How to cope with my mom's death?
May 26, 2010 5:52 PM   Subscribe

My mother, a long term alcohol/prescription drug abuser, died last week. She was in her 50s. I'm a wreck and need help coping.

My uncle (her brother) found her when she had been without oxygen for almost an hour. She had drank so much she stopped breathing. The hospital managed to keep her alive for a few hours for family to say goodbye. We took care of her last arrangements after finding her will, and had a memorial service.

I feel a sickening sense of relief. She was an incredibly manipulative person, and very mentally and verbally abusive. She was exhausting to have a relationship with. She had spiraled out of control over the last few years, and our family knew it was a matter of time before something terrible happened. She died while we were fighting, which we did frequently. I know (due to counseling) I had to set boundaries to protect my own mental health, but I feel like a horrible daughter for not always having been there. I also feel badly for wanting to move now. The rest of my family lives downtown and I lived in the suburbs to be close by to her. She had lost her license due to repeated DUIs.

She left my brother (early 20s) and I (mid 20s) everything, which amounts to 4-5 million USD. We're both stunned. My father, an accountant (also wealthy, but they divorced in my early teens and he and I are not close at all) is taking care of most of the probate stuff for my brother and I, as we're the co-executors.

I have so much on my mind. How do I do this? And what do I do - responsibly - with this money after probate passes? I haven't worked for almost 2 years because of a medical disability, and am on a fixed income due to this. We already decided to give gifts to my uncle (mentioned above) and his family, but I don't know what else is appropriate. I am a mess right now, and the guilt, shame, anger, and grief is completely overwhelming. for anything private.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
the guilt, shame, anger, and grief is completely overwhelming.

Be careful about making big decisions, especially regarding large sums of money, while you are in this state. Take some time to yourself; you can keep the money in a safe place (your dad will know) indefinitely until you are over your current emotional state.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:05 PM on May 26, 2010 [10 favorites]

It seems to me that the wisest thing to do with the money would be to obtain your father's help in investing it wisely in interest-bearing assets, take 50% or 75% of the dividend as a supplement to your fixed income, and re-invest the remaining dividend.

If you still want to move after you've thought about it for a few more months, go ahead and move. Maybe you need to spend a few years wandering in the desert to find truth.

As for the rest, my heart breaks for you. You are not a horrible daughter, you did what you had to - both for her and for yourself. Good luck.
posted by XMLicious at 6:09 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't act hastily. Right now you're going to want to resolve things, and you can't. This is a heck of a lot to deal with. The money, once given or spent, will be gone.

Otherwise...anyone would feel lost in this situation. I can't imagine how you feel; it must be overwhelming. Can you talk frankly with your brother, father, or uncle? Is there a close relative or friend who can be a sounding board? Or would you be more comfortable with someone removed from the situation - a therapist or counselor? If you're religious, a priest might help.

I wish I had more constructive advice, but this is pretty daunting. It sounds like you've put a lot of work into a difficult relationship; it sounds like you did the very best you could have. Allow yourself some time to deal with this, and be kind to yourself.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:14 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

What a mess of conflicting emotions... so sorry for your loss.

Deal with the financial stuff later. Right now, concentrate on grieving and repairing. If it was me, and I know it's not, I would try to find comfort in the fact that she is no longer suffering. Be grateful for the good times and the good things she did for you, and forgive her for the not so great times. And realize that it is OK to feel all these different feelings at once.
posted by gjc at 6:17 PM on May 26, 2010

I'm so sorry.

If there are some nearby, I think you would find yourself among friends at a meeting of Adult Children of Alcoholics and/or Nar-Anon. You mention a "sickening sense of relief" - from that I'm going to infer (possibly incorrectly) that you are feeling guilt about how things left. I'd say that the help of a therapist (which you mention) would be an avenue to help you process the HUGE mix of emotions related to your mom's death. Any death of someone close is huge, regardless of what baggage there is.

Good for you for setting your boundaries by the way! Some people never learn to set boundaries with the addicts in their lives, causing pain and sometimes passing along an addictive cycle. Being able to set good boundaries are key for all that's happening in your life. Your own mental health is paramount, and there's no need to apologize for that. If you're no good for yourself, you can't be any good to anything else. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Activate the resources that can give you positive sustenance: friends, family, clergy, counselors, support groups. There may be dedicated grief groups near you as well.

As to the financial aspect: since you're in a conflicted emotional state it might be good to table the whole issue of the money for a year. If you have immediate needs, take care of them; but consider that it might be best to simply not do anything with the money until your emotional state is such that you feel like you can cope with it. Give yourself permission to have good boundaries with the money, I think is what I'm saying. And don't feel pressure to adhere to some kind of normal timeline with regards to the decisions you make.

I wish you peace. Thank you for sharing.

On preview, lots of good advice from the other posters as well. Take it easy. Take care of yourself.
posted by artlung at 6:18 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Other people can better advise you on the money aspect.

I want to chat about the emotional aspect. I went through something very similar. Eerily so, just without the money.

My mother died at the age of 59 and had been abusing alcohol for most of my life. Shortly after my 27th birthday and after the umpteenth fight about something insane I had to go above and beyond all of the other boundaries I'd placed (don't show up at my apartment unannounced, don't call me more than once a day unless there's an emergency, etc). I cut off all contact with her.

She died three months later. She was found by her building management (she'd moved from the apartment I'd been paying for to live with relatives and they'd helped her find a sort of transient facility) found her on the floor of her apartment with a nearly empty bottle of Jack on the table and pill bottles all over the room.

Me or e-mail me if you would like to talk.

I'm 40 now. It took me the better part of a decade to stop being angry/guilty. And to even understand why I was so angry. What finally got me to understand and accept things was something a friend said after a long conversation about relationships with mothers, and my situation in particular:

"FlamingBore, it's awful. What happened is not something I'd wish on anyone. But you were miserable. You were being manipulated and controlled. You said yourself that you'd been suicidal on and off for years while she was alive. There's a chance that it could have been you."

And she was right. I was so miserable. I had felt trapped by her. Unable to move on, move up, move away.

It still took me over two years to move away but I did. And it was scary and painful (And bless the woman who I was with during those years after I moved. Patience of a saint). But it was the best thing I ever did.

So, my advice to you is to allow yourself to feel all of these things. None of them are wrong or bad and they don't make you bad person or a bad daughter. They make you human. Grieve her if you can. If not now, you will some day. But allow yourself the time and space to move onto the next stage of your life gracefully. You deserve it.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:40 PM on May 26, 2010 [12 favorites]

You can get through this. No mothers are angels. Don't know how many are great parents, for that matter. As for me, there seems to be plenty to be angry about, but I figure mine did the best she could. Probably yours too. Their failings leave an impact on us. You weren't the cause of her decline. Enjoy the security. You're no more or less deserving of it than anybody else.
posted by LonnieK at 6:43 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please don't do anything with the money for a long time. My father died 3 years ago. We had issues, but nothing nearly as complicated as you. And it's only been the last 3 months or so that I feel like I've been able to look at everything somewhat objectively. Give yourself lots and lots of time before making any irreversible decisions.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:17 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most folks say to leave the money untouched for 6 months - 1 year. And that's in less complicated situations. Grief and death is really really hard, triply so with your scenario. Expect it, name it, talk about it, work through it.

And use some of the money if you have immediate needs (help with rent or a dead car, etc.) but just take "what do I do with this money" right off the table if possible. You need to meet with someone who will put it into SECURE CDs or some other stable place. Then revisit the situation in 6 months. And again at a year. The other thing to remember is this is all going to take LOTS of time. The money isn't always disbursed quickly - it could be months or even years (depending on lots of situations.)

The biggest thing is to not allow yourself to get scammed out of money right now - you might be feeling overly generous, or like you don't want her tainted money, or like you wish you could buy her sobriety and look you can help someone else get on their feet instead, or you want to take the money and run, or just give it away... it's an INCREDIBLY vulnerable time, and once folks get wind of the money, be on the lookout for some relationships to change. Just sit and work through it. It's going to be a tough 2010 for you. But there is a 2011 and a 2012 and even just another day tomorrow. You'll get through it. Be nice to yourself in the process.
posted by barnone at 8:28 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

You have absolutely no reason to feel guilty. First of all, you are entitled to feel anything you feel. And relief after someone dies is a common feeling, and very understandable when it's a parent who had substance abuse problems. In fact, I'd go further and state that if you're angry, you should not repress that. Later (in a year or two, even), think about what you might have missed growing up the way you did, and figure out how you can overcome that. Do not feel guilty about anger or relief. And know that you acted the best way you knew how, too.

Also, hang on to the money you've inherited. If you'd like to make gifts to relatives, write it down and tell your dad, but don't make any decisions that you can't reverse later. Don't let anyone push you into making decisions you're not ready for, either. (My financial advice, which sounds stupid until you realize how many people don't get this, boils down to: If you have money, and you spend the money, you no longer have money.)

Even though your dad divorced your mom a while back, he might be grieving, too.

I don't want to turn this into a post about me, so here's just enough to let you know I've been there. When I was 23 my dad, who was my rock, committed suicide. It was totally out of the blue. I was relieved to figure out that our deteriorating relationship over the previous year wasn't all my fault, though. And 24 years later, I'm still a bit angry at him for never asking anyone for help. My inheritance was a couple of figures less than yours, but it was still life-changing. I mostly followed my own financial advice above.

When I was 31, my mother, who had only a year before had told us she was an alcoholic (before she was prone to drinking half a beer and giving someone else the other half) also committed suicide. We found out later that she was addicted to valium. Very little inheritance, but she was manipulative and emotionally abusive (mostly to me, once she divorced my dad) and I was also relieved. I was afraid I was going to have to take care of her in her old age and put up with more of her blame. Now I'm mostly a little sad at the life she lead. But you have to think of the good things, too. They were excellent parents before we were teenagers, despite both of them having poor childhoods from the beginning. And my kid has had a better upbringing than I had.

Enough about me - I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone. Memail me if you want, and I'm sending you my email address to your anon one in case you want to remain really anon.
posted by zinfandel at 8:59 PM on May 26, 2010

What you are feeling is the same as if your mother had committed suicide, which is really what she did with the choices she made. It's a nasty, difficult mess of emotion to deal with.

Counseling might help, and I have nothing against it at all, but I have to say that having a good support system really helped me work through some of that overwhelming swamp.

You have a right to feel angry, sad, relieved, guilty, and overwhelmed. You also have the right to feel joy, and laugh, even if just from making twisted or inappropriate jokes. That can be a way of working through it, too.

Good Luck. There are other out there who understand, and you are not alone.
posted by annsunny at 9:21 PM on May 26, 2010

I agree with all the others who want you to be very careful with your windfall. It sounds like a lot of money--but a person could blow through it easily. It could be tempting to use it to "feel better". Put it away and live modestly while you sort things out.
It wouldn't hurt to find a good therapist who is female and older. I had "issues" with my Mother almost all of my life and therapy and group therapy was a smart helped me work through things.
Your Mom chose what she did with her time--it wasn't the best choice, but she did have a right to live as she wanted ("civil liberty"). You and I wouldn't chose the path she did..but she had all the rights to do as she did--try not to "blame" her. Addiction is a terrible thing and I am sure she meant no harm to you. I hope you'll find something great to do with your life and that you'll be able to think of all the positive things your Mom did while she was alive.
posted by naplesyellow at 11:30 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing don't touch that money right now unless you need it for food, rent, medical care, or other essentials. Sock it away while you sort things out - give yourself time, at least six months. And find a GOOD - emphasis on GOOD - financial planner.

Also, be good to yourself. Treat yourself like a baby now. Long, hot bubble baths, fresh flowers, good nutrition (vital!), renting sappy movies or horror movies or whatever you like to watch.

Get therapy. Whether it's an individual therapist or an Al-Anon type support group, if anyone could use the support of a pro right now it is you.

Good luck, Anon. My heart goes out to you. Keep us posted as to how you are doing.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:45 AM on May 27, 2010

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