Thou Shalt Lay Off
April 13, 2012 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I need to word a kind and compassionate email (or phone call) to my mother. Can you help me do this?

My sister was recently diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. She's 40. Surgery is scheduled for next month. Right now she's in a lot of pain and not getting around very well. She lives a few states away from my parents. My mother and father would like to go to her and be a help to her and to my sister's husband - especially during the time of the surgery and recovery.

However, as I was talking to my sister, she mentioned that she was very wary of having my parents come due to my mother's inclination to talk and push religion A LOT.

My mother is very very devout in her religion and raised us all in the religion. Only my older brother and I are still practicing said religion. My mother holds on to fear that my sister is in apostasy and should she die in such a state she would be cut off from the family and a lovely hereafter. Because of this my mother is always bringing up religion to my sister and sometimes chastising her for not following the religion.

My sister is very spiritual in the positive-thinking, feeling, healing powers of the universe type of way. But since she is not following The Gospel, my mom fears she is doomed.

When I talked to my sister she mentioned that she would appreciate the help from my parents but that she cannot handle the religious talk and she would feel bad if she were to have to tell my parents that they have to go at some point. I cleared it with her to drop some hints to my mom about backing off the religion stuff.

I need to find the words to tell my mother in a kind and compassionate way to back off any and all talk of religion unless my sister explicitly asks. She is doing damage by always bringing it up. However, she brings it up because she is full of fear and feels like she has to take any opportunity to turn her wayward children toward the truth. Now that my sister is quite ill, I can only imagine my mother amping up her efforts so that my sister doesn't die in an apostate state.

Any ideas on how to word such an email or phone conversation? In my mom's mind she has a legitimate reason for pushing the religion on her daughter, however, it is driving my sister away and in her time of greatest need she is considering not having her parents there due to this.
posted by Sassyfras to Human Relations (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't think of anything better than what you just wrote. I would show her this.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:29 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Mom, I know your intentions are good here, but it is really bothering Sister and making her uncomfortable. Usually that's not a big deal, but this is a very difficult time for her and I think you'd agree that we should all try to make this as easy as on her as possible.

"I know you only want the best for her, but you've laid out your case to her very well already - she has all the information she needs and now it's entirely up to her to decide one way or the other. Her decision is out of your hands. So just, you know...give it up to God, as the Irish say, okay?"

Word it how you like but that's the basic message.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:30 AM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

"I know we are giving Sister all the love and care she needs right now. I know you might be tempted to talk about God because I know you love the Christian way. But we really need to hold Sister's needs in mind. She's got her own spiritual practice that is sustaining her in such a difficult time and she really wants to face what's ahead without us bringing up God. Can we do that for her? It's really important that we try to avoid upsetting her with our needs, and she's asked for this consideration as she looks forward to seeing you soon."
posted by honey-barbara at 7:31 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I keep thinking of the Jesuits for some reason - a friend briefly was in training to join the Jesuits, and said his monsignor's opinion of what their service should be was that man's job was to help take care of a person's bodily needs so God could step in and take care of the religious conversion Himself.

Perhaps telling your mother that your sister is going to have a lot of other bodily ills that are standing in the way of anyone telling her anything about God, and so God would rather your mother help Him by tending to that instead. God'll take care of the rest Himself in His own time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:32 AM on April 13, 2012 [23 favorites]

My sympathies on your sister's diagnosis.

As a person who attends church nearly every Sunday and who is driven mad by religious patter / pushiness of the type you describe, may I recommend that you talk with your Mom's pastor about this.

If you get the sense that her pastor can appreciate this line of discussion, then there's a chance s/he can provide some practical assistance either by helping you figure out what to say, or saying something him/herself.

Otherwise, I don't know...

Good luck.
posted by Infinity_8 at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry your family is going through this - and good for you to try and be a mediator here.

I would guess that your sister has tried to set some boundaries before with your mother, and it hasn't exactly worked..? My first thought is that going through this crisis is only going to make your mother redouble her efforts, and boundary setting might be even harder now.

Is your plan to intervene because your sister is just too overwhelmed with it, or because you have maybe some better "credentials" with her since you are still "of the faith?" Or maybe both?

My advice would be a) keep it short and sweet and do it via email, b) gently remind her that this is your sister's hour of need, and she needs to feel comfortable in order to heal; pressured religion talk will not do that, c) maybe try and base your approach in some theologian in your own religion? You don't mention your particular faith, but among the High Octane Catholics and Lapsed Catholic branches in my family, the writings of Fr. Jim Martin have been a useful "meeting place" for us. His wisdom and humor talks across religious practices, and he has written compassionately about letting non-believers and semi-believers find their own path to God.

And hey -- I see Empress above has also mentioned Jesuits. :)
posted by pantarei70 at 7:36 AM on April 13, 2012

I've gone through something a bit similar with my own mother who is very opinionated and quite convinced of the rightness of those opinions. I eventually got her to realize that by constantly stating those opinions again and again to my sister, she was selfishly making my sister's problem all about her (my mother). The accusation of selfishness and self-centeredness really got to her because vanity is a sin; she was mortified about it, vowed to 'bite her tongue', and has been vastly more supportive since.

I had to be very blunt with my mother. Given what you've said here, you might have to be a bit more blunt with your mom than you might otherwise like to be since she really doesn't seem to have gotten the hint when it was gently presented to her.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:47 AM on April 13, 2012

Nthing getting your mother's pastor or priest involved if they are helpful to your cause. Ring them up and explain what you just wrote above and ask them what they can do to help. If they too are of the "believe or burn" brigade, then you can politely decline to go any further with them.

Also, depending on the specifics of her faith, they may even be able to reassure her that your sister's soul will not be condemned if she doesn't convert right now.

It might help if you phrased it from her own beliefs in a way: "Mom, right now, she needs to be loved in the most Christian way possible, just loved and cared for. She needs to see your love in practical ways that you can help, in your affection and compassion for her, not through preaching. You know that will soften her heart towards God, and she'll be able to witness what Christian love is, and when she's ready, she'll ask you about Jesus. But right now, she needs just to be loved and cared for by her mom."
posted by viggorlijah at 7:50 AM on April 13, 2012

I'm so sorry that your family are going through this.

Your mother sounds a lot like mine. It can be frustrating at times and I'm sorry for you.

You could use that quote from St Francis: "Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words." You could -- if you want to and feel like you can do this sincerely -- talk about how your mother has already been a living role model for her faith in your lives and how your sister needs her mother much more than she needs a sermon that she's already heard and knows by heart.

It's very possible that your mother is doing what she's doing out of guilt and fear. This is a fraught time for her and for your family. There are a lot of ways that you can address those things for her, using the scriptural and conceptual framework that she is familiar with. You could use a lot of the comforting language of the bible; you could encourage your mother to be not afraid, to know that all things work together for good, to remember that Jesus, more often than he said anything else, said to people "your sins are forgiven." You could remind her that we will be surprised both by who is there, and who is not there, when we get to heaven.

Good luck to you. Your sister will be in my prayers.
posted by gauche at 7:53 AM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's also possible that you could suggest that she divert her "conversion" energies away from argument and into prayer for your sister (her spiritual health), so that she can be there for her daughter in person with regard to her physical/psychological needs and be there for her spiritually in a way that would be more supportive and less likely to meet with resistance...

Just another penny for the pond. Lots of good thoughts here.
posted by acm at 8:02 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Following up on what gauche suggested, you could also tell your mom that praying for your sister's salvation might be more effective than talking to her about it, as the talking is just pushing her away.
posted by alms at 8:06 AM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think this merits a phone call and compassionate directness, not hints:

Mom, I know that you are concerned about Emily, and that when you talk to her about our faith you are doing so because you love her. I also know that Emily doesn't want to discuss religion right now. She finds it stressful and upsetting, and right now she needs to minimize stress. I am afraid that if you push her to have a conversation about faith, it will push her further from faith and cause tension between the two of you. So I wanted to ask you: when you feel like you need to talk to Emily about faith--when your fear for her soul is overwhelming to you, can you call me instead of talking to her about it? I will listen to you, and pray with you, and support you. Will you call me? Do you understand why this is important?
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2012 [18 favorites]

Good luck with this!
posted by alms at 2:28 PM on April 13, 2012

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