DEAR JANE: I sold my mother’s home to cover my debts while she was in a hospice. Now she wants to die at home – and I can’t bring myself to tell her

Dear Jane,

My 72-year-old mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer six months ago and has been on hospice care for the last few weeks. 

My dad died a couple of years ago so my brother and I have been taking care of her affairs between the two of us – and we very quickly realized that her finances were in a pretty awful state.

Her medical bills have been astronomical and have added a huge amount of debt to what was already a pretty massive hole.

My brother and I had already been discussing the sale of the house before she went into hospice; we’re both financially stable but have our own families and can’t afford to pay off her debt on our own, so putting the property on the market seemed like the only option.

Dear Jane, I made the decision to sell my mother’s home while she is in hospice care… how can I break the news to her without leaving her devastated? 

When she went into hospice care however, we realized it was not just an option to consider but a choice we needed to make if we were going to have any chance of hauling ourselves out of inheriting a huge amount of debt.

We put the house on the market a week later and it sold really quickly, which was great.

The thing is, we didn’t tell her. We didn’t want to burden her with the debt or the fact that we’d be the ones dealing with it, because we were afraid she’d insist on going home and saving on medical bills.

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers' most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers’ most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

Looking back, it was a stupid decision.

And now, she’s told us that she does want to leave hospice so she can die peacefully at home. My heart is breaking because that home that she holds such fond memories of isn’t actually hers anymore. And I have no idea how to tell her the truth.

In trying to make the best of a shitty situation, I feel like my brother and I have only made it 100 times worse. How can we inflict even more pain on a dying woman?


Sinful Son

Dear Sinful Son,

Given the cost of healthcare in America – 66.5 per cent of bankruptcies are due to medical bills – your situation may be heartbreaking, but you have made a brave and wise decision to help get out from under potentially crippling financial debt.

I am so sorry that your mother has asked to die at home. 

While I tend to advise honesty in most situations, I also look at causing the least harm to all concerned. 

I worry that knowing your mother’s house has been sold, particularly in this situation, could be significantly detrimental to her already-failing health.

There’s no winning here, but I urge you not to beat yourself up. 

It seems to me that the elegant way to handle it is to speak to the hospice staff. Home hospice is always an interesting alternative, but a hospital bed at home and visiting hospice nurse does not provide the same care as being in a hospice with full-time 24-hour care. 

A more gentle approach given this shitty situation is for your mother to believe – and this very well may be true – that there are not enough facilities or care for her to go home, and that staying in hospice will be far more comfortable for her.

I’m sorry you are all going through this, and wish all of you peace.