I live on the East Coast; my mother lives on the West. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I have to decide whether I will visit her in April, as planned—and, if I do, whether I’ll bring my kids along. It takes two planes and anywhere from 12 to 18 hours, depending on layovers and travel mishaps, to make the trip. During the years when my father was sick and on dialysis, neither my parents nor I could afford frequent cross-country journeys. I’ll always regret not being able to spend more time with my dad in the last years of his life.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer in late 2018, months after my dad’s death. She was in remission for a short time, but then it came roaring back, Stage IV, and within a few months her doctors stopped saying optimistic things. I knew that whatever happened, I didn’t want to have the same regrets I had when my father died—I’m grateful that my financial situation has improved to the point where I’ve been able to visit her more often and send money when she needs it. For months we’ve gotten nothing but terrible news—the cancer has metastasized; it’s everywhere; it’s not responding well to chemotherapy—but at least, I’ve been able to tell myself, we can see each other. We can spend time together, the time my dad and I never got.
Then came COVID-19.
To tactfully broach conversations about a loved one’s physical and mental health, experts recommend affirming their autonomy, validating their...