QUESTION: My father and I have always had a difficult relationship. He is now approaching death. What do I do?
There is no perfect relationship. Life is a series of easy and difficult experiences. Some relationship are just more difficult than others.
Not knowing the specifics of your relationship I can only give general ideas for you to consider. They may not apply to your situation at all.
My first question to you is what do you want to do? Do you want closure, clarification, love, acceptance, understanding?
When a person enters the dying process their personality and generally, their outlook on life and relationships does not necessarily change. The person gradually becomes more withdrawn and less and less interested in life and relationships around them. They go inward and eventually are not responsive.
In the months before death you ask for what you want from your Dad. Have an open conversation about your feelings and wants. I don’t know your father’s personality but remember “you can’t get blood from a stone” so to speak. He can’t give you what he doesn’t have even though you want it.
As death gets closer he will be less inclined to process because he will be so withdrawn. I had a social worker tell me to “give what you want”. If you want closeness, be close. If you want love, give love. Clarification and understanding takes two people to interact so if you didn’t get it in the months before you probably won’t get it now.
In the days to hours before death (see the signs in Gone From My Sight) when your father is non responsive (it is easier to talk with someone who won’t argue back with you) talk to him from your heart. Tell him everything you have ever wanted to say to him. Talk about the challenges, your feelings, your wants from him in a relationship. Know some part of him will hear you and you will certainly feel better for having said what you need to say.
As life comes to a close we will all be asking ourselves internal questions: “Who have I touched, What have I done? What would I have liked to do differently?” By talking to your dad when he is non responsive you can get closure for yourself and you will be helping your father with the end of life reckoning that we will all process.