My great aunt is dying. Will a Christmas card make her sad?

visiting hospital
We received this question through email earlier this month, and it seemed like something we should share. Thank you to the original asker, who gave us permission to post this for everyone who may be struggling during the next few days.

My great aunt is dying and has two days to two months to live.  I'm visiting her at the hospital tomorrow and I asked my mom — should I bring her the Christmas card I have for her or not? Will it make her sad as she may not live until Christmas?  My mom was struggling with the same thing.  

From Hong Lee, Salem Health's Medical Ethicist:

The end of life is a difficult time that can bring up complex emotions. We often think about the sadness. But within that sadness may also be moments of profound meaning. 

In your dilemma about the Christmas card, something that may help clarify the situation is the question of what the card means to your great aunt. Has your great aunt said anything about cards and Christmas specifically? If she has requested not to have certain things done, it may be best to respect her wishes.  

If she has not said anything in particular, then: Is this part of a longstanding tradition that she cherishes? Does the card have messages of loved ones who couldn’t be there? Does the card contain heartfelt messages that some find too difficult to express in words? If the card plays a role in giving this difficult moment meaning, for you and your family, I would encourage you to move ahead with the effort. A gesture coming from a place of love and kindness is often appreciated even under sad circumstances, and it best to connect with those we love before the opportunity is lost.

It is easy to understand not wanting to add to the burden of those who are going through difficult times. For family and friends of patients facing the end of life, there is a strong desire to support the patient through this process and not cause any undue suffering. However, we also must not let our concern for a family member's well-being transform itself into a fear that prevents us from sharing what could be a final  moment of kindness, connection and meaning.