Ask Amy: Hospice Care Intensifies Family Estrangement

By Amy Dickinson | October 7th, 2020

Do uninvolved family members get to hear the news after 5 years?


Grandmother in hospice care Image

Dear Amy: My grandmother recently went into hospice care. She has suffered from dementia for the last five years, and in that time my mother has been her sole caretaker.

That (and money issues) has caused my mom and her brother to cut ties.

Only my immediate family knows that my grandmother is dying.

Should I reach out to my uncle and others in the extended family (mainly my grandmother’s in-laws) to let them know what’s going on?

My mom argues that they weren’t there for my grandmother during her decline into dementia. So, why should they be called at the end?

My partner says to keep my nose out of it because it could lead to more drama if I reach out. However, I can’t imagine reading about your mother, grandmother, or sister-in-law’s death through an obit. What are your thoughts?

— Lost

Dear Lost: These extended family members have the wherewithal to contact your mother by phone or email, or – if rebuffed or ignored – show up to her house to find out how your grandmother is doing.

This is not about what these family members “deserve” to know. They seem to have completely backed away.

Your grandmother’s feelings and wishes should be taken into account, however, even if her memory is gone and she is unable to express them. What would she want?

I agree with you regarding contacting family members about your grandmother’s condition, but your mother should be the one to reach out. If she is hesitant, tell her that YOU would feel better if this contact was made, and offer to take this challenge off her hands.

If your mother outright refuses, respect her wishes and understand that she is resentful, angry, and grieving.

Over time, people involved in estrangements construct a very hard and protective shell around their feelings. I genuinely believe that this shell is pierced through treating others the way you wish you would be treated. Behaving with generosity, even when others don’t deserve it and the outcome is in doubt will be best for your mother; and that’s why I hope she chooses to reach out.


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In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

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