“Watching a dying parent is excruciating, and it’s a new kind of hell.” – Christine Burke.

It’s never easy losing a loved one. The heart goes through so much pain that you feel physical squeezes sometimes. You’ll find yourself wishing that you could bring them back, and the reality of knowing there’s nothing you can do worsens the ordeal. Losing a parent is as painful as anything can ever be. Words can’t console you, and only time can lessen the pain.

In an emotional blog post, Scary Mommy Contributor, Christine Burke wrote about the extreme pain she went through watching her dad die [1]. She also gave insights on what anyone should expect if they are ever caught up in such an unfortunate reality.

Christine’s father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer after he suffered a minor stroke. The doctors just stumbled upon the cancer during a series of tests and treatments to prevent further strokes. At such an advanced stage, they knew his battle was over before it even started. His days had become painstakingly numbered.

At his advanced cancer stage, chemotherapy options were limited and surgery wasn’t an option,” Christine wrote. “Radiation wasn’t going to thwart the progression. It was f**king hell to watch my strapping, larger-than-life father wither away into a frail cancer patient right before my eyes. My dad was dying, and I was helpless to stop the inevitable.”

A dying parent is excruciating

Christine explains how she encountered physical gnawing pain watching her beloved dad go through so much suffering. Several times, she fell physically ill from the torture of watching him suffer so greatly.

I’d lay awake at night and wonder if tomorrow was the day his health would go from bad to worse. When your parent is dying, you die inside right alongside them,” she wrote.

A dying parent is exhausting

Shuttling between holding her home together, going to work, checking up on her father, and keeping tabs on his condition literally drained Christine. Everything became overwhelming for her at some point. She was also exhausted from worrying about what each day would bring, wishing it would all blow over and watching his condition deteriorate further.

 “I forced myself to try to focus on the rigors of raising kids and running a household while trying to keep track of what doctors my father was seeing that day and remembering to call my mother for the rundown of the latest tests and blood work. I longed for the days when our lives didn’t center on the ups and downs of cancer when I could selfishly call my dad just to tell him about a professional achievement or about his grandchildren.”

A dying parent makes you realize you’re selfish

Sometimes, she’d find herself slipping up and wishing her dad would at least make it to Easter. Her kids would need their granddad around during the holiday. This train of thought would often leave her feeling inconsiderate and self-centered.

You secretly will him to hold on because you’ve made travel plans and you are terrified he’ll pass away while you are out of the country,” she explained. “You find yourself irrationally angry because cancer will eventually steal your hero and you can’t bear the thought of your children not getting to have their grandfather around when they are adults.”

A dying parent makes you worry about your own death

Death suddenly becomes very real, raw and you’ll be struck heavily by the inevitability. Christine worried for her children. She felt bad that one day, they might go through the pain she was going through watching her father suffer. They’d feel what she felt watching him die slowly and not being able to take his pain away.

I wondered if I could be strong for them like my father was for me, and I prayed that I could face death with the grace my father showed near the end. A dying parent means realizing that you, too, will someday be the dying parent.”

You’ll find yourself trying to absorb every detail about them

Christine recalls watching her father’s hands and trying to etch the lines of his palms into her memory. She often found herself trying to absorb everything about him, his dispositions, and mannerisms into her memory.

It means breathing in his scent and praying that you’ll always remember that your head fit perfectly under his chin when he enveloped you in a bear hug. A dying parent means realizing that the earthly body you’ve loved fiercely will soon be one with the earth,” Christine wrote.

Christine’s story is one of the unconditional love between a parent and a child. She shared in her father’s pain, a situation she never expected to deal with. There are no rules for dealing with grief. You just have to get through it. Your friends will try to console you, but the words won’t really soothe the gnawing ache. Only time will heal it.

A dying parent will teach you that there’s nothing a parent won’t do to make it easier for their child in the end. You will hear your dying parent say, ‘I’m ready,’ and even though you aren’t, you’ll let go of the hand that you’ve held since you were small. When your parent finally finds peace, you realize that your parent is still teaching you about life.”


  1. “Watching Your Parent Die Is Absolute Hell”, Christine Burke, Scary Mommy
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