I was just told by my doctor that I have congestive heart failure. I’m the mother of two adult children. We are a close family. My husband died four years ago. I’m taking good care of myself, taking my medication as prescribed and trying to stay positive even though my energy is much lower than it used to be. I don’t want to tell my children of my heart condition. I think they would spend time worrying until I pass away. I’d rather have quality time with them until the very end and not have them think they have to treat me any more specially than they already do. Am I doing the right thing?
I can certainly appreciate your wanting to spare your children from worrying about you because of your diagnosis. But I urge you to reconsider. Death is not something that we in this country talk about easily, even in our churches. However, it is an important subject to demystify so that we will be prepared for it when it comes – as it will for all of us.
Whatever time you have until your death can provide your whole family with a rich opportunity to share more deeply the spiritual and physical issues around your life and death. And as members of a close family, they will likely begin to notice your lack of energy and worry about what is going on for you, without the answers they want and need. If you need support in sharing your news, your clergy-man or -woman should be able to help.
You describe them as caring adult children who lost their father four years ago, and they may well have many questions to ask you and things they want to tell you. If you die before you and they have those opportunities, the door will be closed on some vital sharing. Please don’t deny them that chance.
Another danger is that they may somehow learn about your diagnosis before or after your death and feel distressed that you did not trust them enough to share news that will continue to affect them for the rest of their lives.
Such heavy secrets, kept from those we love, can cause serious wounds. Give your beloved children the chance to treat you with loving care as long as they can. That gift is something that will be a blessing in their lives and yours.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills-La Crescenta firstname.lastname@example.org
Obviously a great deal of love and respect exists within your family. If the situation were reversed, if one of your children had a life-threatening illness, wouldn’t you want to know? You may think you’re sparing them agonizing moments of worry; however, given the seriousness of the illness you described, there will come a time when you will welcome understanding and support from not only your family, but your friends as well.
Reading between the lines of your question, I’m gathering that you don’t want to be treated any differently than you are being treated now. You don’t want to be treated like an invalid. Be candid about this when you tell them about the diagnosis. Tell them you don’t want them to worry. Tell them you’ll let them know when you have to slow down or not participate in family activities. Although it seems like a trite cliché, honesty is the best policy. Carrying the burden of an illness alone will only add to the load. You may even find yourself in the position of “telling white lies” all in the name of protecting your children from the truth.
After you do pass from this life to the next, and upon learning you had a physical condition they did not know about, your children may very well ask, “What could we have done differently that perhaps would have prolonged her life or couldn’t we have made an effort to spend more time with her?” This is visiting unnecessary guilt upon those you love and is bound to happen if you continue to live a façade of wellness.
The Psalmist in 15:2 tells us that God wants us to speak the truth from our hearts. I support you in telling the truth and sharing your heartfelt thoughts with your children.
Rev. Bev Craig
Center for Spiritual Living – La Crescenta
Family is important to me. I just returned from a reunion in Georgia attended by over 100 family members. I heard shouting and went outside to see what was happening. One of my favorite nephews and a shirt-tail cousin were arguing over politics. One was defending President Obama and the other couldn’t say enough bad things about him. The argument was intense and was getting to the point of a physical fight until about a half dozen other family members stepped in.
My nephew gathered his family and left in a huff. I hadn’t had the opportunity to spend time with him and I felt badly about that. Is there anyway of avoiding a situation like this in the future? Many said they’d not ever come to a family reunion again. Is there something I could have said to calm them down? – Love My Family
Once a discussion has gotten to the shouting stage it’s probably too late for anything to stop it. Politics is very divisive these days. With a group that large, it’s not a surprise there’s a wide range of opinions. If you want to try to regroup next year, with it being an election year, some planning ahead is in order. Maybe just agreeing to forgo political discussion or agree to disagree is the way to go. It may help to develop some empathy for the other viewpoints in political discussions.
Over the years, I’ve found I have more in common with activists regardless of political ideology than I have with the apathetic who doesn’t get involved at all. Perhaps consideration of the families around the globe unable to gather due to famine, war and lack of political stability will put it in perspective for the more argumentative of your clan.
How lucky it is you have over 100 family members able to vacation together! How doubly lucky to be able to have political discussions where the worst consequence is hurt feelings! There are far too many places in the world where either of those situations is completely unheard of.
Another option is to keep everyone too busy to fight. You can ask attendees to share information on current jobs and volunteer activities, recent births, deaths, marriages, and divorces and educational milestones achieved, via photos and videos. As long as none of the family is working for a campaign it should be okay. Maybe organize a barbecue cook-off or car show, whatever interests the family have, so there can be some friendly competition. I know some families can come to blows over Ford versus Chevy, so use your judgment.
If there are musically inclined family members, have a show or battle of the bands. If you can spread the reunion over several days, perhaps those whose politics clash can minimize the period their visits overlap. Some can come a couple of days early, some the day of the big gathering for everyone. Later arrivals can stay a few days longer. You can arrange a smaller event with your special nephew on another day without worrying about distractions. There are probably other peacemakers who can help organize activities focused on what everyone shares rather than the differences.
After all, everybody in a family loves everyone else or at least loves one family member who loves the rest through some number of degrees of separation.
Dear Feuding Family,
Some topics have no place at family gatherings, like politics or religion! Family dynamics seem designed to push our buttons. This is how we learn to live in this world of opposites.
Something deeper than politics is being worked out here. We can love each other enough to allow our family to have their own point of view. My family may take a viewpoint I don’t always like, but I love them enough to allow them to make their own decisions. It’s important not to take sides and be drawn into new family feuds. Let your family know you have no interest in taking sides. Instead let your words and actions demonstrate to them that you care for them both and want your relationship with them to be close, but free of politics. Later, after things have calmed down, you may also want to ask them if you can pray for each of them. It is possible to love in the midst of these challenges. With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Change begins when we can agree to disagree. The only way of avoiding a situation like this in the future is through not inviting known hostile family members and with lots of prayer! Maybe this is the event that draws the entire family closer together. The only thing I might have suggested to calm them down is to remind them of why they were all at this reunion … because we are family.