Should I let my dying estranged father into my children's lives?
anonymous Asks ...
My husband was killed in a car crash last year. He was a fantastic dad to our children and we are not over his loss. Now we have a new death to deal with. I have been estranged with my father for more than 10 years. He was an angry alcoholic that did and said some truly unforgivable things. Well now he is dying and he wants to make amends and more than that he wants to meet and get to know his grandkids before he dies. They are 5 and 8 and they have never met him before. He only has a few months to live. He is not drinking now and I have decided to forgive as much as I can so I can have a relationship with him before he dies. This after much soul searching. But what I am not sure about is if it is fair to my children to introduce them to a man that can be very lovable and charming when he wants to be, and then they will fall in love with him and then he will die. I have to put them first. Would they be better off never feeling this trauma after all they have been through?
Penny Bell Says ...
Firstly, I’d like to express my sympathy for the loss of your husband. This is still so fresh, and now the situation with your dad has certainly complicated matters for you. I’m glad you have decided to forgive your father, not so much for his sake but for yours. Holding on to resentment and anger is not good for us on so many levels. But what does it mean, exactly, to forgive?
Forgiveness is something we need for ourselves, and doesn’t necessarily have to be of any benefit to the other person. It is about cancelling the debt owed to us by them so that it’s not in the back of our minds all the time, and releasing them from blame. It takes us off the hook that we are on with them. When this is accomplished, we are then left with having to fully own ourselves in the relationship, and the decisions we make from that standpoint are wiser, as they are unpolluted by our resentment. Our newly acquired wisdom tells us that it’s important to keep ourselves and those we love safe, and this means establishing good boundaries for ourselves and for them.
Introducing your very young children to a grandfather they have never met and who will not stay in their lives for very long seems problematic at this point in time, particularly as they have recently already lost a primary caregiver. It’s problematic on the surface, but looking underneath we may find a future where children now grown up wonder what their grandfather was like, and wish they had been given a chance to meet him.
It might be worth considering carefully guiding and navigating your children through this minefield - explaining to them that they have a grandfather, that he’s very sick and will soon pass away (and they thoroughly understand now what this means) but that there is an opportunity to meet him (instead of saying that he is wanting to see them, which could create a false sense of responsibility in them), then eliciting their feedback on how they feel about this, may be a good way to begin the process. If it seems that it will just all be too difficult for everyone, including you, you can decide from that point not to go ahead. If on the other hand the children (and you) seem willing and able to take the risk, make sure some good memories are created for them for later on – lots of pictures, video and enjoyable experiences with Grandad. Allow for plenty of communication of thoughts and feelings during the process, making your responses brief and simple, and keep an eye on your own avoidance of the subject of death and dying or anything else around their relationship with grandfather. If you are able to contain your children’s anxiety by answering questions and helping them understand the situation when they need this they will handle things a lot better than if they are left on their own with it.
Finally, having said all that, I would like to emphasise that whatever happens, your decision needs to be based on what is going to benefit the children, rather than what your father would like. When he is gone, they (and you) will be left with the aftermath. But, if things go well, they will also be left with some wonderful rich memories of a grandfather they once knew, albeit briefly.