My husband is dying, please don’t visit us

When you hear that a friend who is terminally ill is not doing too well, it’s hard to not want to
Lifestyle

When you hear that a friend who is terminally ill is not doing too well, it’s hard to not want to visit them and offer your moral support. After all, you want them to know that you’re thinking of them and that they are constantly in your prayers.

If you just send a text message and don’t take time out of your busy schedule to visit them, what would they think of you? Does that friendship mean nothing that you can’t even stop by to say hi to a dying friend?

Apparently, a really good friend will never visit dying friend and only those who are selfish would visit someone who is nearing the end.

Michele Christie, who lost her husband Dick Mason to cancer two years ago, wrote a provocative and heartfelt open letter to those who visited her husband in his final moments.

It read: “Dear family, friends and acquaintances, you will all know by now that in the early hours of August 22, my beloved husband Dick finally died. You will not be surprised by this because during the final precious months of his life, as he suffered the unspeakable pain and awful indignities of terminal cancer, you visited him at our home in your droves.

“I counted the days between his diagnosis and his death. There were 150 of them. I wish I could say I’m grateful for your prolonged and constant visits to Dick as he was dying. But actually I’m not. On the contrary, I feel compelled to tell you now, as I wrestle with the raw grief of losing him, I feel only deep and abiding anger.

“I’m angry because you robbed us of our final days together. You stole from us five irretrievable months we had hoped to savour together, just the two of us. We had wanted to sit, to soothe each other, to talk, sometimes to cuddle. Instead we endured an invasion. More than 100 of you called and your visits were an intrusion,” Michele wrote.

“You may by now be feeling indignant. Doubtless you’ve convinced yourselves that your visits were prompted by a selfless desire to cheer up a desperately ill man. After all, you’d given up time from your busy schedules to sit with him and entertain him with stories of your own happy and fulfilled lives.

“And of course I know you grieve for him. I’m certain you feel his absence acutely. But I also believe that by monopolising him and draining him of the last dregs of his energy you were being insensitive and self-serving. You were encroaching on time that should have been ours alone — and for that I am finding it hard to forgive you.

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“Our home, a Victorian lodge near Chulmleigh, set in 12 rural acres, in which our animals — alpacas, geese, ducks and chickens — roamed freely, was our haven. Dick ran his landscape gardening and fencing business and during his leisure hours he kept our house and grounds immaculate. I worked as a self-employed private nurse — I still do — and we asked for little from life, other than the joy we derived from being together.

“But when Dick became ill, it seemed as if he became public property. A grief which we had hoped to share privately suddenly became your business,” wrote Michele.

“We had no time to acclimatise, to talk, to hug, to cry. Because you, his well-wishers, had started to arrive. You came with solemn faces and empty words, or with brittle cheerfulness and idle chit-chat. Either way, you infuriated us.

“We wanted to be alone with our thoughts. Instead we were forced to be gracious hosts: me procuring endless cups of tea; Dick wearing a mask of bravery although pain often threatened to engulf him.

“Dick was, you all know, a generous, kind man. He would never publicly ask you to leave, but privately he would beg me: ‘Please, can’t you tell them all to go away?’ And I tried to, but you were too thick-skinned to take my hints. ‘He’s terribly tired today,’ I’d say, apologetic. ‘Would you mind making it a brief visit?’ And when, three hours later, you — and sometimes your exuberant children, too — were still crammed into our sitting room, I would look at Dick’s dear, brave, stoic face and want to weep.

“Then when you finally left, he would collapse. So there was no time for us to do as we wished; to hold hands, to cuddle, to quietly reflect on shared memories. And I bitterly regret the loss of those days we could have spent together, in our own self-contained world. When Dick was diagnosed, he was given between four and six months to live. That’s 120 to 180 days. He struck the middle course exactly. And during the 150 days he lived we had just eight days on our own.

“So I’m writing this letter to you all now, not only as catharsis, but also as a plea. I beg you all: please pause to consider, when next you have a friend, a colleague, a relative, a neighbour who is dying, what would they want? And I think you’ll find the answer is a little privacy; a modicum of normality; some peace to be alone with their nearest and dearest.”

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