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My estranged dad is dying of cancer

(26 Posts)
Fmlgirl Fri 09-Jan-15 14:03:05

Hi everyone,

I'm just looking from experiences of someone who has had similar experiences and to get this off my chest.

My estranged father is dying of pancreatic cancer and other cancer types because his cancer is now in the final stage. He's only in his 50ies.

I'm 31 and he has not been a brilliant dad but is generally a decent human being. He drank very heavily due to his childhood and was depressed a lot. My mother left him because he did not treat her very well. That was when I was about 13. He was never very involved, sent a card every few years but I felt so rejected that I just gave up on contact in my 20ies as I was very angry. Now 7 years later I get a message that he's dying. He doesn't have anyone else and I feel obliged to go there which I am doing next week.

I live abroad in the UK and he is in Europe. I'm only going for a long weeken but I have so many thoughts right now and whether I am being a terrible daughter and should give up my job to care for him? It would set me back massively in my career.

I feel terribly sorry for my dad. My grandfather died young of the same cause as well.

Thanks for listening, needed to get this off my chest.

CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 09-Jan-15 14:10:21

You can only do what is right for you and what will make you feel good about yourself going forward. Some people can be quite pragmatic about this kind of thing, do not feel any sense of obligation or the need to change behaviour just because there's a terminal illness in the mix. Others have a different perspective and find it helps if they have made their peace, however late in the day.

It sounds as though you may have to reserve judgement until you've been there for the weekend, spoken to him and spoken to the medical team. When you talk about giving up jobs to care for him, for example, that may not be a practical option if he needs specialist medical care.

Good luck

Wotsup Fri 09-Jan-15 14:12:51

I think you should follow your real gut instincts without worrying how it would look to others. Your passion is for your work so you shouldn't give it up. You will only end up resenting your estranged father even more as it seems you've had to give up enough already.

It seems like the weekend visit needs to be one of closure for both of you.


AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 09-Jan-15 14:29:42

I do not think you are a terrible daughter at all but he has really placed you in an awkward position.

Who sent you this message; he or some other intermediary?.

Do you really at heart have some overtly idealised image of your dad. It reads like that to me. Writing that he is generally decent human being seems to be somewhat rose tinted on your part particularly when he was drunk and violent to your mother and he was not around for you apart from sending you the odd card. His depression and drink went hand in hand.

What does your mum think now?.

I would certainly not give up your job to care for him; that may not be at all possible for you to do anyway because of the degree of medical care he may well need. Its not practical and besides which he likely does not want your help anyway.

What do you want to achieve from such a meeting with this man?. He may well not give you the answers you seek but even perhaps be nasty and blame your mother or you still. You need to go in there with no expectations at all re him.

If the position was reversed do you honestly think he would come to visit you?. I doubt it very much actually, alcoholics usually only think of themselves alone and alcohol is itself a depressant.

Why do you have such a degree of obligation to him at all?. Yes I do realise he is your Dad but he really has not been around in your life much if at all.

Even though your sense of obligation to him is strong I do not think you have to do any more now for him.

To help him you need to properly make peace with your own self first with regards to him. You did not cause him to act as he did; he himself did that .

AMumInScotland Fri 09-Jan-15 14:31:30

I think what is important is for you to have what contact with him you feel is going to help you and him come to terms with what your relationship is and what it hasn't been and both try to achieve a measure of peace about the ways life turns out to be less-than-perfect.

In the circumstances, I think it would really be quite strange for you to give up your job to care for him, and I can't imagine that anyone would expect it of you. After you meet and have a chance to talk, you can think about whether you want to phone or skype from time to time, or whether just this bit of time together is enough to both feel you have dealt with your feelings.

There's no rulebook on what you 'ought' to do, or what you ought to feel, and wouldn't be even if you had been close to your fatehr throughout your life. All you can do is take things as they come.

FeckTheMagicDragon Fri 09-Jan-15 14:33:26

I would go visit to make your peace with him, but no one would expect you to give up your life and job for someone who is essentially a stranger. This is not about revenge, or payback.

He made his choice as to how he lived his life. This had an impact on you, as a child and an adult. And you did not have the father that you needed or deserved.
I'm sure he would go back and change things if he could, but it's really not possible.
I'm sorry.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 09-Jan-15 14:35:49

This excerpt has been indirectly helpful to me in the past and it may help you as well:-

"I know a couple people who had difficult relationships with cold or mean parents, and when those parents reached the end of their lives, their kids felt a sense of urgency to get back in touch or reconnect in some meaningful way, and later felt guilt or regret at not having been able to "fix" the relationship when their cold or mean parents didn't reciprocate. Nevermind that the parent had done most (if not all) of the damage, and had been deeply and repeatedly unkind to their child throughout his/her growing up and adult years. From an outside perspective, I just wish there were a way to reassure these people that their parents made adult choices, and that the damaged relationship was part of those choices--that it is a very sad situation, but not a reflection of failure or wrongdoing on the child's part".

juneau Fri 09-Jan-15 14:38:25

I agree with Attila and MuminScotland. Go and visit, by all means, but given your history with your dad I think staying in some kind of contact will probably be enough as you've been estranged for so long. He has no one in his life because of the way he's lived his life - that's not your fault and its not your job to fix it for him or be the dutiful daughter. We reap what we sow in life.

FeckTheMagicDragon Fri 09-Jan-15 14:49:29

Also, speaking from experience here, be prepared for heart rending apologies, which quickly turn into guilt trips and demands. My now deceased father, also an alcoholic who was not nice to my mother (who left him as soon as we had all left home) fully expected that I leave my husband, move my school age DCs and go look after him when he became ill. He had also painted a complety false picture to the medical staff so I had to fend off their expectations that he would be coming home with me. He also had no one. Because he'd treated them all badly.
I felt very sorry for him, and the guilt and grief was bad, but it was a completely impossible scenario. In the end we arranged home care and visited. He had a long illness, and lived for several more years.
He never changed.

Meerka Fri 09-Jan-15 14:51:32

Agreed, go and make your peace. But there is no call on you to give up your job.

flowers a difficult time

newyear15 Fri 09-Jan-15 15:52:48

I have been through similar. One friend told me it wasn't my job to fix the relationship and that still resonates now. You have nothing to feel guilty about, and whatever you do now is fine. Do whatever you feel you want to and nothing more. And take care of yourself.

Fmlgirl Fri 09-Jan-15 16:02:54

Thanks a lot for your replies! I appreciate it.

Attila - I totally get your points and agree. The message was legit. Someone that knows his neighbour. I then called both the neighbour and him. He said that he sent me a parcel for Christmas but to my old address from years ago. He couldn't speak very well and is fed through a tube.

My mother strangely wants to join me for the visit. Perhaps to make peace as well. She remarried many years ago. I think in their relationship she cleaned up the mess for him a lot of the time so she probably still feels some sort of duty for him.

I feel an obligation because he is my family - at least in blood and that perhaps if I had tried harder with contact he wouldn't have gone off the rails that much.

newyear15 Fri 09-Jan-15 16:14:59

no - his behaviour is not as a result of you not trying harder with contact. You need to not go down that road. Everything he has done was his choice and nothing to do with anything you did or didn't do. You cannot do that to yourself. Why do you feel so guilty?

Meerka Fri 09-Jan-15 16:16:12

perhaps if I had tried harder with contact he wouldn't have gone off the rails that much.

It's very unlikely you know. Whatever made him go off the rails was deep within him. The Love Of A Good Woman doesn't work. It might be hard to think about this but he didn't treat your mum very well in the first place .. he might not have been quite the man you thought he was.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 09-Jan-15 16:20:10

I think your mother feels perhaps the same sense of obligation that you do but she may well be going to ensure that he really cannot hurt her any more. She certainly has her own reasons for going.

What you write is actually typical as a now adult of an alcoholic parent (and an estranged one who is now seriously ill).

"I feel an obligation because he is my family - at least in blood and that perhaps if I had tried harder with contact he wouldn't have gone off the rails that much".

No, no and no again.

You were never responsible for the behaviours and choices of another person and still are not. Your dad made a long series of poor choices for which you were never responsible. He has never apologised nor has he accepted any responsibility for his actions. His own father died of similar causes; you do realise that alcoholism can be learnt behaviour too?.

How could you have been at all responsible anyway for him at all, you were a child at that time. If anyone let you down here it was him. In later years you ceased contact with him and not through want of trying either; you got precisely no-where with him because he remains at heart a selfish individual who showed you no real interest. The occasional card from him was truly shameful behaviour on his part and another slap in the face for you. He is still selfish even now, such selfish men do not fundamentally change.

I think counselling for your own self to further unpick all this with regards to your dad would be of great help to you going forward as well.

Grieve instead for the relationship you should have had rather than for him as a person. I am truly sorry that you did not ever get the relationship you deserved from your dad, he abjectly failed you here. You are not at fault and you do not have to play the part of the dutiful daughter now. I would personally leave him to it. He was never a father to you was he, he put drink first above all else and infact his primary relationship was with drink too. Alcohol is truly a cruel mistress.

CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 09-Jan-15 16:31:57

" I would personally leave him to it"

But it's not your call and I don't think you should trivialise the concept of duty. For some people - and the OP may be one of those people - that last conversation with a rotten parent, however imperfect or unsatisfactory, is an important way to confirm their own values. Sometimes doing the duty is self-affirming.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 09-Jan-15 16:50:20

Many loved ones and friends who urge reconnecting with an estranged parent often speak as though forgiveness will heal past wounds. They warn of the guilt that will dog the victim if the perpetrator dies estranged. What such people fail to consider is the potential psychological cost of reconnecting, of dredging up painful memories and reviving destructive patterns.

There is no formula for defining obligations to parents who did not fulfil their own. OP can be caring and at the same time protect herself from potential further abuse or guilt trips. I certainly will not judge OP harshly if she did not go onto make peace with her dad.

TapDancingPimp Fri 09-Jan-15 16:56:15

Fmlgirl I could almost have written your entire post.

My dad is an alcoholic and I haven't had contact with him in over a year, due to a long string of events, the last one involving him not attending my wedding due to his drinking.

He has been in intensive care on a number of occasions due to his alocoholism and is living on borrowed time.

He has never been a good parent - rarely acknowledged me (or my brother) as children, treated our mum like dirt. He got violent with me in my early 20s and I vowed never to speak to him again....stupidly I gave him another chance when I had DD thinking he'd maybe changed but unfortunately he's still the same cold, selfish, bitter old man he's always been.

I know it' only a matter of time before we get a phonecall to say he's in hospital again (or worse). I know I'll be devastated when he does die, but how many chances can I give him?

It's a horrible situation to be in. Please feel free to message me any time at all x

CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 09-Jan-15 16:59:18

Neither would I judge anyone harshly for making the same decision. However, I think what often gets missed in these situations is that some people (not all) derive pleasure, satisfaction and a certain moral superiority or even detachment from fulfilling the duty in isolation. They're not forgiving anyone or expecting healing. There is no destructive pattern to revive when the subject is dead. The lasting memory is that they finished up as the bigger person

Fmlgirl Fri 09-Jan-15 17:22:30

I do need counselling.

The relationship with my mother was never brilliant either (although much better and regular contact) so you hang on to what little you can get from your parents. You see other people and how their relationship with their parents is so different and you feel cheated out of an important part in life.

juneau Sat 10-Jan-15 08:29:07

My mother has been in an abusive relationship for years. She won't leave or do anything to help herself. She has learned to be a victim and around my step-father she will always be utterly helpless, however much she rails about him in private. Your DM has her own reasons, but they may be simply that she wishes to give one last try at 'saving' your father. I wouldn't worry about her motivations, if I was you, but you should examine your own and please stop feeling guilty. Your father is an adult and has been one your entire life. He made his choices and he failed both you and your mother. This is not because either of you were not the people you needed it be. Its because HE wasn't the person HE needed to be. You do need some counselling if you can't see that. Good luck flowers

sheba2288 Sat 10-Jan-15 09:05:30

I was estranged from my father for many years, before he died of lung cancer, aged only 57. I did have the chance to speak to him, in fact my husband did so, but I refused.

I really don't have any regrets, as my father was DV, a gambler and generally a horrid abusive man.

As part of a big family, there was a sense of relief when he passed, as he could no longer bully us. But I know my younger siblings still hold fond memories of him and when conversation occurs that reference him, I don't cringe or mind, as each person holds a different view.

Don't feel pressured to give up your job/career to nurse him. A very honourable thing indeed but would your father appreciate your sacrifice. If he was a decent father he would certainly disagree with that idea.

Do what you think is right for you - no regrets after. Hope I've helped.

PS - agree with counselling too.

WildBillfemale Sat 10-Jan-15 10:16:08

I was estranged from my mother, nc when one day she got up in the morning and dropped to the floor dead.

Deep down I had always thought we would get back in touch again when the time was right as this was the general pattern. No contact for a period of time sometimes years then an attempt at a patch up.
Now a few years have passed and my anger at her has dissipated I can see she had her demons and I have a much better understanding of her behaviour.

What I wouldn't give just to have one last hug or converstion with her, or just the knowledge that we had tenuous contact with each other at the time of her death.
I think your Father will gain tremendous peace knowing you are going to visit him and you may find, in time that in doing this you have made some peace with him before he passes.

Maybe schedule a couple of visits, I don't think you should go to the extent that it impacts your life and career.
I got sick of hearing 'but she's your mum' when explaining to people we were estranged. People with good family ties can't understand that sometimes family relationships can be extremely damaging and best opted out of so do what YOU feel is right and don't let other peoples opinions get to you. Their circumstances will be entirely different.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Sat 10-Jan-15 10:31:15

You have been cheated out of an important part of life, there is absolutely no doubt about that flowers.

However giving up the life that you have built to go and care for your dad will not make up for this. It won't make up for the pain, or the missed birthdays.

He has been selfish and will be selfish to the end. Go and see him, make what peace you can, ask the questions you want to ask, if he's up to it, or just sit with him for a while. Then come home and get on with your life, the life you have built - the life he could have been a part of if he hadn't made such poor choices.

Be prepared for this to stir up a lot of feelings though - maybe think about counselling?

Fwiw I am in exactly the same position as you, although my phone call hasn't come yet.

alseb Sat 10-Jan-15 12:01:44

I have been in this position
Go and make your peace. Do whatever you feel is best for you. Death is so final. I wanted to have so many conversations with my dad but in the end it was just too painful. Make your peace.
Some people just aren't cut out to be parents, I learnt this 40 years too late.

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