Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: I need my mother by my side, how can I stand by and watch her die?

My mum's refused another round of chemo, even though it could give her another six months of life. I feel so betrayed


Dear Virginia,

My mum’s had cancer for a few years, and chemotherapy, and now she’s got secondaries and the doctors say if she has more chemo she might have another six months. But Mum’s refused. She says she can’t bear it and is happy to die. I’m at university, and just can’t understand it. I feel so betrayed by her, and feel she should do anything to be with us a bit longer. My brother, who lives at home, says he understands, but my dad is in pieces. Is there any way we could persuade her? By the time six months is up they might have found a cure.


Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

I’m afraid you have to face up to the sad truth, Rebecca. I can tell you categorically that there isn’t going to be a cure found in six months. Your mother is going to die. Every person facing bereavement imagines there’ll be a miracle cure and every one of them is disappointed. What you’re trying to do is to put off the evil day when you lose your mother – and you’re prepared to ask her to go through the most horrible effects of chemotherapy just to make things easier on yourself.

Your mother’s already had chemotherapy. She knows what to expect. Your brother has probably witnessed her agonies and has understood that she can't bear to go through the pain, indignity and misery of this poisonous treatment with no chance of having anything more than a few more months. And what kind of months would they be anyway? Have you thought of that? She’d feel, probably, wretched and weak. Instead, she’s taken the decision to live her short life to the full rather than stretching it out like some agonised piece of chewing gum. It’s quality of time left she wants, not quantity.

I’ve had lots of answers to this problem. Some readers suggest you take a sabbatical from university so you can spend this time with your mum. Many recommended Macmillan nurses. And one reader, wisely, recommended that you get your mother to make a living will or Advanced Directive, to be sure that when she gets nearer to dying, she can die peacefully and won’t be given any painful resuscitation.

But the real problem with all this is timing. You haven’t reconciled yourself to the fact that your mother’s time has come. She, on the other hand, has come to terms with it. It’s often difficult for people to understand that when it's time for them to go, the terminally ill often feel far calmer and more accepting of death than those around them. Trying to nag her into having more treatment will make your mother feel worse during her last months. Don’t go on about it. You’ll only feel dreadfully guilty later.

Pour out your feelings, instead, to a bereavement counsellor now, and try to make these last months of your mother’s life the happiest they can be for her, so that this can be a time you to look back on with sadness, but also with reassurance that you put her feelings first and did your best for her in her last days.

Virginia Ironside’s new book is ‘No! I Don’t need Reading Glasses!’ (Quercus £14.99)

Readers say...

Show her your love

I have been volunteering at a hospice for more than two years and I have seen so many times patients for whom the real battle is not facing death but having to deal with all the needs and baggage of those around them.

The most important gift that we can give to each other is freedom. And this is the ultimate freedom that your mother wishes to exercise now. Please don’t try to deprive her of it. Enjoy those most precious of days left and use the opportunity to say and do all the things you’ve wanted to do together. You have a great chance to show her how much you love her.

Charlie, by email

Let her go

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer she refused the offer of an operation. She couldn’t face it and was ready to die. It was so upsetting and we tried and tried to get her to change her mind. I remember saying to her that I wished I was 10 years old so she’d have to have the operation. After a time we realised we had to accept that it was her decision and move on to supporting and caring for her and you will, too. It is a terrible situation and I feel for you.

Jean, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’ve been married for two years and we have a small baby. But I’m a cameraman and have to be away quite a lot. The problem is that every time I leave to do a job, my wife gets extremely clingy and upset and yet every time I return she is moody and angry. It’s getting so there are only a few days in the middle of my return that things are OK any more. It’s as if we can’t stop rowing the rest of the time. It seems that my job is the problem, but I can’t do anything else, so what can we do to make things better?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Simon to do?

Email your dilemmas and comments to Anyone whose  advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published  will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lift Repairs Sales Account Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

Ashdown Group: Assistant Management Accountant - Part Qualified CIMA / ACCA

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are recruitment for an Assistan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
John Rentoul outside the Houses of Parliament  

If I were Prime Minister...I would be like a free-market version of Natalie Bennett

John Rentoul

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea