One of the challenges that many of us are facing is the decision to take a vacation if one of our parents is in failing health.  We are concerned to leave in case an emergency arises and our assistance is needed.  Even more challenging is the realization that a parent could pass away while we are on vacation.

The progression of chronic disease does not follow a predictable linear path.  Families with elderly parents can experience lengthy emotional  roller-coaster rides.  It seems that an older person’s health can change suddenly and unexpectedly.   This means that families remain in a state of ‘high alert’ over long periods of time.  Although it may seem insensitive to discuss what to do when someone dies while you are on vacation, it’s the reality that more of us are facing.  Often the person who keeps delaying a vacation because of their parent’s failing health is the person who really needs to get away and take a  break.

Several of my friends have had some experience with vacations and dying parents.  Some, have discussed the possibilities before leaving on vacation.  Others have hoped for the best and after the fact, have wished they had discussed this with their siblings.

In one scenario my friend wished she had not been contacted while out of the country.  Her long planned  vacation was interrupted by a phone call from siblings and there was no reason to rush home when there was nothing she could do.  In this particular scenario, there was no surviving parent who required her  assistance.  She decided to finished her vacation after receiving the news of her mother’s passing.  However, she would have preferred not hearing the news until she returned from vacation.

In another situation my friend left for a long awaited vacation in Australia, only to arrive and find out her mother had passed away after a long illness.  She took a return flight home to Canada because her father was upset.  I asked her later if she felt this was the best solution.  She indicated that in hindsight she wished her brothers had not contacted her because they were there for her father and the funeral could wait for her return.   She was sorry they had not had this conversation before leaving for such a long trip.

Another friend had this discussion with her siblings in advance of leaving for vacation.  Her widowed mother’s health had been failing for several years.  After many delays of a milestone wedding anniversary trip, my friend and her husband went on a cruise.  Her mother did pass away during this time but as agreed in advance, her siblings did not communicate this information to her.  The funeral arrangements were completed in her absence and the funeral was held when her vacation was over.

The choice of whether to be contacted while on vacation will be very personal.  There are religious and family traditions that will supersede the above scenarios.  Talking about this in advance is difficult but it can provide comfort to have a plan in place that is comfortable for everyone affected.