, one day at a time. Your essay said all the things I want to say to her so I sent it along. She is doing all of the things you suggested and is wrapping her daughter in love as she slips away. As always, thank you for your wisdom and guidance.

Cecilia Miller

Your books are SO worthwhile and helpful for caregivers and families. Thank you for writing them

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