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Living far away from ill parent

(21 Posts)
JessieMcJessie Tue 28-May-13 16:37:10

I live in Hong Kong, have been here for my job for almost 4 years. My Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer about 6 weeks ago (terminal diagnosis was instant, we had no idea she had it until then and she is only in her mid sixties). She has always been very happy about me living abroad and is not in any way pressurising me to come home, but I am at a loss about what to do.

Despite being on MN I don't have children so really my only responsibility here is my job. My work are broadly supportive but I can't just drop everything for however many months she may have left - we obviously don't really know how long that is anyway. In a way I'd rather spend time with her now before she really deteriorates, but of course it is also important to be there when the end comes. My brother lives close to her and is doing an amazing job at practical and emotional support, and keeping me updated, but it's not fair for him to shoulder it all. If I was in the UK I'd still be hundreds of miles away but I would be able to go up every weekend and judge for myself when was the right time to spend more time there. I've visited twice in the last 6 weeks and every time I leave I wonder if it will be the last time I ever see her.

Has anyone else been in a situation like this? What did you do?

Lozzamack Tue 28-May-13 18:13:10

I'm sorry your mum is having to cope with this shi**y disease and you are struggling on the other side.

I wasn't sure whether to reply to be honest.

I live in Singapore and my mum was seriously ill when I moved here. She had been diagnosed with lung disease and was actually in hospital the day I left. Her health continued to decline, I went back a couple of times every year. It got to the point that I worried every time the phone rang. She died about 5 years after I left, I was lucky to be with her.
I sometimes wonder if my being away added to her illness. Maybe if I had been home she may have lasted longer.

I know this doesn't really give you any answers but I know that being away from her I have always wondered "what if"? I also carry the guilt that I did not help more. It sounds as though you are being extremely sensitive and practical to your mum and the rest of your family but you also need to think of you now and how you will feel afterwards.

I wish you wellsmile

JessieMcJessie Wed 29-May-13 07:33:48

Thanks Lozzamack, I'm sorry for your loss but am glad you decided to share your story as it makes me feel less like the only one- so many of my social circle here have a seemingly endless stream of hearty parents arriving for holidays, weddings and new baby visits. But perhaps, judging by the fact that you are the only one who has replied, people just don't talk about the sad stuff.

Sibble Wed 29-May-13 07:50:21

Hi I wanted to acknowledge your post. I have not been through what you are going through however we have been in NZ for nearly 11 years during that time my Grandmother has been acutely ill and died, my Grandad died in January and my Dad had a major heart attack a Christmas. My Grandparents were obviously old and that eased things somewhat, my Dad - mid 60s, fit and seemingly healthy came as a bolt out of the blue. I am not trying to compare that with a terminal illness but wanted to acknowledge that dealing with the guilt of being so far away, not being able to help, not being able to get to the hospital if needed at relatively short notice is one of the hardest things about living so far. Early this year was the closest I have come to telling DH we needed to move back. I have told DH that if my Nan (who is 90 but bought me up) becomes ill I will go back to look after her, with the dss, he will stay here until we return. Of course when the time comes I may change my mind but at the moment that is my plan.

I don't have an answer except to say inside you probably know what you would like to do and the only right thing is to do what is right for you. Moving back doesn't have to be long term - could you take a sabbatical, extended leave or similar to leave your options open?

Thinking of you.

TanteRose Wed 29-May-13 07:56:32

So sorry to hear about your mum sad

this is something that I dread, but I guess I will have to face it when the time comes (my parents are 80 and 76...)

A friend of mine here in Japan decided to go back to the US to care for her terminally ill mother, leaving her (Japanese) DH and teenage DCs here for nearly 6 months. She worked for the family business with her DH and discussed the situation with her family on both sides over a few weeks before making her decision.

She always says how glad she was to get to spend time with her mother during her final months.

sending you strength smile

BadgersRetreat Wed 29-May-13 16:03:58

I live in Canada and Dad had terminal cancer when we moved here. He was diagnosed when we were waiting for our visas - like you one day fine, the next terminally ill. sad

i had a big wobble about leaving but he told me off (!) and said he'd be really cross if we missed out on our big chance to live abroad because of him, and that we should go, no question.

i kind of knew when i left that i wouldn't see him again, and he died 5 months later. We were in the air over the Atlantic on the way to him when he died. I swear he knew and waited till we were on our way...

NulliusInBlurba Wed 29-May-13 16:34:29

After 20 years of living in another country I can definitely say that doing serious illness, impending death and funeral flights back are the shittiest part of it all. In that time I've done flights back for both my parents, two grandparents and an aunt. DH has done the same for both parents, a brother, and two uncles. The situation is only 'solved' at the point we've reached now - when there is really nobody left in either of our original countries. And that's tragic.

I was in your situation last year, except that I live a lot closer (mainland Europe, so it's quicker and cheaper to fly back) and have school-age kids (so I have commitments as a mother as well as a daughter/granddaughter etc). When my mum was dying last year it was horrible, but I had to be ruthless at a certain point because otherwise my kids would have suffered - in the end I was away from them for over a month spread over several trips, and they found it really difficult, even though they knew why I was there. We changed our summer holiday at the last moment so we went for a fortnight to where my mum was in hospital (yay!), did trips out every day and went to the hospital each evening for visiting hours.

Where it gets really difficult is when you've been told to come over, this is it, end is nigh etc, so you go over, and then the parent or whoever just lingers on and on for several weeks, and you're at risk of losing your job or damaging your own children (we have absolutely no family or other support where we live, and DH works, of course). At some point you have to decide to come back. A friend made that decision after being at his mum's bedside for a month and she then died the day after he left. For both my parents I was on a plane on the way over to the UK when they died. It's shit, even knowing that they wouldn't have been aware of my presence. Sorry I can't offer more inspiration. If you are in any way able to take a sabbatical, I would do so in your position.

xyla Wed 29-May-13 17:49:54

I'm sorry you are going through this.
In my opinion (as someone who lost her mum a few years ago), you'd be better off spending some time with her now, doing things that she's always wanted to do, or even just pottering around the house, being with each other in a normal way.
I think it'd be better to have that time and those memories than to just remember the end.

outnumberedbymen Wed 29-May-13 19:48:54

Hi jessie I haven't posted until now because I just didn't know how to express myself...

I went through something very similar a few years ago, with the slight difference that I lived a little closer.

I'm originally from Germany, but I moved to the UK after finishing school and thought I'd be there for good. My mum then got diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, though not terminal at that point. In 2006 it had spread. 2007 ds1 was born. Thankfully I was not too far away and me and ds1 hopped on a plane every couple if months.

My mum's health started to deteriote as I was pregnant with ds2. That's when I persuaded dh to move back to Germany. It was a big ask as it basically meant that he would not be able to finish his phd! But he did, found a job, miraculously very close to my parents, and we moved over end of 2008, 4 weeks before ds2 was born.

My mum actually lived for another 2.5 years after our move, even met ds3. I am eternally grateful for the time me and our dc had with my mum. It was definitely the right decision. Not always easy, because, all of a sudden I was the sibling nearest to my parents after years of being the furthest away.

If I was you I would definitely try to move back home. Cancer is. Unpredictable. You just don't know how quickly or how slowly it progresses. And from the sound of your OP, I think you would regret it if you didn't.

Good luck trying to reach a decision that's right for you. And so sorry you have to go through this sad

ZZZenagain Wed 29-May-13 20:04:17

This happened to me when dd was2. We were living in Germany and my motherc3as diagnosed with breast cancer which had spread tomthecspine. She was expecting to have another 2 years to live but took a sudden turn for the worst and died when we were on the flight over. It felt likecmy heart snapped in two. I never got to hug her and say good-bye. She kept telling me not to come, to wait till she felt better after all the chemotherapy. Ten years later and it really hurts , I am full of guilt.

My dad is in his 70s and has cancer. He lives very far away from us and I have no idea what to do. If I go to look after him, I have to leave dh behind. If I take dd at this age to another country where she has no friends, put her in a different school system and in a place where there are next to no opportunities to play music at a high level (which she currently does a lot of), I feel I am failing her and dh. I feel I have to go though. I don't know how long it will be for but I feel it will end up being the break-down of my marriage. Dh wouldn't come with us, too committed to his work here and just launched himself in a business venture which ties him up completely for the forseeable future.. DD will soon be 13 and I cannot mess up her exam preparation. I sympathise with you, it is very hard

outnumberedbymen Wed 29-May-13 20:31:57

Oh zzzen that is so sad sad
I remember going so see my dad's favorite aunt with my parents. We had just started on our journey when we got the phone call saying she had passed away. I can't even begin to imagine how you must have felt with your mum!

ZZZenagain Wed 29-May-13 20:40:06

it isn't easy for any of us, is it outnumbered - and cancer is so tough. If I had not been a mother, I would have gone earlier and for longer. I was worried about separating dh and dd for too long. I am sorry you have to make this decision Jessie. What kind of cancer does your mum have?

Lozzamack Thu 30-May-13 05:16:09

This really is a tough decision for you to make and I would certainly not try to tell you what you should or should not be doing. Everyone has their own way of coping and dealing with things.
A lot of the people here have said their loved ones died as they were travelling to see them.

I received a phone call totally out of the blue one Friday night while out for dinner, that my Dad was very seriously ill and I needed to get back. I got straight on a flight and was by his bedside Saturday morning. He was awake when I arrived and he was aware that I was there, he was also a little cross that I had come so far;) I stayed all day and through the night. The next morning some more family arrived and convinced me to go home and shower. I left the hospital but didn't get to the end of the road before receiving a call to come back. He had already gone. I was so angry. I had been with him all that time and he went when I left. My mum said it was because he knew I had left, he would not go while I was with him.
A few months later I received a call that I needed to go back for my mum. I arrived early on Thursday morning when she was awake and aware. I sat by her side and stayed with her, I refused to go home this time. Most of the family had stayed on Friday night and on Saturday morning they convinced me to go to the hospital canteen to get some breakfast. I told my mum where I was going and asked jokingly if she would like me to bring her back a bacon sandwich. She opened her eyes and looked at me, this was the first time she had opened her eyes since Thursday night. She didn't say anything and then closed her eyes. I felt so happy that she was OK, she had after all just heard me and looked at me. I left her with her sisters and went off. We didn't even reach the canteen. My aunt came running, shouting to me that she had gone. I ran back and began screaming at my mum for doing the same thing as Dad. Why?

I don't honestly know whether we have the ability to time our exit like this, my mum believed it and I think part of me does too. I do know that if my Dad had suffered a long term illness there would be no way he would be accepting of me coming back to take care of him - my mum on the other hand would have been very accepting and sometimes tried to manipulate exactly that.
There really is no right or wrong way to this. I lived thousands of miles away but was able to be with both of my parents at the (almost) end. Everyone who knows my story tells me I'm lucky to have been with them. I certainly don't feel lucky. Do I wish I had done more? Yes. Do I wish things had been different? Yes. But what exactly? I don't know. Losing a parent is one of the hardest things we have to face and to be honest whichever way you do it will be hard, you will never feel as though you did enough. I wish you well Jessie

and btw I totally get the point you made about not having anyone around you in a similar position. It is the same here, everyone I know has an endless stream of parents and in-laws out 2 and 3 times/yr. I think its an Asia thing;)

Cerisier Thu 30-May-13 06:13:32

So many sad stories. My heart goes out to you all sad.

We are in Asia and my parents are in their 70s and PIL in their 80s (all in the UK), I don't think any of them will be doing the long journey again as it is just too much now.

I am dreading the phone call coming, though I know it will at some point.

Jeezaloo Thu 30-May-13 06:22:44

Jessie So sorry you're going through this.

Some horrible situations on here, and I have another to add to the list. We were in Australia, had been for about 6 months and ready to settle, good jobs etc, when we heard that my dad had terminal cancer and DH's dad had 2 heart attacks. We visited the UK 3 times over the next 2 years, each time saying goodbye for the last time, until we'd had enough of dreading the early morning and late evening phone calls, and decided to head back to the UK for good.

Best decision we ever made - I got to spend a month with my dad before he died, and I wouldn't change it for the world. DH's dad made a full recovery.

We're living overseas again now and have a DS, and still dread those phone calls, and always make sure we have enough money in the account for a last minute flight home.

It really is the crappiest part of living away from home.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

JessieMcJessie Thu 30-May-13 07:35:04

So many sad stories, thanks to you all for replying. Zzzenagain how awful to feel that you are having to choose between your Dad and your marriage. For what it's worth are you sure that your Dad would want you to put your marriage at risk?

Lozzamack, interesting what you say about your parents' differing attitudes to wanting you there. In keeping with her " I brought you up, now go out into the world and do the things that I never had the chance to do" attitude throughout my life, my Mum is adamant that she does not want my life to change and I don't think she's just putting it on, so in a way if I go back now it might depress her more. She really hates being ill and losing independence and burdening others. I've also just (literally 3 weeks before she was diagnosed) had THE big promotion at work, the one that you work towards for all your career. I perhaps owe it to her to respect her wishes and not second-guess what I think she really needs - would going back to spend time with her really be for my benefit, not hers?

I've actually been through a version of this before - my Dad got Leukaemia in his early fifties just as I was about to go off on a secondment to Latin America (14 years ago). He told me that I had to go regardless but I managed to defer it for 6 months and I'll never forget how scared he seemed when I told him I was staying in the UK, as if I was staying because he was going to die. He did die three months later, very suddenly of an infection during chemo. I wasn't there because I was living in London and it was so sudden I didn't make it home to Scotland in time. If I'm honest I don't actually regret not being there at the end (which was not peaceful). My brother is scarred by it.

The difference with my Dad was that he had never been given a terminal diagnosis, whereas my Mum has. It's lung cancer (though she gave up smoking 25 years ago) and has already spread. As others have said, cancer is unpredictable and every time I go home she may feel it is a step closer to the end, and every time I leave we will have to face the possibility that we will never see each other again. We've lived very independent lives since I went to University and even including around the time that my Dad died I don't think I have ever spent more than a fortnight straight in the same town as her, so me not being around is the norm and suddenly to be there creating artificial mother daughter time would just underline how much life is no longer normal.

Sandgroper Wed 05-Jun-13 16:49:06

I agree with you so many sad stories and sadly one of the downsides to living in a different country from parents or family for that matter..

So sorry for your current situation and as you have been through this before don't you think it would be even more important to spend some quality time with your Mum, however ever long that is? Do you think you would regret it in the future if you didn't?

Am saying this as I too have been through two terminal illness, with my brother then my Dad. Living in the UK we have always said "that it is only 24 hours away", but when someone is dying it's a bloody long way!

My brother had cancer (lived here for 5 years) then went back to Oz. Was in remission then they found out it had returned, had a bone marrow transplant was doing better for 2 weeks then I got the dreaded phone call from DS, saying get on a plane as fast as you can. Luckily I was able to and just made it. I spoke to him before I left as he was semi conscious and told him I was coming home. By the time I got halfway there he had lapsed into a coma. I had 24 hours with him then he passed away. It was a horrible time.... That was 9 years ago and I still miss him very much.

Then returned to the UK and a few years later my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he would have 2 months to live.. This was such a shock as he had very rarely been ill his whole life. By this time I had DS1 (2) and was 4 months pregnant with DS2. Made the decision to leave UK and go home to spend whatever time I had left with Dad... 2 months turned into 4 then I got stuck and couldn't fly back to UK (DS2 was born there) and frankly wouldn't leave him. Luckily DH got a secondment with his company for 10 months so we could all be together. DS2 was born, then 2 days later Dad died.

Horrendous time and all I wanted to do was come back to my home in the UK, but I am so grateful that we turned out lives upside down and spent that quality time together. We have so many wonderful memories (even if the outcome was always going to be sad) and even now 5 years on I don't regret the decision....

Only you can decide what is right for you. Good luck!

Vincenzo5414 Wed 22-Jun-16 23:45:18

Hi, I am not sure I should post this here (I am a son, not a mom).
I am from Italy but I live in HK, 6 years so far.
Last March my mother of 58years old has been diagnosed with 4th stage metastatic breast cancer (her2 negative, spread to bones, liver, lungs). I only learnt about this last May. This is because of two reason:
1. My mom came to visit me regularly and she is happy of me being abroad. So she does not want me to worry and give up work.
2. My mom's doctor decided not to tell her the gravity of her condition(....). Since the start of chemotherapy he told her that with chemotherapy she could get better leaving some hope.

After I understood my mother was doing chemotherapy (April), I came back home in early May and met her original doctor in order to gather the full picture. I also made appointments with other doctors trying to understand if things could be improved. Unfortunately not.

Although I understand the doctor did not want to make her sad I am not sure my mother not knowing what is about to happen is the right thing.
She keeps telling me to go back to HK and then she will follow me as soon as she gets better. I see her getting worse day by day (she is more confused, forgets things) and I am worried of leaving. At the same time if I organise staying home for longer she will realise she is not making it (I already took two months of leave).

Should I think of telling her? it is three people taking care of her and two of them do not want to.

Apologies again if I went off topic/rules. If anybody has any suggestion I will appreciate it, thanks

crazyhead Wed 06-Jul-16 09:38:01

I'm so sorry Vincenzo. My mum died of a brain tumour last year -it was always really going to be a terminal diagnosis (grade 4 brain tumours always are) but to be honest, her and Dad never talked about it in those terms and I never quite knew if she knew she was dying. In brain tumour terms she was lucky - she had four years after her original diagnosis and treatment and was well for most of those.

The experience changed my views - I think it is actually very hard to know quite what your mum really believes and why. People have to face death in different ways.

Does your Mum have any carer who you could talk to about this quandary - her doctor or a cancer nurse? (I don't know the healthcare system in Italy).

If you decide that you can't talk to her, could you fudge it - just say that you have decided you want extra time in Italy?

The really hard thing about cancer (in the two cases I have seen) is that it is very unpredictable - some people live with advanced cancer for many, many years. Do you have any sense of the prognosis at this stage?

My mum was well and then she dying. I have been there and I feel for you deeply.


lemonpickle Thu 07-Jul-16 11:17:51

We had just moved to Asia when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. She already knew but hadn't told us! She'd had what she told us was a minor procedure but that didn't work. She told us at that stage and then she had to have a full hysterectomy and radiotherapy.

I felt very helpless. We had just moved and I had a two year son to consider too. Luckily, it wasn't terminal and my aunt offered to stay with her and look after her. I telephoned every day and just taking the time to talk every single day meant I felt close to her. I can't imagine what its like to have to deal with terminal cancer, I'm so very sorry. It must be a terribly sad time for you.

Laptopwieldingharpy Thu 07-Jul-16 19:11:52

Hi vincenzo, sorry to hear.
I'm also a Hong kong dweller. Came home to europe for holidays lady week and out of nowhere my dad was diagnosed this week and in hospital since this morning.
Does not look good.
I have a few weeks here to take care of him and fortunately we are three siblings and both of them are near him to support mum & dad.
We are slowly distilling information but decided honesty is best.
We and the Drs have made it clear that each case is unique and we all have to accept that we have to reasses week on week.
Would you be able logistically to have her near you and deliver the treatment in HK?
woukd she be happy enough to accept coming if you present the idea as an extended holiday?

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