#938: “My husband is dying and does not want to tell his parents. Should I intervene?”

Dear Captain–

My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer last spring. At the time, it was considered not the worst possible type of cancer and he had a 70% chance of going into remission. He chose not to tell either of his parents (who have been divorced for 45 years) or anyone else on his side of the family.

Most of the reason he made this decision is because when my husband was a plump 15 year old who wanted to lose weight, his father told him that he’d lose weight if he started smoking. And even bought his son 2 cartons of cigarettes a week until he left home at 18. My husband tried many times to quit until he finally managed to quit for good in 2006 (thank you, Chantix). When he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and that it was probably caused by his heavy smoking habit, his father had a dramatic “OMG, OMG what have I done, what have I done” fit and it took months (not joking) of reassurance and absolution from my husband to reassure him.

My husband just doesn’t want to go through that again. He doesn’t want to tell anyone in his family because if he told anyone, word would spread to his father fairly quickly (he has two brothers who still have relationships with both parents).

What makes it more awful is that my father-in-law was physically and verbally abusive to my husband when he was a child and has never said a word about it since. Apparently, it is supposed to be as if none of the beatings, verbal putdowns, etc, ever happened. My husband says he’s given up on getting any admission from his father about just how awful he was as a father to his three young sons. Same with his mother–she witnessed all the abuse but didn’t leave his father until my husband was nearly 18.

Earlier this month, we discovered that my husband didn’t make it into remission. He now has Stage IV cancer with a distant metastasis. The median time for survival is 12 months (half the people with his diagnosis die before 12 months, half die after 12 months). The worst case scenario is 6 months and the best case scenario is 18 months.

My husband has chosen to deal with this by doing all the medical stuff (chemotherapy, labs, follow up scans, etc) and deliberately not thinking about it otherwise. I’ve invited him to talk about it and made it clear that I am willing to respect and support whatever decisions he makes. I know this sounds like denial and heck, for all I know, it may be. All I really know is that it works for him. I am respecting his choice in the matter.

My concern is for my in-laws. We are not at all close (they live over 2200 miles aways) and we’ve seen them once since my husband moved away to live with me 22 years ago. My husband is adamant: no telling. His reasoning is that there is nothing they can do, so learning about it sooner will just add that many more months they will be in pain.

I have read far too many anecdotes from people that go roughly “my beloved person hid their diagnosis of cancer until just before their death/until death and not having a chance to say good bye has increased my pain.” My husband’s retort is that if he gets run over by a bus tomorrow, they wouldn’t have time to say good bye either.

I think that he doesn’t want to endure months of “OMG, what have I done” from his father and demands to be absolved.

Part of me is horrified at the pain my husband’s family will go through without warning, etc, when he dies. Especially since it does not appear that there will be any ‘sooner or later’ because it will be ‘soon or sooner’.

Right now, I’m respecting his boundaries around telling his family. I keep wavering, though, on whether I should continue to do so. My reasoning is that my first loyalty is to my husband rather than a group of people I’ve only met twice in 22 years but some part of me keeps saying that I am being complicit in potentially increasing their pain. I feel like I am playing the part of the torturer’s assistant.

Soon to be Widow

pronouns: she/her

Dear Soon To Be Widow,

I am very sorry for the pain you and your husband are going through right now and I’m glad you wrote to me.

Please let your husband be the boss of how and whether and what he tells his family. I know you feel like you are being complicit in a secret and potentially adding to their eventual pain. I know your husband’s logic about sparing his family a longer period of grief and suffering, doesn’t 100% hold water for you, but you’ve perfectly stated the issue: In addition to undergoing arduous treatments, in addition to facing his own death, your husband does not want to add the burden of doing massive amounts of emotional labor for a man who abused him at this time. He tried to tell his folks already, when he first got sick with congestive heart failure, and his dad made that all about himself. Can you blame him for not wanting to deal with it again? For wanting to feel like he gets to control *something* right now?

I’ve also seen a lot of cases where the whole Cheerfully!-Fighting!-Cancer!-With!-Prayers!-And!-Positive!-Thinking!-Industrial!-Complex! stresses people alllllllllllllllll the way out and I can’t ever blame people for getting stuck in that paradoxical place of wanting support and for friends to know what’s going on with them but not having the energy to put on the brave “I’m a CANCER WARRIOR!!!!!” face or fielding the awkward “How…ARE you?” questions all day every day. Or, jeez, feeling like every interaction with someone Might Be The Very Last Time, So Make It Count. It’s A LOT, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to feel like they have some control over how & where the news goes.

Your husband has seen all the same cultural artifacts and messages about deathbed confessions and tearful reunions and forgiveness and faaaaaamily as you and he’s choosing to let distant family relationships remain what they are: Distant. There are reasons for the distance, and those reasons aren’t on you to fix.

When he dies no doubt these people will somehow blame you for not telling them sooner. They too have seen those movies and TV shows and doubtless had the fantasy all human beings do that ‘someday’ everything will somehow be made right and a single, perfect tear will slide down everybody’s face to mark the occasion. (It’s okay that they have that fantasy. I have that fantasy about certain difficult relationships in my life, too, and you may have seen a little trilogy called Star Wars episodes IV, V, and VI?) So yes, they might blame you for ruining their fantasy of ‘making peace with it all’ or ‘saying goodbye,’ and you can tell them the truth: “He asked me not to tell you and it was important to him to not spend the little time he had left with everybody fussing over him, so I supported him in that choice even when I didn’t agree with it. I’m very sorry for the pain you’re going through now. I miss him, too.

Pain is coming for all of you. Your husband can’t actually control when and how much, and neither can you, and I’m so very sorry for that. I don’t think it’s okay for you to contact his family without his permission, but I do think it’s okay for you to say to him, once, “Hey, love, that’s actually bullshit, and while I won’t go behind your back, I think you should definitely tell your brothers what’s going on with you,” or, “I want to support you any way I can, but this is a hard request for me because it means I’m all alone here with this secret.” It’s not okay to constantly bring this up or bug him or pressure him about it, but it is okay to respond to his requests truthfully with how you’re feeling.

I’m reading a lot of grief and also a lot of loneliness in your letter. Your husband’s decision to go all stoic might be working for him, but it’s not working for you to never be able to talk about this with anyone, and it’s okay to want someone else to be in on the whole story. Please, if you haven’t already, find a support group and/or individual counseling for yourself, somewhere you can let all the messy feelings out with people who don’t need the backstory and who are flinching away from the “How…ARE you?” conversations in their own lives. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell the people who are close to you who can support you and fuss over you and bring you casseroles and scream the world down with you.

Comments closed 2/1/17.


131 thoughts on “#938: “My husband is dying and does not want to tell his parents. Should I intervene?”

  1. The Captain’s advice is perfect. I’m just here to say I’m so sorry for what you and your husband are going through, LW. It’s heartbreaking beyond words. Jedi hugs if you want them. However your husband wants to play things, I hope that you can move to call in your own support network to bolster you during this terrible time. Wishing you every good wish in the world.

  2. I agree with all of this. Just one tiny caution though that LW should not tell people on Team LW who are likely to blast the news on Facebook or go behind Husband’s back and tell his estranged family. This might or might not be a concern depending on cultural factors. For example my parents and my in-laws and my sister’s in-laws are AAALLLLL up in each other’s business all the time, and some of my friends are totally weirded out by this because their parents and their in-laws only met at the wedding and never interacted with each other again, but for me and where I grew up this is totally Business As Usual, you know?

  3. Please respect his wishes. He knows these people better than you do and he wants to die in peace without drama from this abusive man.

  4. I had a similar situation when my ex boyfriend decided he was gay and we had to break up. I was completely heartbroken, because I thought he was The One, and I couldn’t even be angry with him because you are who you are. He didn’t want his family to know, and I agreed, but drew the line at lying to my own friends and family. Especially since everyone who knew me would have called bs on anything else, since they knew I was head over heels for him.

    As far as I know, no one from home is any the wiser, and I got the support I needed.

    So, I agree with the Captain… Let your husband decide how to handle his family, but have a conversation on making sure you get the support you need.

    1. I don’t want to derail the conversation but I do hope you understand people dont choose to be gay, they don’t choose to be straight. I’m sorry that you have been in a relationship with someone who hid a huge part of his identity from you. Weather it was because he wasn’t 100% if he was gay and wanted to try something or he got a GirlFriend TM so he’ll be straight passing the situation sucks and it’s good that you got your support. But again I hope you understand that he didn’t chose to be gay

      1. I read ‘decided’ as ‘came to accept’ or ‘did the math’ not as ‘opted’. Seemed reinforced by the ‘you are who you are’.

    2. Wow okay on top of the “decided he was gay” issue that Ruler of cats pointed out, it’s incredibly inappropriate that you outed a queer person without their genuine consent. (Which, given that you “drew the line,” it sounds like you didn’t get.) You do not get to decide to tell your friends and family that someone is queer. Ever. Even if it means that you have to have some awkward breakup discussions where all you can say is, “He decided he didn’t want to be in the relationship anymore.” (It happens! It’s a unilateral decision! The fact that you loved him, and that everyone knew you loved him, was irrelevant! He could have been straight, and you could have loved him very much, and he STILL could have just decided that even though he had feelings for you, too, he didn’t want the relationship anymore!)


      Depending on where we are and what intersecting marginalizations we live with, doing so can have consequences for us ranging anywhere from “mild harassment” to “getting beat up and/or raped” to “losing a job” to “eviction” all the way up to “death.”

      Being protected from that, from all of that, every single bit of it, is more important than you being able to salve your ego with friends and family by proving to them the breakup wasn’t your fault. You would have gotten “support” from them about the breakup either way–unless what you specifically mean here (which I worry you do) is that you specifically need to be supported about the “betrayal” of a man you loved “deciding” he was gay, which would be, frankly, homophobic.

      Someone’s orientation isn’t about you: It’s not an attack on you, it’s not a reaction to you, it’s not anything to do with you. The timing sucks, and I’m sorry that the stars aligned that way, but you’re not entitled to someone’s attraction, and you don’t get to out someone who doesn’t want to be outed just to make yourself feel better.

      1. Yeah, what Eye and Ruler of
        cats said. Honesty is all well and good when you don’t have to live with society’s negative reactions to your honesty. I hope you spoke with him and he gave you permission to divulge that piece of information, but if that was not the case, please remember going forward: no outing people.
        If you have to say anything about the matter, “That’s not my story to tell” works wonders.

        1. Ideally you get the original cast of Hamilton to fallow you around and sing “who leaves who dies who tells your story” (yes just that one line) when ever someone asks you that question

      2. Speaking as a queer person:

        If a queer person gets married to someone of the wrong gender, and then ends the relationship because of their queerness, the person they dumped needs to keep to the boundaries their ex-partner set about not outing their ex-partner to their ex-partner’s family, co-workers, and friends.

        Doesn’t mean the ex-partner is required to lie, lie, lie and lie again rather than get the emotional support they need from *their* friends and family about why their once-beloved dumped them.

        1. Thank you for saying this.

          There is very good reason for some people to hide their sexual (or gender) identity. It’s not rainbows and sunshine to be a 15 yo homeless kid, avoiding that fate is definitely the right choice.

          But the bitterness in Aurora Belle’s wording comes from a real wrong that was done to her.
          And part of being a moral person is accepting that doing the wrong thing for the right reason, doesn’t make it a good thing to do.

          1. No wrong was done to Aurora Belle. Her boyfriend broke up with her because they weren’t compatible. That is not wronging anyone. He could have done it without giving *any* reason, and it still wouldn’t be wrong.

          2. What “real wrong,” exactly, is there in either (a) having a fluid sexual orientation that changes over time or (b) being so screwed up by heteronormativity that it takes you a while to figure out your actual orientation? I’m FASCINATED to hear what POSSIBLE non-homophobic explanation there could be.

            I’d also LOVE to find out exactly which people you deem WORTHY of hiding that they’re queer and/or trans. Please, by all means, which of us are allowed control over our own safety? Who, exactly, are the “some people” with a “good reason”? Is there a point-based system for who you’re willing to risk killing?

          3. Breaking up with someone you were attracted to and thought you wanted a romantic/sexual relationship with, but now realize you don’t is a thing that happens a lot.

            Telling someone you are already in in a romantic/sexual relationship with that it was never going to work because you aren’t romantically/sexually attracted to their entire gender identity is very different.

            Dating is essentially pulling back layers of each other and going “Yea” or “Nay”. People go into it guarding themselves and their emotions in proportion to the layer.

            Are you my preferred sexual and/or gender identity?
            That’s Layer Zero.

            It can usually be established before you ask the person out/agree to a date.
            If they’re on a date, people assume that bar has been met. Certainly by the first few dates.
            And if the other person is “Sorry, you came off as more butch online, I’m not really feeling it.”
            Most people will be, “That’s cool. Good luck in your search.”
            Because there’s no vunerability or emotional investment in the relationship.

            So at 14 months into the relationship when Partner A thinks you’re at Layer 17:
            Offhandedly mention how that house reminds you of your Nana’s, sparking a purely hypothetical discussion of what kind of home you’d both like someday and how many children might live there.

            Or even Layer 18: disclosing what debt you both have that might affect what neighborhood said house could be in as an intellectual exercise.

            Partner B revealing that they have in fact been at Layer Zero the whole time is deeply hurtful.
            Because Partner A has emotional defenses for “Four kids in a farmhouse outside of the city! I was thinking one kid in a downtown condo. We really love each other, but maybe this isn’t going work out.”

            But they shed their “Uh, no. You’re gender identity is not attractive!” defenses 14 months ago.

            It’s like getting into bed wearing only your period panties and finding your partner under the covers in a full tuxedo.

            No one deserves safety anymore than anyone else.
            But teenagers are less likely to know what their gender/sexual identity is, and more likely to be totally dependent on the goodwill of their family for food, shelter, tuition, etc.

            If you are Partner B, an adult person who realizes that they are at Layer Zero, and that’s why this relationship feels so awful when Partner A is such a lovely person.
            Yeah, the ramifications of that for this one relationship pales in comparison to the other ramifications it has for your entire life.

            Are you physically safe? Will you lose your job? Your apartment? How will your family react?
            If you aren’t ready to deal with all of that at once and need to stay selectively closeted that’s your right.
            The easiest way to keep your ex-partner from outing you, is to not out yourself to them.

            Someone suggested that ex-Partner A just tell everyone it just didn’t work out.
            That’s a great script, why can’t B use it first?
            If B isn’t ready to be outed, then tell ex-Partner A it isn’t working out, break up and give themself space to work out how they want to handle their new identity.

            Six months or four years down the road, if A runs into B and New Partner C who has a completely different sexual/gender identity, B can say it surprised them too, but love, etc.
            B will have figured out what they are telling to whom, and ask A to respect that.

        2. 1.) This was an ex-boyfriend, not an ex-husband. We have no idea whether they were dating for 20 years or 2 weeks.

          2.) There’s no lying required. “He decided to end the relationship.” “Why?” “I can’t say. You’d have to ask him.”

          3.) If someone point-blank asks you if a queer person is queer or a trans person is trans, and they’re not out/you don’t have permission to out them? SHIT YES, YOU LIE YOUR DANG HEAD OFF.

          4.) The only reason a person would need support from their own personal social circle SPECIFICALLY for being dumped because they’re the wrong gender, versus more generally having a relationship end with someone they still wanted to be with, is homophobia. It is homophobic to blame a queer person for being queer. It is homophobic to blame a queer person for being so overwhelmingly fucked up by our heteronormative society that they didn’t grow up knowing what their actual orientation was, or for having a fluid sexuality that changed over time. If somebody needs to work through those specific feelings, there are ways of doing so without sharing that information with anyone who has any chance of knowing who’s specifically being talked about.

          As a queer person yourself, you should understand that this isn’t a game, and that no one has a “right” to know someone else’s orientation or whether their gender matches their DSAB. This isn’t about protecting someone’s ego: It’s about respecting their RIGHT to control whether, when, how, and to whom to disclose a potentially dangerous part of their identity. You don’t get to decide FOR SOMEONE ELSE what level of risk OF DEATH they are willing to take. They trusted YOU. They did not trust you, AND everyone you trust, AND everyone they trust, AND so on and so on down the chain.

          1. “The only reason a person would need support from their own personal social circle SPECIFICALLY for being dumped because they’re the wrong gender, versus more generally having a relationship end with someone they still wanted to be with, is homophobia.”

            Nope. A person can need support when they’re dumped. Needing support because they were dumped because their newly-ex-partner discovered they were queer and the dumpee is the wrong gender, doesn’t make the dumpee homophobic. Neither does it make the dumpee homophobic if they want to be able to say, to their trusted family/friends circle, “look, the reason so-and-so dumped me was because they realised that they are gay”.

            Absolutely, the dumpee needs to respect the dumper’s boundaries about not being outed to THEIR OWN circle of families, friends, co-workers. But if the dumpee wants to be honest with THEIR close friends about why they were dumped, that doesn’t make them homophobic: it really doesn’t.

            This isn’t about protecting someone’s ego. It’s about acknowledging that when a relationship ends there are TWO people involved, and person one doesn’t have the right tosay to person two “You will lie to everyone you know about why I dumped you, because I have the right to control what information you share with your closest friends.”

            If person one didn’t want person two to know why they were being dumped, it was person one’s right not to come out to person two, just end the relationship there and then and never tell. Once person two knows why, person two needs to respect person one’s boundaries and safety, but not to the point of having to lie to their own trusted circle.

            But we’re moving rather far away from the original topic, and I don’t think this conversation needs to be continued any further.

          2. Ran out of nesting so this is to the foment above this one. The Don’t Be Gay Agenda TM sucks for everyone and it can make everyone feel awful. While not every queer person has cruel intentions of deceiving their partner when they get into a hetro relationship but finding out you partner is gay can be world shattering. Finding out that you were lied too about if you were attractive, romntacly loved, etc makes you question and doubt everything about yourself and can leave a negative emotionally I’m impact on a person. Obviously I’m not saying “it’s those evil gays fault they should just keep their mouth shut”, I think everyone should be who they are attracted too. But also let’s put it this way some people develop trust issues from being cheated on once. Imagine how many trust issues you’ll have if you found out your whole relationship was a lie

          3. I forgot it’s always okay to lie to someone and waste their time (and for women who want children, time is precious) and if you feel even slightly hurt by that, it makes you a bigot who should fuck off and die.

        3. Mileage varies.

          I grew up evangelical and really super conservative and homeschooled. This culture was downright rape-y and openly misogynist. Gay men were encouraged not only to do conversion therapy, but to lie to women and marry them, or date them exclusively/intensely because it made no difference to a woman if her husband was gay or not because her wifely duties would remain the same.

          In our culture, and even with my experience with other cis gay dudes, there is often an open exploitation of women. How many women who go to gay bars find themselves listening to a gay dude’s whole life story and doing emotional maintenance for him? Why did he think that was a natural place for her to be, and a natural thing for her to do?

          Anyway. That seems tangential, but, I honestly think that it’s a real problem that some cis gay dudebro dated a woman, lied to her (Which is still wrong, even if he was lying to himself too), and then required that she tell no one what happened to her. I think it would be best for her to only tell her friends in other cities, a therapist, and other people who didn’t know her boyfriend. But I don’t feel comfortable giving her requirements for who she’s allowed to go to after a man exploited her to flatter his perception of himself and to add to his privilege in society.

          But, yeah. Maybe it’s just me internalizing my own oppression, but I think her line in the sand, while somewhat problematic, is overall pretty okay. “I won’t tell your people, but I’m telling my people” is fine in my book. If my fellow gay dudes don’t like that, maybe they should stop dating women?

          1. I completely agree with this logic. Seen it happen and it can seriously fuck a whole family from making the straight spouse feel miserable, sexually deprived, unattractive and gasslighted to for decades. Teach the children bad relationship and life models that you need to sacrifice your identity and happiness in order to appear normal. It’s not homophobic to want support because one day you caught your husband cheating on you with a dick firmly wedged between his cheeks and being told that the only reason he stayed with you was so he can be straight passing. And it’s not homophobic because you want specific support about this specific issue. (Also while sadly not all of America is safe for queers, queer adults shouldn’t honeypot straight people into marriage. They should work on being a good partner with someone that they are attracted to. Not working on apearinn straight)

      3. Anon: I’ve read some of the Straight Spouse Network website out of curiosity, but there’s some quite transphobic discourse going on in the comments and the letters they publish.

    3. In addition to all of the above, I’m really uncomfortable with the comparison of “gayness” to “cancer”? I’m not trying to discount your pain, because I’m sure you went through a lot at the time, but “your partner leaving you because he’s gay” is not the same as “your partner leaving you because he died”.

      1. To be fair, I think the relevance was supposed to be “being asked to keep big secrets” than “sexual orientation = disease”
        But I’ll agree the situations are different enough that it doesn’t seem very applicable.

  5. LW, I am so sorry for everything that you and your partner are going through. If it helps to hear about a similar set of circumstances, here goes:

    My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014, and died late last year. For the first two years of her illness, she kept it a secret from almost everyone in her life except her husband, one of her two sisters and her children, which was what she needed to do in order to stay strong, manage her treatment and keep on top of things. As the Captain says, “Can you blame him for not wanting to deal with it again? For wanting to feel like he gets to control *something* right now?. She really didn’t want to be the subject of fuss and attention, which she hated throughout her life, and I suspect she also couldn’t abide the thought of being inundated by the pinkified-cancer-warrior mentality alluded to above.

    As a result of respecting my Mum’s choices, I spent a lot of time lying to and withholding information from my non-immediate family, up to and including pretending not to be in the country (I live in another country to my parents, and travelled back to look after my Mum for a few months without telling my cousins, some of whom I’m close to in age and friendship, that I was there). I am not sorry that I did that, and since my Mum’s death everyone whom I have spoken to about it has said that they understand why I did that and are not angry with me. Unfortunately, it sounds like your partner’s family might be less understanding and kind, since they’ve already used his illness to make things All About Them to a truly troubling degree. But even if my cousins had been angry with me for lying, I still don’t think I would regret having allowed my mother to manage her illness in the way that she needed to.

    It is, however, INCREDIBLY hard and lonely for you to carry all this around by yourself, and I would like to very much second the recommendation to see a therapist, find a support group or otherwise do something that allows you to have a space where this can be talked about and you can have the support of people who understand what’s going on. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be in person — for me, journalling with a tight filter of friends who knew what was up was a lifeline — but please don’t believe that respecting your partner’s wishes means never allowing yourself any kind of outlet.

    So many hugs-if-you-would-like-them, and all the respect for what you are doing for your partner.

  6. Dear Letter Writer,

    I’m so sorry you are going through this – on every level. But it is your husband’s life and he should be able to control one part of a life that is spinning out of control. My ex-husband had a sister from who the entire family was estranged. Long story (aren’t they all?). He got a phone call about a year ago from a family friend who had seen the brother-in-law’s obituary and wanted my ex to know. My ex called me to let me know. But what did he say? “The funeral is going on right now, so I can’t make that. I’m not going to do anything afterwards because no matter what I do, it will be the wrong thing.” Um, it isn’t about doing the right thing. It is about doing something that will help his sister through a really difficult time. The obituary listed two charities to which he could make a donation. He could have done that to let his sister know he was thinking of her. Did he? NOPE! I did. And I wrote her a letter letting her know how sorry I was that her biological family wasn’t there for her, but it seemed that she had received support from her other families, and I was glad she had that. I never heard from her (didn’t expect to) but I know I did the right thing by letting her know she had somebody on her side. Your husband doesn’t want to hear a bunch of “I’m sorry” from people who are saying it only because he’s dying. They have the option every day to say they’re sorry, and if they haven’t said it by now, they don’t want to. Who cares if they’re in pain? It is pain of their own making. Why even tell them he has passed when it comes to that? Their actions have proven that they care only about themselves and that’s on them. You should take care of your husband and yourself. And yes, I do know how horrible it feels after the fact when you have given tough love and then the person dies. The guilt is awful. You are unable to save your husband’s relationship with his family. Don’t waste the time you have left with your husband worrying about them. They haven’t spent one moment worrying about the damage they have done to him. Be strong and know there are a bunch of strangers out here who are sending support your way as you navigate this difficult journey.

  7. When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and my mum made the difficult decision not to tell her mother. Not because Grandma was abusive, and not because they weren’t close – but because Grandma would have fretted herself into knots and looked to us for constant reassurance, and they couldn’t deal with the extra emotional work involved in that. It didn’t help that Grandma herself was ill and in hospital at the time (and indeed, passed away a year before my dad did). Since your husband’s family isn’t close and there’s already strain from them not taking responsibility for their own actions (not to mention precedent for them being demanding in the face of Husband’s ill health!), I think there’s very good reason for Husband’s decision. Don’t second-guess him on it – he deserves to spend the last months/years of his life without having to take care of people who’ll make it all about themselves and demand he forgives them nownownownowNOW.

    And while you’re right that the shock of sudden deaths and the pain of not getting to say goodbye are The Worst Pain, I do think that the long, drawn-out siege of terminal illness can also be The Worst Pain. There is no good way to lose someone (with the possible exception of my great uncle, who died in the middle of a game of table tennis – I can never help feeling irrationally comforted that he died enjoying something that he loved, in company with friends).

    So please, please reassure yourself: you aren’t being complicit in torturing Husband’s family, you’re being supportive of making life easier for him (and also yourself). Then put the issue of his family to one side, and concentrate on working out who else you CAN entrust with the knowledge. People who will be supportive to you and to him; who can ignore the elephant in the corner and help the pair of you store up good memories while you can, or who can take you out for a one-on-one coffee and listen to you talk out your own fears and feelings.

    *hugs* if you’d like them!

    1. Not that it is at all comparable, but when my dad was unemployed several years ago, he and my mother chose not to tell my grandmothers for basically the same reason – they knew my dad’s mom would fret constantly, though not to them, and that mom’s mom would call almost daily to ask if he had found anything or would mail him wildly inappropriate job listings. They were concerned enough about their prospects; they couldn’t also do the emotional labor with the grandmothers.

      1. Agreed – I once spent about two weeks dodging my grandma’s calls, who was increasingly worried about the fact that my parents had stopped calling in the usual intervals. Stressful for everyone involved, but nothing compared to what would’ve ensued had she known her son was in fact temporarily unable to talk on the phone because of a stroke. Good times. (Dad fully recovered, half his family still doesn’t know it happened though)

        1. When my uncle had a motorcycle accident that put him in the hospital while on the road home from his mother’s house, he continued to call her just as per usual, as if he were back home three states away, even though he was literally five miles away. He just couldn’t face grandma showing up to offer support and recrimination in equal measure (she was like that). She never did find out.

  8. LW, I agree the captain’s advice is spot on, and I hope you can find the support for yourself she describes. You and your husband are in my thoughts. I’m so sorry you have to go through this.

  9. I’m so very sorry, LW. I agree with everything the Captain said, but I also wanted to mention this: you seem very worried for the pain and feelings of people whom you have only seen once in your life (because your husband decided to keep his distance from people who hurt him).

    Why do you think that is? Might it be that society is working its pressure on you to Manage All the Feelings at the Expense of your Own Wellbeing, Because That’s What Women do? Or maybe that you feel the need to focus on another’s pain right now, to distract you from your own, and because your husband is unavailable for that, you are turning to his “closest kin”?

    Your husband’s bio family are not his closest kin, else you would have seen each other more than once in 22 years. And your pain is important too. Please, try to find somewhere and somebodies safe to let your pain out and feel all your feelings.

    As for your husband’s father: if he’s seeking absolution, he should go talk to a priest.

    I’m sending all good wishes your way.

    1. Well and kindly said, B.

      Dear LW, you are absolutely right to want to deal with your complicated feelings around what is happening right now. These distant and horrible people are not the right place to find solace and support.

  10. I have cut off members of my family for ongoing emotional abuse, and no, I don’t have a need to reconcile with them and would have no regrets if one of them died and I didn’t speak to them. But like the Captain said, get help so that you can get *your* needs to talk about this met. You have all my sympathy, LW.

    1. This. A rare downvote to the Captain’s idea, that LW tell Husband to get in communication with his brothers and that LW should label Husband’s stance as “bullshit.”

      It’d be great if the brothers were allies and fellow survivors who could band together. My own experience with my siblings is that we were taught to be at each other’s throats in the abusive household, specifically so we couldn’t mobilize. Like Husband, I chose distance and disconnect. Who knows what Husband and the two brothers had to do to get grown and gone.

      After decades, I tried to reconcile with my siblings a few years ago. Siblings are clinging to the lies and it’s now bolstered by the promise of more money from cutting me out of the inheritance.

      It’s Husband’s call, and that is not bullshit.

      1. I agree — likely he knows how his brothers would react better than she does, and however well-meaning it seems to inform them, his wishes ought to be paramount. I think it would just cause him more grief if LW tried, even in the most gentle way, to persuade him to change his mind on this. His life is difficult enough without having to engage with his nearest and dearest (LW) in an emotional discussion like this.

  11. You aren’t and wouldn’t be the torturer’s assistant by protecting your husband’s privacy. If anything, you are refusing to be complicit in an abuser’s further torture of your husband. Not only as those scripts about a chance to say goodbye often bullshit, they can be a tool of abuse, with endless “but give him/her/them one more chance, because otherwise you might regret it.”

    It would be better to risk possibly regretting making an unrepentant abuser sad, than to regret making your husband’s time, and your own, harder than they already are. As the Captain said, neither you nor your husband have any obligation to do more emotional labor for his abusive father, or for the mother who didn’t protect him from the abuse.

    1. Don’t do this, ever. You don’t know these people, you are not their doctor, and this is really not okay.

      Not deleting this since it’s a reminder that another exhausting thing about being public about being ill invites the “Have you tried _____?” brigade in.

  12. I’m so sorry for you both, LW, and I hope you take the Cap’s advice.

    I’m not dying, but I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder over a year ago. I had several hospitalization and have undergone a fair bit of treatment. I sometimes wish I hadn’t told my mom, who I love dearly. She means to be supportive, but it’s all about her worries over my disease. It is far more exhausting to deal with other people’s emotions about my disease than my own at least 90% of the time. The difference between fussing and helping, I’ve learned, is that the former is about the carer’s needs, the latter, about the person being cared for.

    Your husband probably doesn’t want to tell the for the reasons you suspect. Talk to him about it, but continue to support him and his decisions.

    Much love and sympathy to you both.

    1. My mom was the same way, about my seriously annoying but ultimately minor health issues. It’s exhausting and it makes me not want to talk to her at all because i have to be cheerful and perfect or she freaks out. UGH.

  13. Also, LW, please remember that your husband’s father is – not was, is – an abuser. His dramatic months-long usurpation of your husband’s diagnosis to make it All About Him And His Sadfeels is absolutely classic abuser behavior. As Ann said above, these people could have (but did not) reach out to your husband at any time to make amends. They could have (but did not) admit what happened and try to build a relationship based on something other than mind games and his father’s ego. They could have (but, apparently, have not) considered that your husband’s ill health put him at higher risk of passing away suddenly and without warning, and that if he had had a heart attack they’d never get the chance to say one last goodbye either.

    1. I would go so far as to say that it is perfectly reasonable for LW to decide that, when the time comes, this is exactly what she *will* tell husband’s family – that he had a sudden heart attack (due to his already-existing CHF) – if for no reason other than to protect herself from also becoming a target of their abuse, as they attempt to yank support structures out from under her, to bolster themselves. People who care about you don’t need the ‘excuse’ of a life-threatening illness (much less a *second* one) to make amends for prior abuse. And they’ve already shown husband and LW once before exactly how they can be expected to behave. If they truly cared about him as a person, and were no longer interested in making it All About Them, then they’ve had ample opportunities to reach out and show him that, and they are choosing daily to squander those chances (already knowing that he is ill, just not to what extent). There is no reason for them to know that he had an additional diagnosis or that he had it months in advance. They’ve had more than enough time to make movements toward becoming people worthy of trust, and they are dropping the ball daily. So there really is no reason for them to know what husband chose not to tell them, or that he chose not to tell them, or that LW helped to shield him in this endeavor. LW’s silence right now can be a gift to her husband, but she is also worthy of receiving the gift of future protection for herself (from having to become a dumping ground for their guilt, or a blame recipient, and/or reassuring support structure for his abusive family, who have never been a support structure for her OR her husband, and in the very moments when she will be needing support for herself the most). Abusers haven’t earned trust and therefore haven’t earned the truth in ANY situation where that truth may potentially be used to harm you LW. And since you have good reason to believe that they will take this out on you or make it All About Themselves, then I think you have every right to withhold whatever information you need to.

      1. This.

        LW – it is totally ok to say what you need to say (he passed away suddenly, or we weren’t expecting him to go when he did) so that you don’t carry the burden of dealing with your in-law’s b.s after your husband dies. Have your scripts ready now so if that’s what you decide they just roll out of you. Your husband has every right to control this narrative now, but remember that right passes to you upon his death and you don’t have anything to ‘make up for’.

      2. Just be sure, if you choose that route, to talk to whoever is speaking at the wake/burial beforehand, if his family is also present.

  14. My father is dying: it’s a stomach cancer. He has been battling with it for three years, now it’s winning. I know, my mother knows and a cousin of my mother and her husband know.

    We haven’t said anything to my father’s two sisters, simply because we know them too well. We are not close, but when, ten years ago my father had some health issues (not related to cancer) and was hospitalized for some months they reconnected with us to “help”.

    On top of my father’s issues, my mother and I had to battle with the unreasonable demands of my aunts: “you should do this” “you should do that” “the doctors are wrong” “you have to consult another specialist”. They kept calling at every hour (on Easter before 7 in the morning!) with unsolicited advice, pretending to know every detail and sprouting nonsense about some kind of treatment they read on the web (apparently sports drinks can cure an acute bone infection, or maybe you should try wool socks).

    My advice is: you know your husband’s father, and what kind of man he is. What do you think will happen if he knows?

    You wrote:

    >Part of me is horrified at the pain my husband’s family will go through without warning, etc, when he dies. Especially since it does not appear that >there will be any ‘sooner or later’ because it will be ‘soon or sooner’.

    but you should consider that it’s a very difficult and tiring -both physically and psychologically- period awaits you and your husband, and I fear that his father’s emotional baggage and instability will only bring more stress and chaos in your life, whereas you both need peace and tranquillity.

    As the captain said: talk to your husband, express your concerns, but keep in mind that you should think of you and him before every other person: you both are your priority right now. If you need to talk (and you’ll need to talk, I assure you) choose a close friend of yours, someone you can confide and search for support groups or psychological aid in your city.

    Lots and lots of hugs.

    1. Yes. Apart from anything else, LW, you really do not need a bunch of strangers hovering around and trying to muscle you aside during your husband’s final days.

    2. Yup. When my mother was dying, my aunt would “help” by calling her every day to demand that Mom manage all her feelings, and then call me to give medical orders about what the doctors ought to be doing. Why no, Aunt isn’t a specialist in Mom’s condition, in palliative care, or anything else. But she was married to a GP (who died in 1969,) so of course she knows best.
      Mom wouldn’t stop taking her calls, but I was slightly comforted that as her hearing and attention span went, Aunt couldn’t hurt her anymore.
      If I had it to do over (and it was my choice to make) I’d have told Aunt nothing until afterwards.

    3. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing “I’m sorry” (I know I was, when my grandma was dying of stomach cancer), but I am truly sorry for what you and your family are going through right now. I’m sending along some of my love and strength to you with this comment, if you want it.

  15. One practical point worth considering is that when your husband dies you will be the one who has to communicate with his family or arrange for someone else to do this. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask your husband how he wants this done, since your having to do it is a direct consequence of this (also reasonable) decision not to tell them now, and he knows them better than you and how they are likely to react. Does he want to write a letter for them to have? Does he think you should go via a solicitor? Does he suggest telling Uncle Joe first because Uncle Joe is the person most likely to understand and be able to convey the news well etc.

    1. I also wondered if the husband might be up to writing a letter. It might help focus his family’s attention on his decision not to tell them rather than LW’s decision not to rat him out.

    2. There is also this, OP: you are going to have to survive your husband’s family’s attempt to make it All About Them one way or the other, and better to put it off and only have to do it once than have to do it on an ongoing basis for the next six to eighteen months.

      After my husband died, his sister (his only remaining close relative, from whom he was VERY estranged) attempted to take everything not nailed down, attempted to bully his life insurance company into giving her control of his policy, attempted to force me to pay for exactly the kind of funeral he didn’t want, attempted to force me to buy a plot in a cemetary when he wanted his ashes scattered, and on and on and on and on and on.

      She demanded specific “mementoes” that were coincidentally, moveable goods worth money and didn’t exist, and accused me of stealing or destroying them out of spite. She called me constantly with ever-escalating demands. It was a nightmare. If I had had to endure it for an unspecified time before his death, as well as after, I probably wouldn’t have survived.

      1. WWWRU – I am so sorry you had to go through that on top of your pain and grief. We had something of the reverse happen when my grandmother died. My grandfather (her second husband) suddenly decided that her grandchildren from her eldest son, who was not his, were not really family, and either sold, or gave to us (his grandchildren by blood) a lot of things she had specifically set aside for the others (this after they had grown up with him being the only grandpa they had ever known). Then he would look for the things he had given us to make sure we still had them. It took ages to get my cousins the mementoes of grandma that she’d wanted them to have, and family relations were never the same again.

  16. I agree with both the patient and the Captain. I think Anonyis his on to something: would the letter-writer’s husband consider writing a letter, to be delivered after his death, to those relatives (the brothers and any others?) with whom he does have some kind of relationship? If he wants to write to either parent, too, that would be cool. If not, that sends a powerful message too.

    1. I think that letters are a good idea. If his health permits, perhaps he could even visit his brothers or his mother again without saying anything about his health (not sure it that is possible in this case).

  17. My wife and I have discussed it many times, and it’s even in my living will and medical POA that my parents are to be kept far away from me in case of any serious medical issues. They are both emotional hijackers, and anything that happens will become all about them. I agree completely with the Cap’s recommendations, and I can fully imagine how exhausting it is for OP’s husband to even think about having his family around. He doesn’t need them; they don’t deserve him.

    Once he passes, OP will have no ties to a group of people whom she’s met only once in her life and never needs to think about again. But she will always have the reassurance that her husband got to have his last wishes honored.

    1. And if they give her a hard time after her husband is dead, well that’s what call blocking is for.

  18. My wife and I have discussed it many times, and it’s even in my living will and medical POA that my parents are to be kept far away from me in case of any serious medical issues. They are both emotional hijackers, and anything that happens will become all about them. I agree completely with the Cap’s recommendations, and I can fully imagine how exhausting it is for OP’s husband to even think about having his family around. He doesn’t need them; they don’t deserve him.

    Once he passes, OP will have no ties to a group of people whom she’s met only once in her life and never needs to think about again. But she will always have the reassurance that her husband got to have his last wishes honored.

  19. As someone who went through the experience of being withheld information about a family members health, I will tell you, I’m behind husband’s decision 100%.
    First things first, my situation is apples to the LW’s oranges. I was child, not an adult choosing to or compulsively shoving their emotional needs onto others; my family gave me platitudes and kept certain things because the adults around me were trying to avoid me pain, all while navigating their own feelings and pushing through the situation at hand. I was angry when I found out, I felt betrayed, I’ll confess, but I was a prideful tween who also felt a bit patronized by the entire situation. Now as an adult, the memory still pains me, but I hold no grudge, my family was trying their best, they made mistakes, I get that now.
    If there’s some alternative universe where my family had given me every nitty gritty detail, and I could compare both scenarios, I wouldn’t be able to choose, they’d just be two distinct flavors of suck.

    I’m trying to see things through the husband’s point of view. I’m a young person who has the privilege to be in good health and has almost exclusively stable relationships, and yet I cherish my alone time and taking a rest from others. Cancer (as any illness) is exhausting! And he’s probably trying to come to terms with a lot of things emotionally. Can you imagine having to go through all that while trying to deal with people who, frankly, you don’t like being with.
    And I’m genuinely scared that the LW’s in laws may be the type to cling to drama just for the hell of it. That they may pop up unexpectedly at the worst of times to make things about themselves, with no regard to the husband’s peace of mind.
    This time should be made as comfortable and as happy for husband as possible.
    Something I noticed, the letter specified that husband’s family were the ones not being told, meaning that possibly there are other people like friends and family who are in on this. If that’s the case I suggest nourishing the relationships that bring both LW and husband joy. Talking and being with the people willing to help but who know when to step back.

    And ditto on the whole therapist/support group suggestion, LW and anyone who is caring for someone ill, DONT FORGET TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

  20. LW you’re doing absolutely the right thing by respecting your husband’s choice not share this info his family. In a way it doesn’t matter if his choice is right or wrong – probably there is no ideally correct way to deal with this situation – what matters is it’s HIS choice, and in this situation what your husband wants or needs is much more important than what his relatives might want or need. I wish you well & hope you can take good care of yourself in the months ahead.

  21. I’m so sorry. This is very hard. I went through it last year when my husband had his last go-round with cancer. It is undoubtedly the most difficult thing I have ever faced (and hopefully that I will ever have to). It is exhausting and terrifying and foreshadowed with the knowledge of the grieving still to come.

    My in-laws were clueless and insensitive rather than actively destructive like yours. My husband dealt directly with them for most of the time, and he was very honest, so I didn’t have to make this kind of decision. I nevertheless had a lot of strain and tension at times when he was very ill and couldn’t deal with them, and felt a lot of anger towards them because of their inability to provide him (or me) with any meaningful support. I also worried that they would suffer pain and regret after his death because they failed him multiple times. They may well be feeling pain and regret now, but I do not know because none of them have contacted me since his funeral. I am letting go of this stuff and I now think that it is my job to deal with my own pain, regret, guilt, anger and deep sadness, and their job to take care of theirs. Not always so easy to do as to write. I mostly, at this point, feel sorry for them, try to be compassionate, and go back to trying to deal with my own grief.

    I mention this because it sounds like you are spending a lot of energy on protecting the feelings of people who have failed you and your husband several times before, at a very profound level, and considering prioritising these over the express wishes of your husband. I doubt you are feeling this way because you don’t love or respect your husband and his decisions, or you think his in-laws have changed. Could you be projecting your own pain on to your in-laws because it is just too hard to face just now? This kind of news is so utterly devastating that it is too big to grasp in its full horror. A lot of the time I projected my anger at cancer and the ill-luck of life on to my in-laws when it wasn’t really about them. And your in-laws may not react in the way you imagine anyway – they may not be capable of feeling the intense pain you are imagining for them and wanting to prevent. Even if they do, that pain is theirs to deal with and come to terms with in the long run. They have done nothing to justify your (admirable and very human) concern for their grief.

    Are you getting enough support for your own pain? It seems like you are looking out for everyone else here – but who is looking out for you? It wasn’t clear to me whether your husband is choosing not to tell his family, or choosing not to tell anyone other than you. If the latter, I would say that is not really sustainable for a carer. We can’t do it all ourselves, we really can’t. If there are people you can share this with who you trust not to spread the word to the in-laws, then I think it is reasonable and fair for you to tell your husband that you need to involve them so you can obtain some support. Even if that isn’t possible, there are organisations which provide support and it is vital to find them and access whatever help you can. It is never selfish for a carer to seek out support for yourself and to practice the best self-care possible.

    FInally, and this is a completely separate issue, as you are no doubt aware brain mets are a possibility with lung cancer. It would be prudent, if you haven’t already, to put in place whatever legal protections are available to ensure you have the power to make decisions on his behalf if he can’t do so any longer (eg. consent to treatment, hospice, etc). I am NOT suggesting this as a means to override his wishes about his family – not at all – just that in my professional life I have seen too many people suffer unnecessary stress at an already horrendous time because they didn’t put arrangements in place. Apart from anything else, without those protections, if the in-laws did find out and come over they might start trying to make decisions about his care – which is clearly not what either of you would want.

    Wishing both of you strength and peace and the making of many good and loving memories.

    1. On this extremely practical note, I’d also advise you, if you haven’t already, to look into a durable power of attorney for financial matters. When doing wills recently, I learned that one spouse’s physical or mental inability to make financial decisions means (in the US) that generally if you don’t have one, the only way around it involves a judge and maybe a conservatorship.

      1. I agree with the above commenters that it would be a prudent idea to meet with an attorney who does financial/health care powers of attorney, Living Wills, Last Wills and Testaments and estates/trusts, and the above advice is sound. Further, if you already have both POAs and a LWT, but have moved to another state as permanent residents since doing them, you need to strongly consider getting documents specific to your state done. If your husband has life insurance, consider a trust to handle financial issues and protect your property. (I am not a lawyer, but definitely consider talking to a lawyer and getting protected legally.) The last thing you or your husband will want right now is dealing with emotionally abusive relatives of his horning in on his decisions and stated wishes and preferences.

        This only applies if money is a current concern for you: Lawyers work on a sliding scale if you would opt out of getting vital legal documents done due to tight finances or concern over upcoming medical bills, but a simple set of POAs and a LWT should not be horribly expensive. In most cases they are boilerplate documents that junior attorneys (or a competent paralegal or legal assistant who is working with your lawyer) can competently put together for you, and the younger lawyers typically charge lower hourly rates. There should also be a Legal Aid group locally, and it is always possible that an attorney will work pro bono after reviewing your situation. It does not hurt to ask. It certainly doesn’t hurt to take those concerns off your list of things to stress out over.

    2. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband and am in awe of the strength in your compassionate note. I hope your happy memories outlast the sad ones.

  22. I know this is a bit of unsolicited advice and totally understand if the mods strike it down…I work in lung cancer research and a new treatment for stage 4 was recently approved called Keytruda. If your husband has the sub-type of cancer that it works in, it nearly doubles median survival, wit fewer side effects than chemo. I’m only posting about it because the approval was so recent it’s not been heavily advertised to patients or doctors yet and I thought ethically, I had to mention the option

  23. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through, LW. What a difficult set of circumstances you’re dealing with. I wish you all the best, and hope you have a good Team You who is helping to take care of you!

    I lost my dad very suddenly with no chance to say goodbye, so I know how much that hurts. But I also can sympathize with your husband, as I have a strained relationship with my emotionally abusive mother and when I’m sick the Very Last Thing I want to do is to deal with her on top of everything else. She has one of two responses to my being sick: completely ignore and pretend not to notice even when I’m very obviously sick right in front of her, or swoop in and make it all about her and what a great mother she is for taking care of me. I just don’t don’t want or need to deal with that when I need to focus my energy on taking care of myself – and I’m just talking relatively mild, treatable illnesses here. If I was dealing with something like cancer, no way I’d want her to know.

    So please, LW, honor your husband’s wishes. His father has already shown he won’t give your husband the love and care he needs if told. To paraphrase the Captain here, it’s his parents that have already made this situation awkward, not you or him. Please focus on taking good care of yourself and your husband, and keep the Captain’s excellent scripts in your back pocket for when the time comes. Lots of Jedi Hugs to you, take care.

  24. So there’s this recent documentary (“Everything is Copy”) about writer Nora Ephron, who died in 2012 and told No. One. she was ill. Not friends, not family. Her son is the filmmaker, and he interviews all these people who expressed being upset that she didn’t share her secret with them. None of them felt unloved by her, it should be pointed out. LW might watch it for some other perspectives.

    My other thought about this is befuddlement at the determination people seem to have in seeking out misery that hasn’t befallen anyone yet. There’s plenty of time to be miserable once it has happened. Fretting about it now, especially in such a way that would cause misery to her present husband, seems, at best, counter-productive. After his death, and when and if his family is resentful, there will be time to make explanations and whatever amends may be appropriate (or not). Since LW has no control over their reactions either now or later anyway, my vote is to abide by Husband’s wishes.

    1. I agree with the captain’s advice, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the LW to be wondering about this question. She and her husband have information that if other people had it, it would give them a chance to reflect and say goodbye as well as give support while he is dying. If he doesn’t want to share that with them, I think that’s his choice. But it’s fair that the LW is thinking about how things will change for them if they know. Compare someone who suddenly dies of a heart attack vs someone who has had cancer off and on for years. Their families experience these two things totally differently.

  25. I’m agreeing with most people here: respect your husband’s wishes about whom he wants to tell and when. Having said that, if he doesn’t want them to know until after he passes, you should be ready for them to hijack whatever service they are invited to and make it all about how they didn’t get a chance to “say goodbye” or some such tripe.

    I’m very sorry to hear about your husband’s illness. May you both find some peace and light in the coming days.

  26. LW, I think a lot of people have already given you some great advice, one thing I haven’t seen mention of yet in comments or in the original letter is whether or not you are seeing a therapist. If you aren’t, I would really recommend spending some time finding a therapist you like who can help you work through your own feelings about all this, and also who can provide a safe space for you to talk about everything. While I think everyone’s advice to find some friends or family who can support you is also good, your friends and family are naturally also going to be concerned about your husband and worried about him and have their own feelings about all that. Sometimes that’s helpful, sometimes it’s not. A therapist, though, would be a neutral party whose job is to look out for just you and help you deal with your own feelings, which I think is important.

    1. A Social Worker at your husband’s treatment center can recommend therapists who specialize in what you are going through. SW would also know about support groups that are for people in your situation. Such a support group could be invaluable for you after your husband is gone. As well meaning as friends and family can be, unless they have been in your shoes, very few of them will really understand what you are going through. Sometimes, while trying to be kind, they can make you feel worse.

      1. If they have started working with hospice/palliative care, the hospice people might also have info on local therapists/grief counselors. 
(My mom now wishes she had gotten in touch with hospice months before she did – basically the moment we knew my Dad was dying. They were so wonderful, and so helpful.)

  27. I’m so sorry, LW. Several years ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within a year. Not a comparable situation with yours because he didn’t have abusive relatives to cope with, but my family had as close to the kind of loving goodbye you see in movies and tv shows as we could get, and my dad even told us a couple times, “this is out of your control. You can’t fix this.” And yet after he was gone I still went looking for some kind of absolution, some way I could have made things better, which was obviously my issue to deal with. And his death didn’t stop a lot of viciously nasty arguments that came out of the pain of the loss, since grief is much more complicated than tears. Getting a perfect deathbed confession is the kind of thing that can only work for fictional characters, not real human beings. The Captain is right that pain is coming for all of you and it’s not a situation you can fix by yourself.

    My only other suggestion, besides getting lots of support from your family/friends/loved ones, is getting support from a grief counselor or therapist where you can talk openly. My friends were generous and kind to me after my dad’s funeral, but they also assumed that grieving has a time limit (getting all our culture’s messages about it), and were uncomfortable with me talking about anything after about 2 months. So please consider someone who can help you long term if you think you might need it.

  28. For what it’s worth, I don’t think your husband is in denial. If he was refusing to acknowlege that he had cancer, that would be denial. Thinking about it when necessary and not when not is simply making good use of his remaining time. The medical outcome is the same if he dwells on the cancer as if he spends that same time thinking about something he enjoys, so he might as well think about something he enjoys. So don’t listen to anyone who condemns you for supporting his preference.

    He sounds very brave. I’m so sorry you’re losing him.

  29. LW,

    I like my family. Not just my immediate family, but the extended clan of aunts/uncles/cousins too. I can’t imagine what it would take for any of us to become estranged. If your family is like that, I understand why you might feel that it’s so awful your husband and his parents won’t make peace before the end, and why can’t they reconcile and have something bittersweet in the midst of all this grief. But your husband decided to cut them off a long time ago, and they in turn decided not to reach out. Trust that your husband did it for a good reason. He’s told you some of what that reason is. Believe him now, and save both him and yourself the extra pain and hassle of having abusive near-strangers hovering around and trying to interfere while you’re grieving. It’s not your fault that they weren’t close. It’s not your fault that your husband’s parents couldn’t own what they did and show that they were sorry. That relationship broke down long before you came on the scene and you can’t fix it.

    I know sometimes it’s tempting to look for meaning/a silver lining/God’s will when something catastrophic like terminal cancer happens in your life. Maybe you feel that if your husband and his parents reconcile then this lousy fucking bastard cancer at least *meant* something. If that’s the case, I understand too, but sometimes illness just happens. It’s nobody’s fault, there’s no master plan. It’s just a perfect storm of genetic and/or environmental factors. Give yourself and your husband some peace at this terrible time, and honour his wishes.

  30. Dear Letter-Writer,

    I am so sorry for your impending loss: I wish you well for time there is left to you and I wish you strength and honour in the time there is to come.

    While it’s not at all on the same level, several years ago now my late mother discovered a family heritage of diabetes-2 had finally caught up with her. She told me, and me only, because she trusted me not to condemn her or attack her for “letting” herself get diabetes.(Yes, I know this doesn’t make sense, but some of my relatives would have done just that.)

    I supported her right to not share her diagnosis with people who would have condemned her for it, and would have done to the end of her days if I’d had to.

    But when after nearly a month I discovered she hadn’t told my father, her husband, the person she’d lived with for forty-plus years (who wouldn’t and didn’t condemn her for “getting diabetic”) I did tell her “We’re in a situation here where I feel every time I come over and you haven’t told him yet, I’m in a bad position: I know he would want to know, I feel he *should* know so that he can support you and so that he can tell medics if there’s an emergency, I feel like I’m practically lying to him by omission.”

    She acknowledged I had a point and after a few days she did tell him, and it was just as well as a couple of months later she did have a medical emergency where a small infection was resulting in her slipping into a diabetic coma, and my dad recognised what was happening and called for help in time, which he wouldn’t necessarily have done if he hadn’t know she was diabetic.

    I mention this, because it wasn’t the same thing. I visited my parents regularly: I saw my dad as often as I saw my mum. My dad had a genuine need-to-know and I had a genuine reason to worry about passively deceiving him about my mum’s health.

    You don’t have a relationship with your in-laws. They don’t have a need-to-know except for the benefit of their own feelings, and their feelings are not the priority here. Your husband gets to be the decider about when they know. It’s horrible for you anticipating this, but I think all you can do is accept and maybe talk it through with someone supportive *for you* who can be relied on to keep secret what your husband wants to keep?

    I think it’s fair to have an honest conversation with him about your feelings about being the one to have to tell them after he dies, but only so he knows how you feel – not so he feels nagged into feeling he should. Would he feel okay about writing them a letter, to be delivered after his death? I mention that just as an idea – it might take some of the burden off you of having to tell them that he didn’t want them to know til afterwards, and it might let him feel like he had further control over the situation of how/when they get told.

    Both my parents died in the same year. My own experience of loss is that it is so shattering that many things which it seemed prior to the deaths would matter a lot, following the loss actually seem to matter less than I thought. Looking ahead and trying to predict how I’d feel afterward … I didn’t know what I would feel like. Everything changed, and so did I.

    My very best wishes, and all good thoughts to you and to your husband.

  31. As someone who has thought about my own death quite a bit and has always pretty happily imagined not telling anyone unless absolutely necessary, if I was your husband I honestly think I’d rather just die alone than with someone who would betray me when I need them most the way you are talking about doing.

    You are the person who is in his corner right now while he goes through this. Really think about if you want to pit yourself against him while he’s literally dying of cancer.

  32. I think when it comes to the end of someone’s life, the least you can do is let them die with dignity and peace. For LW’s husband, that includes not being assailed by the woes of a man who abused him as a child, and then wants assurance that his shitty parenting decisions didn’t lead to his son’s illness. The husband should not have to spend his last few months of life listening to his father making the situation all about his father and his need to be assured. I do realize that will make things a little harder on LW after the death, and that sucks. but I think the peace LW facilities for her husband will be worth it.

    1. Has anyone pointed out that the LW’s husband can very rightly point at his SF and say, “You are the reason I have cancer”? Because s’truth. The husband has agreed to allow a lie to stand in place — he was emotionally beaten into agreeing to that. He might be clinging to that agreement as a moral decision, and unsure he can keep his word if the man who set him on the wrong path *knowing that it could result in death* crowds around him. We’ve known about cigarettes for a very long time. More than two generations now.

  33. I agree with the Captain’s advice and everyone else who has supported the LW taking care of herself in this very difficult time. I don’t know if LW and husband are in the US; if they are, I would strongly recommend that they request a Palliative Care consult. Palliative Care teams are experts at helping people through serious illness. This is not hospice and he does not need to give up any of the treatments he is pursuing. They could help with any physical symptoms he is having and could also provide support for both the husband the LW for all the emotional/psychological/spiritual struggles that accompany this kind of illness.

    Full disclosure: I am an MD who worked for the last 10 years in hospice and palliative medicine, and I believe every patient diagnosed with metastatic cancer should have a palliative care consult at the time of or soon after diagnosis. The literature supports this, by the way. Captain, if this falls in the “don’t give medical advice” category, feel free to delete; I offer it because it seems in line with what the husband wants and it would provide LW with support, as you suggest.

  34. LW, I’m so sorry to learn of your husband’s illness. I hope you two are able to take refuge in your marriage.

    I read where you are saying you feel you are being complicit in bringing pain to those relatives. I have dealt with feeling like this too, and it is a royal bear to not give in. I told myself -I had perspective! I saw things others did not! And yes, I did see more. But that meant I read things into my mother’s death and relations to her siblings and we adult children, that were NOT factors for her. What I was hearing was the sound of my own script running.

    The solution you are longing to put into play is a very good one- – which does not fit this situation, with these people. And you may think to yourself, “I would want to do A and I’d absolutely say B” -when it comes to it, there may well be really good reasons you can’t even put that into play for yourself.

    Twenty-five years after my mother’s suicide, I’m only now understanding why she didn’t tell her cruel and abusive family that she had cancer. I can’t know what those monsters put her through when she was a child. Just last year, I heard the tone-deaf victim-blaming falling out of her sister’s stupid mouth. “Oh, your Mom was always running away from home, what a bad, bad kid she was…” But I had been doing the work. “Really?” I said. “Because what you’re describing sure points to abuse IN the home…” According the the aunt, everything bad was my mother’s fault. Their own lives are la-la-la, completely un-examined. My aunt had been expecting me to join in and trash my mother too, but now I knew where the abuse script my mother’d run on me had come from. My aunt heard the shift and I listened to her scramble to close ranks. Now, I’ve become the horrible person they all reject and talk about.

    I feel I could fist-bump your husband on keeping those family people out.

    We can’t know everything your husband knows. I believe him though; I believe he’s the expert and his distance from them- and his closeness and trust in you- is all the truth we need.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. Thank you to you (and other posters) for posting links – I’m going to read them all. I was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer, and the emotional labour required to manage my large, fractious, dysfunctional, and (sad to say) sometimes greedy family has been enormous. Even those family members who have been wonderful and supportive struggle with feeling helpless and the lack of control. I’m the one who has to coordinate visits to manage the difficult relationships and ensure certain siblings, parents, aunts, etc. aren’t in the same room at once.

      I burst in to tears in hospital a few weeks ago after my sister’s request that I fly half-way around the world so she could see me, have a sunny break, and avoid a long flight and jetlag (though it’s ok for a dying woman to make the trip!) She lives in London, I’m in Australia, and of course I was expected to pay for all flights and accommodation. The oncology nurse hugged me and simply said ‘you have a lot on your mind – if your family asks you for money you shouldn’t feel bad for saying no”. It took a stranger to help me reframe my thoughts and see that’s it’s time to focus on myself. A few other family members have asked for money, and I seriously want to tell them that they won’t have to wait too long to inherit.

      Sometimes, being too ill (I’m mid chemo) to travel and receive visitors is a blessing!

      1. I am so sorry you are dealing with this. My father was diagnosed with a GBM last year – *regretful fistbump*

        I wish you all the best of love and care and support.

        I am also in Australia, you’re welcome to email me at Carpe[dot]librarium[at]live[dot]com if you need to reach out for any reason.

      2. I’m so sorry, RedCat 😦 Sending you lots of jedi hugs and cuddly virtual baby animals, if they are welcome.

  35. When I was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago, I told very few people. Even though my cancer was caught in the very early stages, and even though it was very treatable/curable (I’m pretty much 100% fine now, though I’ll need medication for the rest of my life). I thought long and hard about it and decided that the only people who needed to know were the people I decided needed to know. For me, it really was about the emotional labor. I did NOT want to face down cancer treatment with a chorus of family/acquaintances freaking out about the C word. And I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been had my family been abusive and manipulative like your husband’s, LW.

    I know it sucks to be asked to keep a secret like this. It isn’t healthy for you to tell no one, so I do encourage you to find a trusted friend or counselor so you are not stuck completely silent on this. But do not tell your husband’s family. They aren’t actually entitled to know.

    If my husband had gone behind my back and told the people I didn’t want knowing about my cancer? I can’t even articulate how angry I would have been at that massive, massive betrayal. Your husband is unlikely to recover, so don’t let a betrayal of that scale be the note you end your marriage on. If you’re looking at this in terms of what’s owed and to whom: you owe your husband this confidence way, way more than you owe anything to his family.

    If you think that, after your husband’s death, his family might try and guilt you about not telling them (and given what you’ve described about them, that seems highly likely), remind yourself that your husband was clearly uninterested in you having any kind of relationship with them. My husband’s family lives in Australia and we live in the United States–literally 10,000 miles away–and I’ve seen them more in our four years of marriage than you’ve seen your husband’s family in 22. There’s a reason for that. Your husband clearly doesn’t want them involved in your life. Their feelings are not your responsibility. Your husband’s wishes are. Please, please, respect them.

  36. My dad similarly dealt with the medical stuff, and talked about what he wanted to do with his remaining time, but he also never talked about how he felt about knowing his death was imminent and earlier than expected. Sometimes I feel that perhaps I should have asked more… but you know, I think that it worked for him. So in that respect, I wanted to say that your husband’s reaction is perhaps not unusual. I know that I was still able to provide love and support for him in many ways and I think the small actions and talks took the place of those big conversations. I hope that helps you as you try to support your husband. Best wishes to you both.

  37. Another thing you might want to consider is giving your husband the additional burden of having to deal with losing his trust in YOU while he’s dealing with all these other issues. Because that is precisely what will happen. Your telling the family that he has (justifiably) distanced himself from this is a breach of his trust which will be one more pain he has to manage along with confronting mortality, dealing with daily physical pain AND dealing with an abusive father’s attempt to make this “all about him”.

  38. I once had a conversation with a hospice worker, and the subject came up of how often people who knew they were dying ‘waited’ to die until their loved ones were around. She told me that in her experience, it was about half-and-half. By that she meant half seemed to prefer to die amidst people, and half seemed to prefer to die in solitude. Their didn’t seem to be middle ground. Which struck me then, and still does, as something profound and beautiful.

  39. My grandfather died right after Thanksgiving this year. My grandmother did her absolute best to keep his decline and passing quiet and tell only the minimum number of people, because my oldest aunt is (forgive me, god) an arch-conservative lunatic who seizes literally any opportunity to get on her soapbox and preach about the end of days due to Muslims and gays. One of my other aunts decided, since faaaaaamily and since “getting to say goodbye” to someone she literally had not spoken to in 10 years was so vital, to let AC Auntie know. Cue the histrionics. Cue the multiple calls to my grandmother at all hours of the day and night with suggestions (but not offers of help, mind) about how to “properly remember” him. Cue an argument *at the church after the service* about bequests and whether or not Grandfather had money “stashed away somewhere”. Cue screaming family arguments while my grandmother sat and wept.

    I am so sorry for what has been and what’s to come for you and for your husband. I think your husband knows enough about his family to make this decision, and wants to make your (and his) quality of life better in the next several months. Let him do this for you, and for him.

  40. No! No! No!

    Please, do NOT betray your husband by disregarding his wishes. If you go against his clearly stated instructions, you’ll be doing it in a vain attempt to make YOURSELF feel better later. Yes, his abusive father probably WILL be obnoxious to you after your husband passes – please can you take on that burden for the sake of relieving your husband of the burden of having to deal with the abusive father himself?

    I saw a similar situation in my extended family. Two adult sisters had not gotten along well for years. Horrible things were said, including Sister “A” telling Sister “B” that she wished her nephew, Sister B’s son, who was very ill in the hospital at the time) would hurry up and die.

    Later, about a month before Sister B’s death, as her health worsened, Sister B told her son and daughter specifically and clearly that they were NOT to contact their aunt, Sister A, at all until AFTER Sister B’s funeral.

    Two days before their mother died, Sister B’s two grown children decided that they knew better than their mother. They called their aunt. A’s first reaction was to cuss at her nephew for daring to call her. Eventually A stopped cussing, listened to the news, caught a flight quickly and arrived hours before B’s death. A then proceeded to try to take over the funeral planning, tried to change the arrangements B had already made, and managed to make her niece and nephew feel more miserable than they already were feeling by criticizing every single thing they did. It was awful to behold – and the niece and nephew could have avoided all that grief at the time if they had honored their mother’s wishes.

    OP – if you betray your husband’s wishes, how do you think his father will react? Don’t you think he is likely to behave as he did when he learned of your husband’s earlier illness? Why would you betray your husband and subject him to ill-treatment by his abuser? PLEASE – honor your husband by respecting his wishes in this matter.

  41. My mother survived cancer. It was a grueling 3 years. She lost her home, her savings, important pieces of her body, and huge pieces of the person she used to be.
    It could reoccur at any time, she gets tested every 3-6 months for the rest of her life.

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you and your husband. I hope you are getting the support you need for yourself to be there for him.

  42. I don’t know if my story is helpful…. I hope it is.

    Something similar happened in my family – it happened before I was born so I kind of had to piece it together from what I overheard.

    My uncle didn’t tell anyone that he was dying of cancer until his last month or so. Some part of the story and how my family is So Aggrieved comes out at family events.

    But like, unsurprisingly, my blood family is toxic as. As I grew up, and was able to contextualise their behaviour, I realised that it was way easier to bemoan how manipulative and unkind my aunt is rather than recognise that this was likely a decision made by Uncle. Or to be reflective for a moment and think about what they might have done for Uncle to see them as a source of strain and stress rather than a source of strength and support.

    I’ve never actually met this aunt. I don’t know if she was never invited to family events or if she declined. I did realise, though, that she had her own supportive family. Mine could bitch and moan all they wanted but they had no power over her.

    Your husband’s family don’t sound like people who are heavily involved in your life now, and that’s unlikely to change after he passes. You are no more responsible for their emotional wellbeing than your husband is – and they will probably find a way to make it about them no matter what happens.

  43. Commenting here as a widow…

    My late wife died completely unexpectedly a year and a half ago. At that time, we’d been together for sixteen years and our twins were twelve.

    I had never met anyone from her maternal side. Long story very short, her mother abandoned her to various relatives when my late wife was two years old, had two other much younger half-siblings whom she raised while either ignoring or verbally abusing my late wife, and was generally just an unpleasant person all around. My wife had cut her off before I had met her and, insofar as I know, hadn’t talked to anyone on that side of the family in all the time we were together.

    In those first few days after my wife died I decided that I needed to inform her mother. I asked her father’s second wife if she could get her information for me (she did) and I wrote her a short letter explaining who I was and detailing what had happened; I included my stepmother-in-law’s contact information (with her permission) if she had any questions. I realized it was kind of awkward, but I was trying to deal with a very unexpected death (I had been out of town when it happened) and two very traumatized children (who had been the ones to find her). She just wasn’t my first priority at the time, for sure.

    It was…not a good scene. She ignored the contact information I gave her and called my late wife’s (still working) phone; my daughter answered it (trying to be helpful) and got an unknown hysterical woman screaming at her over the phone. I took the phone away, identified myself, and asked her to please call the stepmother-in-law for more information; she carried on until I simply hung up on her.

    She was awful, quite frankly. She called the stepmother-in-law numerous times over the next week. She wrote me numerous letters demanding to be part of the funeral; when the stepmother-in-law (per my desperate request) called her and explained that we were not doing a funeral but had already had very small memorial service for the immediate family only, she demanded that I hold a funeral that her side of the family could attend. (That so did not happen.) The half-sister sent text message after text message – and found me on Facebook – demanding that I call her immediately. (And by demanding, I do mean demanding. She was not polite.) This was a woman my wife had never actually lived with!

    Let’s just say that I now have a very good understanding why my wife had no contact with that side of the family. Ahem. I realize her maternal side had their own issues surrounding my wife’s death, but the expectation that I – the brand new widow! – was going to somehow address it once she was gone was a huge and quite frankly reprehensible assumption on their part.

    The point I am trying to make, LW, is that you should be prepared. Once your husband is gone (and I am just beyond sorry, so deeply sorry), his family will most likely expect you to be their contact person. If you are lucky, they will ignore you. If not, then I strongly urge you to have some sort of support system in place where someone else – a family member, a trusted friend – would be willing to run interference for you as long as needed. The absolute last thing you will need to deal with at that point is all of their weird emotional family baggage crap. And guess what? You really don’t have to.

    The contact person can deal with everything; calling them to inform them of his passing, answering any questions they might have about what happened, telling them about any funeral arrangements (if you choose to invite them, and you can also choose NOT to invite them), etc. You can decide ahead of time what information the contact person is going to give them. You can also set up ahead of time an automatic forwarding for any emails they may send and pre-emptively block their phone numbers from your phone as well.

    You don’t need updates on how his family is reacting to all of this, either. Let the contact person deal with them, and leave it at that. You’ll need your focus on other things, for sure.

    I know it may sound a little callous, but there is simply no way you should be expected to shoulder their emotional loss as well as your own. These are not people you know; you have no relationship with them and directly after your husband’s passing is certainly not the time to try and build a new relationship with anyone, no less estranged family.

    Your father-in-law may very well carry an emotional burden, but that’s his to bear. Not yours. Yours is going to be more than enough.

    I just want to say again how tremendously sorry I am, LW. Please take care of yourself. Widowhood is a very lonely and difficult go; please don’t be afraid to ask for the help and support you need. (In my experience, people went out of their way to help me when I asked. I sincerely hope this is yours as well.) I just want to throw out that I am getting therapy now and it has truly been a lifesaver for me; very very necessary and it’s what is helping to keep me going. I hope you can find something that can help you as well.

    1. Your post really moved me. That was my family 21 years ago, except my twin sister and I were 13.

      I will ALWAYS be grateful that my dad got all of us into therapy. I don’t really know if we would have survived without it. And later, when I got older, I paid for my own therapy because I realized I had some other things I needed to discuss as well.

      Anyway, I’m glad you have a place to share your thoughts and feelings. I’m sending you lots of hugs and encouragement from OKC.

  44. There’s kind of a Catch-22/logic puzzle here. The people who will take this as being All About Them are not people whose feelings you have to worry about. They are black holes of positive feelings, and there is no way to make it easier for them. (Exhibit A: your FIL’s years-long wallow.) The people who are worth taking into consideration won’t take it personally, because they saw what your husband went through, and they’ll understand exactly why he did it this way. A little sad that circumstances didn’t let them say goodbye? Sure, but not to the point that they’d want to alleviate their sadness by having exposed your husband to AbuserFeelingsDump 2017.

    OP, I’m very sorry for what you’re going through, but (and?) you need feel zero guilt about the infinitesimal amount of extra pain others will feel in the process of you greatly easing the burden on your husband.

  45. Oh, LW. Please do follow the Captain’s advice and find a support group or therapist or a Team You that can help take care of you as you go through this. I can’t imagine how painful this must be for you.

    And also… Ok, this is some advice straight out of that Buffy episode where her mom died, but I’ve sort of internalized it over the years: Give yourself to feel or think whatever you need to. If you have thoughts that make you feel like you’re a bad person or like you’re crazy or something – That’s pretty human. Please forgive yourself for them and let them go. Please be extra kind to yourself.

  46. LW, I am so, so sorry for you. Your husband as well, but since you are reaching out here, YOU are my priority right now.

    I’ve lost several people to cancer in recent years (eff cancer, amirite?), and most recently one year ago an aunt that I was close to. When she had her initial diagnosis, there was a several month period in which her husband and I were the only people that knew about it, because she didn’t want to burden her sons and her siblings (my mom included).

    This was a very difficult period of time for me. I, too, respected her wishes, but I don’t think I realized at the time how difficult keeping that silence was going to be for me, nor how much resentment I would carry over it.

    My point is: please take care of yourself, including finding a grief counselor/therapist if that is in the cards for you.

  47. LW, my mom is an emotionally abusive control freak who likes to make everything about herself, among other things. When I had my first mammogram, there were dense spots in my breasts. Since we had no prior mammograms to compare, and a family history of cancers on both sides, it was possible these were tumors. So I agreed to get biopsied. I also told my mother. Here’s what happened: she wanted to control when my appointments were. She wanted to be there at the doctor’s office, fully enmeshed into the issue and my decisions. She wanted to be in the room when I got my biopsies. I told her no. She proceeded to be punitive and angry, and put a lot of pressure on me to do everything her way at her convenience and on her schedule. This was pretty stressful and upsetting.

    I finally told her as nicely as I knew how that I could not carry her water along with my own, as my bucket was too full right now. I explained that being around her worrying would contaminate me with more worry when I already had my own worries to handle. I did not want to have to look after her emotions and concerns at the same time I was trying to handle my own. I mean, I may have had cancer, and I had no idea how to wrap my head around that, if tests did not come back in my favor. I needed to outline how I felt about it before nursemaiding someone else’s feelings and thoughts about it. In short, had I known the term “emotional labor,” I would have used it. I did know I was not up for it, especially for someone who typically has made me feel anxious, wrong, tired and depressed when I have gone to her for succor, support, love and understanding that does not come, or is wrapped in a shit sandwich of “But what about MY feelings and thoughts about YOUR problem?!”

    In short, I regretted telling my mother I was going in for a biopsy, and have not stopped regretting it. I foolishly told her that I agreed to let the techs leave a tiny metal chip in my breast to mark a benign cyst so I wouldn’t have to pay for another biopsy of the same thing, and so doctors could track any changes, and she acted like I had been tagged by hostile alien life forms or something (Mark of the Little Green Interstellar Beast?). In addition, her mother (my grandmother) had died about three years earlier (at age 91) of cancer-related issues (and old age), and neither of us were quite over it yet (I still am not), so maybe it wasn’t even the kindest thing for me to do ANYway.

    Maybe your husband can write a letter to these relatives, if and only if he was the spoons to do that sort of thing, telling them why he opted not to divulge. He could, if he desires, also ask them to leave you out of their inevitable Processing Of Feels About Everything. But that’s really, really not something that should be his priority right now unless he would find it comforting or helpful to express himself in that way.

    I’m sorry you both are going through this.

  48. LW, is it possible you are frantically worrying about the feelings of these almost-strangers because it gives you a thing to fret about that isn’t the one thing that you are truly frantic about? If so, that’s OK, it’s a coping mechanism, and you deserve all the coping mechanisms you want in order to help yourself and your husband.

    Sometimes when faced with the unfaceable, we find some other bad thing to focus on, because it’s just too hard to come to grips with the idea that our beloved is going to die.

    During the time my beloved was terminal, I was utterly concerned that his brother, from whom he had been estranged for a decade, should come see him. His brother, not a pleasant man, didn’t want to come. My beloved didn’t care much. I was the only one to whom it seemed to matter. At the time it seemed so important, and now, on the other side of the worst of the grief, I can’t quite remember why. I do know, now, that I was displacing my own wild anger and horrified sorrow about losing my partner (and best friend and beloved one) onto this issue, because I was simply incapable of processing what was really happening. My concern for the brother somehow kept my other emotions in control and helped me get through those days.

    I don’t know if this is what is happening with you, dear LW, and you might not know until some time has passed. The heart of this internet stranger goes out to you. You are in a terrible, scary place, and it feels so alone. Try to find someone to talk to, someone who cares for you, who can keep your secrets. This is world-shattering news; at the least you can talk about it with your therapist and Team You.

    Take care of your husband, take care of yourself, and let your husband be the boss of how he deals with his family.

  49. I’m going to urge not suggesting that Soon To Be Widow’s husband write a letter explaining why he made the choices he did. Every abused person knows what it’s like to have to make a case for their having been abused. Sometimes it takes a while even to convince ourselves that what our abusers did was not okay. Sometimes strangers will think they’re helping the situation by explaining what the other person must have been feeling when they did something horrible, as though, once you understand the other person’s point of view, you’ll stop being so hurt and angry. I know that I have, at times, wished my parents had done something really dramatic, beaten me and left bruises, so I wouldn’t be in the position of explaining, even to clueless therapists, that my mother’s relentless cuts and personality disorder weren’t a matter of a little communication problem. Asking STBW’s husband to write that letter sounds an awful lot to me like asking him to explain, all over again, that he’s making the choices he’s making BECAUSE HE WAS ABUSED. Remember comfort in/dump out? Husband is in the very center of this circle. STBW is the next circle out from there. There are a bunch of people around her who potentially want to put themselves into an inner ring where they don’t belong, but that still doesn’t mean STBW should suggest anything that her husband might do to make things easier for her– because that’s putting herself in that very innermost ring, the one where he’s comforting her. He’s past having to explain himself to anybody.

    1. Clarry, I don’t totally disagree with you. I do think however a letter could be written by Soon To Be Widow’s husband that simply states these were the choices he made without any explanations as to why. Then she’ll be able to say, I was respecting the choices he made and because they’re written down in a letter for everyone she can pancake there.

    1. I can second these wonderful people.
      Cancer Support Community has a center near me, and it has been invaluable in helping my husband and I cope with my disease. They have groups (separate) for patients and for their caretakers, and the friends I have made there (who do, in fact, know *exactly* what I’m going through, and can commiserate and laugh and relate and vent and be vented at) have been amazing. They’ve also got a childrens’ group for kids whose parents are dealing with cancer. All their services are free, and they are just really, really good folks.

  50. Oh Captain, my Captain – I think that this question or the Supporting Immigrant Coworkers question should be numbered #939.

  51. I was widowed by cancer. One of the social workers at one of the oncologists told me that cancer doesn’t make people better, it just makes the more themselves.

    Loving, giving people will bring you groceries and clean your floors. Others will expect you to make them feel good about your husband’s diagnosis. There is nothing you can say or do that will make your father-in-law behave appropriately and your husband realizes this. Knowing that this is the end will not heal your husband’s birth family. They will just double down on being themselves.

    Your husband has the heavy work of processing his death. You have the heavier work of figuring out how to build a life once he’s gone. You don’t need to make things harder on yourselves trying to care for others. Your life after does not need to include your father-in-aw at all. My husband’s family didn’t like me enforcing his boundaries and after a few incredibly unpleasant post-death phone calls and e-mails, they don’t contact me.

    1. This. Since my terminal diagnosis, some people have asked for money, got angry when my mother enforced a ‘no visitors’ rule to allow me to recover from brain surgery, argued with me about my decisions around voluntary euthanasia, etc.

      Others have literally cleaned vomit off the floor, cooked soup, held my hand during painful infusions and supported my decisions. If I told them a million times how much I loved them for it, it wouldn’t be enough.

  52. Hey Captain, just wanted to let you know that this post and the post after it have the same number (938).

    To the OP, I’m so sorry that you have to deal with all of this.

  53. Captains advice is good, but I have to disagree on one thing. Please do not *ever* sit him down and tell him what YOU think he should do about his abusive family. You have no idea what it was like for him. You have idea how many times he’s probably gone over his choices, or why exactly he decided to make them. You weren’t there. And even if you were, it wouldn’t give you the right to decide what’s best for him, against his wishes.

    You have the right to disagree with what he’s doing, but this is a ‘not my monkeys’ situation. You bringing this up would not be kind or helpful. And IMO, it’s really cruel. Nothing makes me feel more hurt and angry, then when someone tells me what I should be doing about my abusive mom. Especially “give her a chance / be nicer to her” stuff. It feels like a huge betrayal to hear that, no matter how well meaning. It feels like the people who say it *don’t believe me* about how bad it was. Or maybe they don’t care.

    Don’t put your husband through that, now of all times. He has enough on his plate. So do you. Grief can give you a lot of weird projected anxieties, and I understand you probably just want to make everything as smooth and neat and tied up as possible. But please let go of this specific thing. It’s not yours to fix, and it can’t be fixed by you OR your husband. I hope you find a counselor or someone else to talk to. Take good care of yourself.

  54. I am probably horrible for this, and bringing my own dirty lens, but: fuck the in-laws, especially FIL. Any pain that results from this is entirely, 100% their own fault. LW, do not accept any guilt burden they try to thrust on you.

  55. LW, I’m so very sorry. FWIW, I lost my partner to cancer some years ago, and the captain’s final paragraph really resonated for me. (I also agree about not telling your husband’s family.) For me, there was only so much I could do before my own well ran dry; luckily, the center where my partner was treated had a number of resources for spouses/family/caretakers, and I was able to take advantage of the ones that worked for me, and drop anything that didn’t work without pressure or even comment. (Worked for me: talks with social worker #1, reiki, massage, research articles forwarded by oncologist, crying on chaplain #1’s shoulder; didn’t work for me: support group, online Q&A service, conversation with social worker #2, prayer services, group meals – I mention these just to give an idea of the range of services that were available.) Having someone to talk to about what was going on, particularly when this was something I couldn’t discuss with my partner or anyone who was also supporting her, was priceless. Even just having a reiki session or chair massage was restorative in ways I would never have imagined. Having some external supports – external to my own friends and family – was crucial to my being able to do what was necessary.

  56. LW, my mom has been in your shoes, and they are very uncomfortable and ugly. My grandma didn’t want my aunt to know she was dying, because they had a tense relationship. At the last second, my grandma had a change of heart and decided Mom should invite Aunt to hospice. The temperature in that room was zero degrees Kelvin. Aunt was pissed she wasn’t allowed to meddle in Grandma’s care and play the Big Damn Hero, Mom was pissed she had to be the bad guy, and Grandma wasn’t particularly happy either, because she didn’t want to be tormented by her daughter but she didn’t want to not see her ever again either.

    My aunt was incredibly pissed off for a while after my grandmother died, but she and my mother have a cordial relationship now. My mom’s rule is We Do Not Say Bad Things About Grandma, or the visit is over. You may not want a cordial relationship with your in laws, which is perfectly fine, and I’m not advocating for it. My point is that what seemed like a big deal at the time (oh no, Aunt might be mad and say mean things!) was not a big deal when I was facing losing my grandmother, who was basically my second mother/best friend. My mom and I hit a point where we stopped giving a shit about what toxic people wanted, because pain like this forces you to realize who matters to you. Our focus shifted from “placate aunt” to “make Grandma happy and loved”. My grandma happily went into whatever lies beyond, because all her loved ones were rallied around her, which is more important than difficult people getting their way. Difficult people complain and throw tantrums, but that is a minor nuisance compared to losing someone who you love and cherish.

    I look at it as we gave my grandma one last gift- we made sure what she wanted was priority, because she always made sure to help us in our times of need. Your husband loves you, he’s your chosen family, and he trusts you with all his worries and fears. You know why he doesn’t want his family involved, and it is scary to think about a future without him and with angry in laws. But they were going to be a thorn in your side no matter what, and by doing it your husband’s way, you won’t have to deal with them for as long a time. The time you don’t have to deal with them is time you could use on you and your family. You are a rock and I know your husband is grateful to have you by his side.

  57. LW, I am so sorry for what you and your husband are going through. All the Jedi hugs, if you would like some. I have no experience caring for humans with terminal illness, and I doubt my experience with pets is applicable, but I do have experience with family dysfunction.

    I don’t know your life, but it’s been my experience that the people who ask me why I don’t tell family this or that are people whose only basis for understanding how families work is their own. If this is the case, then I am GLAD you do not understand why your husband would make this choice — it means your family is probably functional and overall made of cool people! Given what you mention in your letter, his family is clearly not this cool, and it sounds like they have to be “managed” out of causing chaos every time they get any kind of emotionally-charged information. Your FIL took the news of your husband’s diagnosis and made it into The FIL Repentance Day Special! If your husband thinks he’d take the current news and do it again… well, your husband’s known his father all his life, and has a pretty good historical basis for that guess.

    The logic of dysfunctional people is really hard to get a grip on if you haven’t spent years and years dealing with them. It’s usually internally-consistent, but often seems bizarre to outsiders. Trust your husband when he says telling them is more work than he’s willing to take on. Your guess at how much pain they’ll feel when he passes and why is likely based on how your own, much cooler family would react, and that… involves some assumptions that may not be true for your husband’s family, to put it mildly.

    YOU need some support, though, so it’s totally kosher for you to find a support group and/or therapist, or talk to people in your life who can be trusted not to spill the beans. And of course, when your husband passes, he will be beyond the reach of any chaotic family members whose reactions he wanted to avoid, and it’s up to you to decide how and when to tell them, and how much effort you’re willing to put into managing their feelings. Based on your letter, I would not count on them for any kind of meaningful support, but only you can make that call.

  58. These are people your husband knows better than you do, and if he thinks it’s better not to tell them, then he’s probably right. One of the problems with inviting these people into your life right now while the treatment is going on is that you can’t (and your husband REALLY can’t) escape them if they show up. Kicking family out of hospital rooms and infusion centers, or getting staff to not let them in, or even keeping them out of your house while you either are or are not there is a huge pain. This is a battle that you can prevent simply by honoring your husband’s wishes, and I suggest doing just that; don’t tell them.
    For the funeral, you will have to make the decision yourself, but, I strongly suggest not hosting these people in your house under any circumstances. Enlist your own support from your own friends who you know will treat you well. Let them know that there might be problems and permit them to defend your boundaries if you want that.
    Remember that support is supposed to go IN, and venting OUT, and not the other way around.
    Good luck and Jedi hugs if you want them. I have both taken care of my husband when he had cancer, and myself when I had cancer, and the people around you can be an additional burden or make the burden lighter. It reveals a lot about your friend group and family when something like this hits.

  59. Letter Writer here.

    Captain and commentators, thank you so much for all the kind wishes and offers of Jedi hugs.

    Captain, I’d already had the conversation you suggested with my husband, that’s when he told me he wants to keep his diagnosis a secret from his family. Since I’ve done that, I’m taking your suggestion to just let it go now. I’ll leave it to my husband as to whether he wants to bring it up again or not. I wouldn’t go behind his back to tell them, that’s not how our relationship works. If I were going to do it, I’d tell him to his face first and we’d talk about it.

    Part of the problem is that I am also disabled and my husband has been my caregiver, so we’ve spent the last 11 years together close to 24/7; when my husband is no longer able to care for me, I will probably have to go into extended care and he will go into hospice. We bought our dream house way out in the country 11 years ago and 3 months later I almost died of a serious illness that left me disabled and unable to care for myself or drive. We hadn’t made any friends in the area before I was ill, so we’re pretty isolated. I was completely homebound for nearly 6 years, until we managed to save up enough to build an access ramp so I could get out of the house.

    I do have a therapist but even though she feels I should see her on a weekly basis, I only see her every 2 to 6 weeks because her client load is so huge (her agency is the only one in town that will accept Medicaid and they’ve been having budget problems, so laid off one therapist). It feels like most of each session is taken up with just updating her on what is happening but she is helpful and as generous with her time as she can eke out (I usually get the last appointment of the day so she can spend an extra 10 minutes or so with me).

    After I read everyone’s responses, I realised that I have, well, not exactly no Team Me but not much of one. I have a couple long distance friends and mostly communicate via email because I don’t want to be sobbing on the phone when my husband is awake. He doesn’t need to hear me do that. I was surprised you picked up on the loneliness but it is true. My own family loves me but stoicism is the family way; in that, I am the biggest failure in my family because I don’t really do stoic very well (or anything else, really). They’ve all expressed their sympathy about what is happening and that is all I expect from them.

    B, I think the reason I worry about his father and his family is because I feel so frustrated that a father could do things so harmful to their own child (the abuse and starting him on smoking). I really have to force myself to be fair to him in my own mind and I’m constantly asking myself “am I being fair or am I letting myself be influenced by my own anger?” As a Buddhist, I try to have compassion for everyone but I am definitely nowhere near enlightenment because I am not so good at it.

    neverjaunty, you’re right about his father still being an abuser. When I read your comment, I suddenly realised that all he has done is shift from physical beatings and verbal putdowns to emotional manipulation. That gave me a different perspective, thank you.

    Anonyish, you put your finger on Uncle ‘Joe’ (FIL’s younger brother). When my husband was a child, Uncle Joe would intercede for him when he was present and he also invited my husband to spend long vacations with him (like all summer) so my husband could get out of the house. Uncle Joe is a terrific person and acts as the core of the family, I think. The problem in telling Uncle Joe is that he has some sort of cognitive disability (from a head blow as a child–there’s a generational abuse component) and, despite good intentions to all, would probably not keep the news of my husband’s diagnosis to himself.

    Jay, the suggestion of a palliative care consult is something I hadn’t known about, thank you so much for making it. Part of what makes this so hard is feeling like I’m trying to grope my way through a maze in the dark–there’s stuff out there that could help but I don’t know what it is or how to find it. I will ask his oncologist about palliative care when I see him next.

    Again, thank you to everyone who commented, I am really grateful to you. I wish I could answer each comment individually but that would just flood the page. Thank you, thank you for taking your time to read and respond.

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