Ask Dr. Giles: How can I make the very most out of this chance to be with her

Vicki writes:

My 89 yr old grandmother has been diagnosed w/ this. I am going to Ohio (I live in NE) to spend 2 weeks with her, knowing it will probably be my last time. How do i handle this? I do not want to spend the whole time freaking out because she is dying, but yet, I want to squeeze everything I can into these two weeks. I do not want to upset her, but obviously at some point we will talk about it. I am also worried about what to expect from her from a medical stand point. Will she be in pain? How can I help her, help me, and make the very most out of this chance to be with her, just her and i for what is going to be the last time?


I think it is great that you are taking the time to travel and visit your dying grandmother. In advance of your trip, I suggest you take some time to determine the purpose of visiting her. Besides the reasons you may choose, I would suggest you go to visit your grandmother to celebrate your relationship with her.

Prepare beforehand to tell her–in specific ways, with specific examples–what your relationship with her has meant to you. Go through photos and other memorabilia in advance of your visit and choose some to take with you to share with her. Don’t be afraid of the tears which may fall during this process. Before you go, write a thoughtful letter to her to give to her during your visit. A written message is good for people with health problems because the message lingers after the messenger is gone. People who are suffering physically usually have more quiet time than they would like, and reading a written message can provide real comfort because it brings the author back into the room. Your grandmother can read your letter as many times as she wants and feel your presence repeatedly.

This is a “wrapping up” time in your grandmother’s life. She is likely reflecting on her life and how she feels about the choices she made and the experiences she had. To have her loving granddaughter tell her how much she has meant in her life would be a sweet experience indeed. Focus on the relationship and focus on your love and respect for her. That will mean that sometimes you will share your thoughts, sometimes you will listen to her thoughts, and sometimes you will just sit in serene silence together. The fact that you are taking the time to be there is what’s most important. What actually happens during your visit is secondary, but if you will concentrate on your connection with your grandmother, your nurturing kindness during your visit will make for satisfying memories for both of you.