Sorrow aside

Be clear and open about what’s best for everyone when the end is near

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 05/23/2013

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Dear Patti,
I was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and likely have two to three years left. At age 70, I’ve truly come to terms with this, having lived a wonderful life and feeling very grateful for all of the good things I’ve experienced. Through the power of prayer and the power of God, I’m remaining positive and know that many people with terminal illnesses have managed to live far longer than their doctors’ predictions. I will be compliant and do all I can to fight my illness but, if God wills it, I’m ready to go be with my husband, who passed away three years ago.

My personal and financial affairs are all in order. My only daughter, Mary Lou, means everything to me and will be well cared for. Her husband, Brian, is a gem and has become the son my husband and I never had. They live in North Carolina and my husband and I visited them four or five times a year, a tradition I’ve continued.

My dilemma might seem strange, but I’m upset because Mary Lou and Brian insist on uprooting their family to come to Los Angeles. They love where they live and are moving only to be near me. Although Brian has been offered a new job that’s equal in pay, it doesn’t mean they’ll live a comparable lifestyle. They’re in the process of putting their lovely home up for sale and I worry about how much they’ll have to pay for a house here. I also don’t want my grandchildren to leave everything they love and know, especially during their teenage years, nor do I want them raised in this fast-paced lifestyle with overcrowded schools, traffic and smog. After I’m gone, it might be too difficult for all of them to move back and then they’ll be stuck here. I don’t know if I can convince them to not move, but I will be more at peace knowing they’re happy and secure in their already established life and can visit me often.

— Linda

Dear Linda,
I’m so very sorry to hear you’re going through this. The diagnosis of a terminal illness is devastating news and perhaps the most challenging thing you and yours will ever have to confront. While there are no easy answers, you sound like a very wise, loving mother who is trying to see past your children’s grief and dismay at your medical condition. Families need effective communication to help cope with and accept a terminal diagnosis.

You could be correct in assessing that Brian and Mary Lou’s pending move might be impulsive — and a difficult one in the long run. I also understand your concern that your teenage grandchildren will be uprooted from their lifelong friends and community. It’s important to ask your daughter all of your unanswered questions, such as how each grandchild is handling the idea of moving, then write down your list of concerns. Express your fears concerning the LA lifestyle. Clearly communicate your worries; don’t leave anything out so you’ll feel understood. Compose a list of alternatives to solve the problem; i.e., you going to live with them, Brian taking a leave of absence and only moving temporarily, leasing their home and leasing a home here.

Do some self-reflecting and ask yourself some questions as well. Are you afraid to have them move closer because it might in the end be harder to leave them? Are you trying to protect your grandchildren from suffering and facing pain and death? Are you afraid of being a burden as your condition worsens?

If after they have listened to everything you say and still want to relocate, then accept and embrace the idea. They’re adults and ultimately it’s their decision to determine what’s best for their family. Respect their choice and support them. Who’s to say they won’t regret it for the rest of their lives if they don’t move? They may also feel that putting family first and being available to a loved one in need is the right lesson to model for their children. Your daughter may be facing her deepest fears and sorrows; living closer and drawing strength from your love and spirituality may help her find comfort, peace and acceptance. Your presence clearly makes a difference and it’s wonderful they love you that much.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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