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Do we leave my MIL who is dying of cancer alone for Christmas?

(101 Posts)
PTFsWife Thu 19-Dec-13 15:12:28

My MIL will turn 86 on Christmas day. She has terminal cancer (mouth). My SIL recently moved to Portugal and the plan for Christmas was for MIL, my DH, me and kids to fly together to Portugal so that we could celebrate what is probably going to be her last Christmas and birthday together.

We are due to fly out on Sunday. Today MIL rang and said that she is full of cold and there is no way she can manage to go to Portugal. I think it is more than this. I think she is scared of travelling, scared something might go wrong while she is out there, doesn't want to eat in front of other people as it's messy due to the growth in her mouth, her mouth is hurting her more than she will admit, she can only eat soft things like soup/boiled egg and generally doesn't want to 'be a burden'.

So I said that we will then all stay behind so that she is not alone. She can come to our house and we will have a quiet Christmas together. Her house isn't really suitable for us all to go there. She can eat what she can manage and alone if she would prefer not to eat in front of us, but at least she will have company.

She insists that she would rather be on her own in her own home and that we MUST go to Portugal without her. She will be deeply upset if we cancel our holiday for her. (It would be a £1k loss on flights but that seems completely irrelevant at this point. The kids will be disappointed though as they had been looking forward to going).

I am utterly torn. I asked her straight up whether she would really prefer to be alone or whether she was just saying that as she didn't want to put anyone else out, and she swears she would rather just be on her own.

But how can we leave her to celebrate her (most likely) last Christmas on her own with a tin of soup?? But if we stay, we risk upsetting her/making her feel guilty that we're 'ruining' our Christmas by not going and it appears to be going against her wishes.

I don't know what to do. What would you do?

PTFsWife Thu 19-Dec-13 15:33:48

We were going to have a fake Christmas this Saturday regardless as we can't take the kids presents with us as they are too big, so we were going to have her here for that, but even that she is saying she doesn't want to do as she feels so run down and she suggested we do something after Christmas.

I drove an hour to see her today and she was absolutely adamant that she did not want to be anywhere other than her home for Christmas and that she would be really upset if we didn't go. I told her that we'd be really upset thinking that she'd be on her own for Christmas and I think that just made her feel guilty as she seemed close to tears.

I keep trying to imagine it was me: if I knew that this was my last Christmas, where would I want to be/what would I want to do, and I imagine I'd want to live it large, push through and be with family. But that's because I am young and healthy. Perhaps she really is just exhausted and can't face the thought of watching other people enjoy Christmas dinner when all she can manage is soup and perhaps she really does just want to be alone with her memories in the house she has lived for most of her life.

Just so torn as to what is the right thing to do. sad

tinkertaylor1 Thu 19-Dec-13 15:33:56


My granny would say for every one to go if she was in that position but there is no way I would.

She might actually really want you to go but come Christmas when she is in her own she could feel pretty desolate .

flowers to her

FunnyFestiveTableRunner Thu 19-Dec-13 15:33:57

Stay. You will always regret it if you don't. And so sorry for you all and especially for your MIL thanks

FunnyFestiveTableRunner Thu 19-Dec-13 15:35:46

X-posted. Sorry, it's awful for you all. She sounds like she is feeling very poorly. Would it be possible for you all to stay but to make a short visit on Christmas Day, rather than a full day thing?

tinkertaylor1 Thu 19-Dec-13 15:38:21

You can have many many Christmas holidays away.

If I was you I'd cancel or re book . I would spend time with her in morning and leave if she felt uncomfortable . Then if drive back the next day. Then the next.

There is no way I would go. ( my granny's is like my mother)

PTFsWife Thu 19-Dec-13 15:39:39

DH is currently at work in London. He has been on the phone to me about it but he is at a loss as to what to do. His gut instinct is to stay. His sister can't come over unfortunately. He and I will chat further tonight about what to do.

I agree with the poster (sorry forgot name) who said that perhaps she really does just want to eat what she wants, snuggled under a blanket, watching countless episodes of Only Fools & Horses and not have to deal with everyone's merriment when frankly she doesn't feel that merry. Sometimes I think we should take what she is saying as the truth - but mostly I think she is WW2 stock and doesn't like to make a fuss or bother.

tribpot Thu 19-Dec-13 15:41:50

Yes - she may not want a full-on day with you, but if you're in the country you can be available as it suits her.

She must not feel it was her decision that you stayed, or her fault.

Ephiny Thu 19-Dec-13 15:42:20

If she'd genuinely prefer to be alone, I don't think you should force your company on her. It's not impossible that someone might not mind being alone at Christmas (it's not worse than being alone any other day) or not feel like doing the whole family celebration thing when unwell.

It's up to you whether you cancel your holiday or not, but please, please listen to and respect her wishes about what she does and doesn't want to do.

ExcuseTypos Thu 19-Dec-13 15:43:46

In that case I would just visit her for a short time on Christmas Day. A few hours either morning or afternoon, so she isn't on her own all day.

I'd also have the thought at the back of my mind that she could go downhill when her 2 dc are out of the country. That would be horrible for all concerned.

supergreenuk Thu 19-Dec-13 15:44:07

I still think go. Have you ever been poorly and you just want people to leave you alone?? If its upsetting her that you won't go then that says a lot. It's not like your going for long and like you said you are having your special day so it's not like you haven't had any Christmas together. It sounds like you should respect her wishes if you ask me. This isn't some magical last Christmas together for her it's her feeling rubbish and wanting no fuss.

Ephiny Thu 19-Dec-13 15:44:39

I do understand the dilemma about whether she really means it (such a sad and difficult decision to have to make sad). But if in doubt I think it's best to take someone at their word, especially when it comes to respecting their boundaries and privacy.

42notTrendy Thu 19-Dec-13 15:46:14

I would get your DH, or SIL to talk to her. I know my MIL would put a brave face on for me, but more likely to share what she really thinks with DH. And it's a decision you shouldn't have to make on your own, because whatever you decide to do, I suspect you will feel some guilt, so you need to spread that a little.
I'm so sorry you and your family are in this situation, and what a hard decision.
And I also think it's worth talking to airline/holiday company to see if you could shuffle the dates a bit. Even if you fly a day or so later, I guess flights to be somewhere like that over Christmas are at a premium, they may be willing to change your dates as there is probably a high demand for them.

DoesntLeftoverTurkeySoupDragOn Thu 19-Dec-13 15:47:20

I think you have to stay - can you compromise with what she wants and drive over to visit in the afternoon?

Is there no way you can persuade her to go to Portugal ? ie does she really not want to go or is she "just" scared of going?

Casmama Thu 19-Dec-13 15:47:36

Almost everyone on this thread feels that they know what is best for a woman that they have never even met.

I think she has the right to decide how to spend her last Christmas and to change your plans and force yourselves upon her would be dreadful.

I completely understand where you are coming from but she shouldn't have to beg to have her feelings respected- she is dying not losing the ability to make decisions. Respect her decision.

PTFsWife Thu 19-Dec-13 15:51:48

She is actually usually more honest with me than them as I get straight to the point and ask her things (I'm a foreigner with a more straight forward approach!) She normally tries to spare her children the truth whereas with me she tends to be slightly more honest.

But I am beginning to think that perhaps we should just stay, visit her on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve so that she has some company, but not expect her to spend a meal with us as it will be hard for her to eat/enjoy it.

I have looked at the airline and I can amend the dates for a fee - so that is an option.

This isn't my decision anyway - it is my husband's - and he knows that. I am just trying to help by getting some opinions as to what other people might do.

Thanks for all the advice

JoinYourPlayfellows Thu 19-Dec-13 15:51:58

You can respect her decision about what she wants to do for Christmas.

But where YOU spend Christmas is not her decision, it's yours.

And if you want to spend Christmas near her, then that's up to you.

There is a big difference between just being down the road and being off on holiday a flight away.

PTFsWife Thu 19-Dec-13 15:56:34

Re can I persuade her to go to Portugal - I don't think so. I tried today. I explained how her cold, which she says she suddenly has (not sure I believe her), has wiped her out (she did look tired when I saw her but that may be the cancer taking its toll) but that she may feel better by Sunday when we are due to fly. And that she could just take it in easy in Portugal in the warmth (19C vs what we have here) and not feel under any pressure to eat in front of us. And that we'd take care of her in the airport and on the flight - but she has dug her heels in and there is NO way I can see her going.

Part of this is because she got a letter from her doctor to take with her to Portugal outlining her medical history should she require medical treatment while there (just as a precaution) and I think it was reading the prognosis in black and white that this disease is fatal, has upset her deeply. She knew the prognosis, but I think seeing it written out has scared her and she may just need time alone with her thoughts.

Pootles2010 Thu 19-Dec-13 15:57:32

Lie. Lie through your teeth. You've lost all the passports, oh what a blow.

Take the kids to see her inbetween lunch and tea, having left her a really lovely homemade soup she can eat in privacy first.

pombal Thu 19-Dec-13 16:02:02

You need to be near in case she needs you.

Go to Portugal at Easter.

If she is hospitalized in Portugal it will be traumatic for her.

If she dies there, you will have to organize repatriation of her body - sorry I'm not saying this to upset you, but neither you nor her need this trip right now.

Wishing you all the best at this difficult time x

DoesntLeftoverTurkeySoupDragOn Thu 19-Dec-13 16:04:32

I think the compromise is to postpone Portugal til after Christmas if you can (gives her a chance to change her mind but I wouldn't push it) and tell her you'll visit her over Christmas but, apart from that, you'll respect her wishes. Although clearly it is your DHs decision.

Maybe get her some nice turkey soup and Christmas pudding ice cream to eat on the day.

I suspect there is no right decision here, just one that is mostly right for everyone.

InTheFace Thu 19-Dec-13 16:04:48

Totally agree with Pootles. Stay home, let her stay home, drop off some soup on Xmas eve that she can have on 24th and 25th, then leave her to it. Xmas day, just drop by to say merry Xmas but don't stay for long. Just leave her to it - alone, but not lonely.

Pootles2010 Thu 19-Dec-13 16:13:05

Just seen forecast for weekend - you could say flight's been cancelled due to high winds? And see if they'll let you re-schedule. Bet they would, December is busy time for them, so they'll easily re-book the seats.

Quietattheback Thu 19-Dec-13 16:13:12

I can well imagine why she can't face travelling. I would stay, I just wouldn't be able to shake the feeling that I had abandoned her.

Could you have her over to stay at yours? Bring her over on Christmas Eve and set her up in a bedroom with a TV and tell her that you're not going to disturb her or make her 'Join in' with the festivities, she's there to be looked after. Make her Xmas dinner soup and give her some time to rest.

Sorry that you're going through this flowers.

Idespair Thu 19-Dec-13 16:17:02

I disagree with most. Mil knows her own mind, she wants you to go because she has asked you to. It's fine for you to make another phone call or to check with her in person that she is absolutely sure of her wishes but if she is I think you should respect them and go to spend Christmas with your SIL.

MrsMcEnroe Thu 19-Dec-13 16:24:08

I don't know your MIL, and I do sort of agree with the poster upthread who said that everyone is assuming that they know better than MIL and that MIL's wishes should be respected.

However. After someone has died, that is it: they are gone, and it is their loved ones who are left to deal with their feelings - and your DH has to decide if he wants to send his mum's last Christmas near her or not. There is a world of difference between spending Christmas in a different country, and spending it in your own home where you can get to MIL within an hour or two if something happens or if she just changes her mind and wants company, plus you can pop in and see her on Boxing Day etc....

My own experience which you may like to share with your DH: my mum died of cancer. I spent her last Christmas with my in-laws, not with her, and not a day goes by when I don't bitterly, bitterly regret this. (I didn't know that she had terminal cancer at the time but I knew that something was seriously wrong - but I took her at her word that she would be fine without me there).

I am really sorry that you are all facing this horrible illness and prognosis, and I wish you all the best x

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