DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from "Daughter Who Needs to Know," a 14-year-old girl whose father had died three years ago. She had not been told her father had a terminal illness, and she still doesn't know the cause of death. She asked whether that information was any of her business and if she should ask her stepmother.
You told her she had every right to know, and that she was old enough to be told now. When I read that letter, a flood of emotions came back to me.
My mother died of breast cancer when I was 15. I watched her deteriorate for three years, Abby, and when I asked questions, I was shoved aside because my father felt I was too young to know.
Three weeks before my mother's death, I did something. I stormed out of the room and went to the basement to sulk. My father followed me and said the most hurtful words I have ever heard. He said, "Your mother is upstairs dying by inches, and you're mostly responsible for it!"
I had no idea she was dying. I was devastated. I felt robbed of years of being able to share with her, talk about important things, and after she died, the sense of loss only got stronger.
I am 49 now and in therapy. Most of the things that come up have to do with Mom and how the situation was handled. I realize that my parents were trying to protect me, but in the end, I felt robbed and abandoned.
Please tell folks like "Daughter Who Needs to Know" they are not alone. Given the belief systems of the parents of that era, I'm sure there are a lot of us. -- STILL GETTING OVER IT IN ARKANSAS
DEAR STILL: I am sorry for your pain, and I think you have hit the nail on the head. In their zeal to protect you from the pain of gradually losing your mother, your parents left you open to the trauma of her sudden loss. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: My heart goes out to "Daughter Who Needs to Know." I am a hospice nurse and have worked with many families dealing with terminal illness. Another reason the parents didn't tell the child may have been because they themselves had not yet come to terms with the devastating news. To discuss such news is to admit that it is true, and this is frequently hard for patients to do.
Much of the work we do in hospice is helping patients and their families accept the prognosis and cope with the grief of their loss. Hospice families are followed for a year after the death of a loved one to support them as they grieve.
Even though it has been three years since this young lady's father died, she and her family may benefit from grief counseling and/or a grief support group. A local hospice would be one source of these services. I hope this helps the young lady and her family as well as many others. -- MARTI BOGDEN, NEW CASTLE, PA.
DEAR MARTI: Thank you for a helpful letter. For those who may not know, hospice is a program that is available for patients who have a prognosis of no more than six months to live. It offers pain medication and counseling to patients and their families, as well as grief counseling. The national hotline number is (800) 658-8898. The Web address is www.nhpco.org.
Other helpful resources for grief support groups and counseling are the social services office of your local hospital, churches, or your local mental health providers.