I am caring for an aging parent at the end of life from terminal small cell lung cancer. At diagnosis, it was already Stage 4 and treatment was rejected. This was several months ago. I have two other siblings who know nothing of this diagnosis or the fact that death is near. One lives out of state and talks to our parent mostly on holidays and birthdays. The other sibling lives a couple hours away, but due to family estrangement they don't speak. When the diagnosis was given, I was told that I am in no way shape or form to say anything to anyone. Not to family, not to neighbors, etc. I respected that wish and asked a few times throughout this process if that was still the case. My parent had full mental capacity throughout and quite frankly, I see it that is was not my business to tell and I am sure there were reasons for that decision. However, I am going to have to make these difficult phone calls when they did not even know that there was a terminal illness. How would you approach this? It is a very bad burden to have to carry.

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If your parent does not have Hospice now..This is the time to call and get them into the house.
Not only will they help you and your parent the Social Worker might be a good place to start in trying to build or re-build this bridge.
The Social Worker might be able to help your parent see that it would be a good idea to inform family and friends at this time.
But that said if this is their wish and they are aware of the decision they are making then that is one that you should abide by. Although it would break my heart to be in your position.
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Since you're checking with your parent about the decision, I think you should honor your parent's  wishes.  You could ask about making a video or writing the siblings a letter that you could give after your parent dies.  But, that is your parent's decision.  My basis for saying this is I have two brothers who chose over 16+ years ago to walk away from my parents.  My mother died last October and I'm taking care of my 83 year old Dad.  Both of my parents were/are adamant that I not contact my brothers about their health and/or death.  This was to keep my parents stress level down and in my parents minds - they did not walk away, my brothers did. Will I have to deal with fallout when my Dad dies - yeah, but I will be ok knowing I have honored my parents wishes.  Do I miss my brothers during all of this - most definitely - but it's not my job to "fix" their issues with our parents.  Please just treasure this time with your parent - make memories, talk, hug and when that day arrives, take care of yourself and don't let your siblings tell you "What you should have done".   Hugs
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In my family, we dont tell each other things about other family members.

We call the family member that we are not telling anything to and day "call dad", or " call your sister".

If asked why, we say, "just do it".

We call back a week later and check if they've called. If they haven't, well, we tried.

It's worked for 3 generations. It's dysfunctional, but it works out.

Just yesterday, my brother texted me and told me to call my cousin, without further elaboration. Her brother had committed suicide the day before.
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ArtistDaughter Aug 2019
I like this and it doesn't sound dysfunctional to me, rather a good way that gossip and misinformation isn't running through the family.
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It is no one’s business what is happening to a person, if that person stated they didn’t want anyone to be told. It’s called privacy, in this world of social media and everyone putting their life out in the street, people have forgotten about boundaries and privacy.

When the passing happens, all you need to say is the person passed. It’s no one’s business how someone died unless you want to give out the information.

No one needs to feel guilty, you have no control over sickness, death or not passing on private info about illness.

It’s always the person’s wishes. Maybe your parent didn’t like fake pity and sadness, which runs rampant in society. In addition, having people crying, stressed out, and trying to release their own guilty feelings is stressful to the person dying. I think this is wrong on so many levels. It then comes down to the living wanting to make themselves better and ignoring the dying person and the death process. The dying person should die in peace and comfort.
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Rbuser1 Aug 2019
I agree.
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I like the idea of hospice, also. They often help to bring some kind of peace. However, it does sound to me that the parent does know his or her own wishes. The decision is not yours. The decision belongs to the person involved. You will, of course, have to make the calls. If the question is asked as to why you did not call no matter WHAT the parent wished you simply say that it was very difficult, that you sought counsel, but that in the end you felt you had no choice but to honor the wishes of the parent involved. They don't speak to you NOW and they don't speak to the parent NOW so exactly WHAT would be changed? Nothing whatsoever. I am not over-much a believer in "blood will out". To me our genetic background is a complete accident of fate; a good one for me. And not so good for many others. I am very sorry that this amount of anger still lodges in the heart of one in the last stages of life; on the other hand I completely COMPLETELY understand the wish not to have descending upon me in death those who did not care for me in life, and who now seek their own redemption at my own expense. Dying is a very private thing. Often the dying separate even from those they are very attached to. It is where the old expression, from medieval times on "he turned his face to the wall" comes from. Patients, when I was a nurse, often literally did this. It was devastating to their families waiting for those magical last words. I cannot tell you how often I had to explain to them that the person was already seperating themselves from this life, already moving away from them. I came in the end to believe that death is the last great "trip", "adventure" we make. I do not fear death at all. I DO fear suffering, both physical and mental. Sorry you are having to go through this and feel the burden of it. I advise you set this particular luggage down; undoubtedly you have lugged it about long enough.
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I am sorry that you are in this circumstance. As you have said, your parent has given you clear instructions. Do you have a relationship with your siblings greater than the one you described your parent having?

Regardless this isn’t your decision. Don’t assume more responsibility than you have. You have quite a lot already.

The calls will most likely be harder on you than them although they may be shocked at the news. Do you call them often? If not, they will probably know when they see your number.

I can tell you that for me when both parents were gone, siblings became even more precious. Write out what you want to say. Date, time, any plans for a service if that isn’t known when you call or just leave it open. Are the other two siblings close? The first you call might offer to call the second one.

I would ask my parent to do me the courtesy of leaving a will. If that has been taken care of then the will should speak for the parent and cause you a lot less distress dealing with whatever comes next from the siblings.

Since the parent is of sound mind then those details should be easy enough to deal with.

Have you discussed hospice? Will that be at home or in a facility?

You matter to. You will be presumably living in the neighborhood and be receiving condolences. I would plan my responses accordingly. “The condition was advanced. There was a wish for privacy”. Something to ease the situation and move along and keep you from having to explain over and over. I think sometimes people were closer friends though life but in the end lose the connection. But please do find someone you can trust and are able to discuss these events with.
Many of us have been where you are in the realization that we are in the final days of a parents life and posters do find it comforting to come here for support and hugs. We care. Let us know how it goes.
Helpful Answer (6)

Bless you for honouring your fathers wishes, never easy when one has knowledge that others don’t.

When you have to make those calls to say he has passed on and they ask what the cause was, say it was end stage 4 lung cancer which was untreatable. If they ask if you were aware you can say yes and explain since your father did not know how long he had he just wanted to quietly enjoy what time was left rather than deal with reactions to the news.

If they continue to pressurise that you should have informed them, you can state that you empathised with his predicament, honoured his wishes yet continued to check in case he changed his view regarding his family being informed in the hope that he would agree .

Should they be selfish enough to continue - point out he was in full control of his mental faculties and wished to avoid any distress at that time, and even though it placed you in an awkward predicament you complied with his last wishes.

I hope that your father may change his mind and give the rest of your family a chance to meet, laugh at memories, cry a little, forgive, forget and become closer as a result
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I agree with the video message.

You will have others express anger, it's part of the grieving process. Realize it is not against you, but against the situation.

Calmly tell others, when he/she has passed, that this was your parent's wishes and his/her business. You are honoring that trust.
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I think you have been handed an appalling burden. I am sorry that you have. I think you are behaving absolutely correctly, I'm just sorry that you will also be left dealing with the rubble afterwards. It seems very unfair.

Having said that, you can't very well pick this moment to argue it out with your dying parent and hope to correct such a supremely self-centred point of view. Of course not.

So, when the day dawns, you will have to follow through by holding tight to your parent's wish and rejecting any blame for it. This is your parent's decision, you are carrying it out, the rest of it is nothing to do with you. It is between the parent and the adult children. You have no authority, so you can have no responsibility.

The only other thing I can think of is calling on a pastor or religious counsellor to listen to your parent and, perhaps, advise a change of heart. It isn't a matter of the children assuaging their consciences; it's a matter of excising the vindictiveness that your parent seems bent on carrying to the grave, and hoping that will benefit the parent.
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MaryKathleen Aug 2019
I feel you are right on. How selfish for the parent to put this burden on a child. My heart is heavy for Agingconcerns. Personally, I would tell the parent I will NOT be put in that position.

I can see this coming in my extended family. My Son-in-Law's parents have never approved of any of his choices. They require 2 weeks notice before they will approve of a visit from their children. Then there are a lot of must do this or that attached. They scold so much and have put themselves in the abandoned position. They won't call their children they expect the children, who are in their 50's to call them. I expect my SIL and his brother not to know about any death until it is over. Maybe not even about the funeral. What selfish people they are. I am considered a Grandma to one who isn't even related to me by blood. I might add, I love this kid with all my heart.
What purpose would it serve to tell them now. Several months have gone by and they knew their father was and had been sick and I don't think it's your place to heal things. Honor what he says now and afterwards turn your phone off for your peace of mind and healing.
You are the strong one here. Some call this putting you in a difficult situation but this isn't the first time you've been on his side. Do the best you can, that's all you can do and he knows it. And some would say what if you were the sibling with information withheld, you would know why and so do they.
I'm sorry you're having to go through this.
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