Mom is mentally ill. And dying.
February 29, 2016 6:45 AM   Subscribe

My mother is mentally ill. I went "no contact" seven years ago to protect myself and those in my life. I have received word that she is dying of terminal cancer. How can I know more about her condition so that I can see her at the end, but not until the end?

My mother has struggled with various severe mental illness issues (bi-polar and borderline amongst others) for decades, even before I was born. I spent most of my life taking care of her. Then, about seven years ago, I decided to go "no contact" because her behavior was so abusive and so destructive that it was not only hurting me but others (friends, significant other) in my life.

My life has been so much better since I made that choice. In those seven years, I have been able to focus on my career, my friendships, and for the first time I have been able to devote time to self care and the care of others besides my mom. Before, that (focus/attention on myself or my friends) was forbidden or punished.

Now distant family have reached out to inform me that she has stage four lung cancer. I do know she is in the care of hospice and is undergoing chemotherapy, but other than that, I do not know anything about her condition.

She is apparently asking various people to contact me (call my workplace, email me, phone calls) and ask that I get in touch with her. When these people call, they explain my mom is dying and that I am not in contact with her, even if they are talking to one of my co-workers or my boss. I am pretty sure she wants me to take care of her. I can't do that. Everything in me says that I can't. The distant family who I have recently spoke with are so horrified by her behavior that even they can't or don't want to get involved, though some suggest I should still do so.

I'm not angry at her. She is not all bad. I believe she did the best she could: she is mentally ill, she's sick. I would be willing to send a weekly care package, make a weekly phone call to her but it is impossible to have those kinds of boundaries with her because she would want more and more. She totally consumes anyone involved in her life: they can't do enough for her, ever, no matter what they do. And because they can never do enough for her, they inevitably fail her, and when that happens, they become evil to her. She can become incredibly abusive and scary when that happens.

What I can do is go see her once before she dies. I think I can do that, anyway. I can tell her all of the good things she did, I can hopefully offer her some comfort.

But here's the problem: I don't think I can go see her until I know she's in a hospital setting, that it's close to the end, because the risk of being consumed or abused is too great. I'm not authorized to talk to her doctors. None of the distant family want to get that involved. I have no other family who can help.

So I guess my questions are these:

1) Has anyone else been in a similar situation? What did you do? What do you wish you would have done?

2) Does anyone have ideas on how I could know if she is close to the end of her life, in which case I feel it would be safer to go see her? I asked my distant family members if they would be willing to get permission from my mom to talk with her doctors but they said they did not want to get that involved. And I understand: I'm scared to get that involved, too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
If she is in hospice care, it is quite likely near the end. Go see her once now, and be strong enough to say your goodbyes and leave it at that - you have been strong for these seven years, you can do it for a bit longer. Getting involved with talking to doctors is way more involved than you need or want to be.

And I'm so very sorry for your loss under these tough circumstances.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:55 AM on February 29, 2016 [23 favorites]


Go to her.

My mother had Alzheimers and there were many times through the last few years that I wanted to simply walk-away from the anger and abusiveness. But, I didn't. Had I done so and she died, I think I would never stop beating myself up for it. She died back in December, and I am so glad I was with her through to the end.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:04 AM on February 29, 2016


Have faith in yourself - you've set and kept boundaries that are very hard to set and keep; there isn't any reason your mother will be able to change the rules on you without your permission. You can do this and not let it ruin your life.

I cut my dad out of my life (alcoholism) and spent the final two months of his life back in contact with him after a terminal melanoma diagnosis. I wouldn't trade those two months for anything. Go see your mom, see what happens, and keep doing what you're doing as far as protecting yourself emotionally. You'll be fine.
posted by something something at 7:04 AM on February 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


Oh, anonymous, I ache for you and what you're going through. I too am no contact with a mother who is bipolar and borderline (untreated/unmedicated), and I anticipate this same circumstance. Please know you're not alone.

I agree with Rock Steady: If you choose to visit her, why not get it over with now? If you've decided to visit to say your goodbye, there's nothing to gain by waiting until the very end, is there?

You can wish her the best and still not take care of her as she's dying. Don't get involved with doctors. YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HER, even if medical staff or extended family try to pin that obligation on you.

Tonight, coincidentally, I'm starting a 12-week NAMI class on dealing with mentally ill family members in anticipation of my mother wanting end-of-life care from me. It might be something you're interested in?
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:05 AM on February 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


You will never be able to time the end because no one knows. I appreciate that you want to wait. The risk of waiting is that you wait too long.

If you can get an address, send her a long letter with all the stuff that you would say in person. I would consider adding that you are writing because you love her but do not have the capacity to do much else but express your love in a letter.

Then, I would wait a few weeks and if you still are willing to go for one visit, schedule it and go.
posted by AugustWest at 7:06 AM on February 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


My mother also had severe mental illness, sadly (or fortunately) she died quite suddenly when she was fairly young, so I didn't have to go through what you're dealing with. I hadn't had any contact with her in several years and I've never regretted it. I can totally understand your reluctance to have anything to do with her even if she's dying.

I suppose there is some remote possibility she wants to apologize to you, make some last-minute amends, but I wouldn't count on it.

If your mother is under hospice care she may never end up in the hospital, she likely will die in either the hospice or at home. Have you tried speaking with the hospice? Are you your mother's closest family? Is it possible you're listed as next of kin? Call the hospice services provider and find out if you're listed. If you feel strong enough find out more. If you don't, don't do it.

If you do decide to go see her take a trusted friend with you and set a firm limit on time you spend with her.
posted by mareli at 7:06 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I got on well with my mother so there is not the same parallel (though I lived at a distance).

However, I would warn you against the idea of buying into the thing of being with someone at 'the end', its a bit of a Hollywood thing I think, tearful goodbye, maybe final rapprochement, etc. The reality is that at the end she might be wracked with pain, insensible, unconscious or comatose. After the fact I was very glad that I had been to see my mother a few weeks before the end (I didn't know when the end would be or that it would be so close) while she was still conscious and recognisably my mother personality wise. That was a much nicer way to have seen her than when she was on her death bed, at which point she was unconscious and we basically were just waiting for organ failure to take her. Niceness aside, if there's something you want to say, or hope she will say, then better to address that earlier while she is still able to communicate.
posted by biffa at 7:20 AM on February 29, 2016 [34 favorites]


I can tell her all of the good things she did, I can hopefully offer her some comfort.

You can do that in writing. Write her a letter and mail it to her hospital/hospice/primary care doc/home health aide/pastor/etc. Tell her all of the things you want her to know, and that you imagine being able to tell her in person. Put the letter inside a larger envelope that includes a note to the doc/aide/pastor asking them to give it to her (or read it to her if her condition warrants). Don't put your return address on it.

Being kind to another person doesn't require that you undermine your own progress and safety.
posted by headnsouth at 7:23 AM on February 29, 2016 [22 favorites]


I'd strongly, strongly advise you to go see a therapist if you aren't already. When my estranged father reached out to me from his deathbed, it brought up all kinds of emotions and I had a really difficult time parsing the situation. A therapist helped me deal with what was happening and make a well-thought out decision. Ultimately, I did not visit him, and when he passed it was very helpful to have an established relationship with a therapist to deal with the unexpected grief and guilt that resulted.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:29 AM on February 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Unfortunately, there is no way you or anyone else can say with certainly, "this is exactly how much time she has" --- heck, I've got a friend who just celebrated seven full years since his stage-4 lung cancer diagnosis (he was told he had 10-22 months, so yes: he celebrates.) Your mom could die tomorrow, or live for quite a while yet: it's all so chancy.

If you can, go ahead and visit her now; tell yourself (and her) that this is to be your only visit/contact, and hold to that. If it's necessary to give her some contact info, use a burner phone with pre-paid minutes, not your regular phone; give her only the burner phone number. Make an email account just for this; delete it after your visit. And on and on. Don't let yourself get dragged into discussions with her or her medical team; you have not been and are not now responsible for her. Don't let your relatives pass on your 'real' contact info to her medical team.

And take care of yourself first: if she starts her old ways while you're standing there by her bed, tell her once that you won't listen to that; then if she keeps if up, literally walk away. Walk right out of the room, go directly home, never to return. She gets one, and only one, chance to mend fences.
posted by easily confused at 7:43 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Agree with biffa that there is this Hollywood idea that people at the very end are still able to have conversations. If she is in hospice, she may already be at a stage where you cannot really talk to her in any meaningful way. It is likely she is in a great deal of pain or heavily medicated. If there are things you need to say to her, go now. Also, while doctors cannot talk to you about her medical condition, it's possible hospice staff can give you basic information about her lucidity if you want to visit her (people with more experience, please correct me if I'm wrong). In any case, this is not something you're going to be able to time exactly. Go now, and you can refuse to see her after that if you need to. Also, be prepared for her to be much better or much worse than you remember her. Imminent death changes people. Your mother will soon be out of your life forever, and you will never have to deal with her mental illness again. You've been strong in dealing with it before. You can do it one more time. But this will likely be very emotional and hard on you. I'd suggest having an emotional support plan in place for after you see her (loved ones, friends, a therapist).

Also, who are the people who are calling about her wanting to talk to her? You say that family members don't want to get involved. If medical staff and social workers are calling, I would think they would be more aware of privacy issues than that (or maybe I'm dreaming).
posted by FencingGal at 7:47 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


My mother was abusive and also died of cancer (10 years after initial diagnosis, 5 years after it came back, 6-12 months past her most recent prognosis). I was living in the same city and my uncle did most of the end-of-life coordinating for her (in home nurses instead of hospice) so he let me know when she was starting to go. I went home in order to support my teenage siblings who still lived at home; it ended up being her last ~48 hours. She could barely speak or maintain consciousness at first and then slipped into a coma for the last day. She died right at a shift change and the new nurse happily called someone from our kitchen to tell them she was now free because the patient had died.

Honestly if you're no-contact with her, you know that you're not going to hear what you need to hear from her before she dies. My mother got really nasty in the last few months, claiming that she had "no filter" anymore due to the chemo, and tried to guilt-trip me into all sorts of shit "because I'm dying". She gave me a half-assed not-apology the week before, saying something about how I always take the high road no matter how she treats me, but it didn't soothe my feelings the way it seems in the movies. It was just like.... alright so you know you've treated me poorly but you're not going to be accountable for it even now and I'm just supposed to nod sagely and let you say your piece without criticism. Like always. The magical moment probably won't happen and you don't need to travel all the way to her just to be disappointed.

If my mother had died even a year later, we probably would have been no contact and I would not have gone to see her. It wouldn't feel nice but going to see her didn't feel nice either. Whatever feelings you are carrying, they won't go away if you see her on her deathbed.

Write her a letter (if it helps, read it out loud like you're saying it to her before you mail it). Do whatever rituals bring you comfort. Get a therapist if you don't have one because chances are you're going to have some intense feelings about this. Rely on your support network and friends.
posted by buteo at 7:48 AM on February 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


Please go see your Mom as soon as you are able. My Mother, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, was given a "weeks to a couple of months" prognosis.. and ended up dying three days later.
posted by INFJ at 8:02 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


You should probably go see her as soon as you get a chance and as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. It can be pretty hard to predict when a terminally ill patient will die with any kind of specificity (although if you can speak with one of the hospice people caring for her, they have an uncanny ability to narrow it down to within a day or so, IME) so it's up to you to decide if not getting to see her before her death is something you're okay with. It's totally fine if you decide to take that chance, and it's totally fine for you to be okay with potentially missing your last opportunity to speak with her.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:08 AM on February 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


You should talk to the hospice, which will have a social worker or family liason. Contact that person or whoever has that role. In my situation, it was the hospice manager, who was candid and helpful.

FWIW I was repeatedly told by family members that I would regret not seeing my estranged father before he died. In fact, I regret seeing him. He was mean and it was awful. He was glad I went, though.

To be honest, balancing the happiness of his last few days against the fact that I have to schlepp the shit of those hours through the next 40 years of my life, I'm not really sure how the moral math calculates. You should think carefully about why you are doing this and for the benefit of whom. If I had better calculated this in advance, my experience might have been different. I hope yours is.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:19 AM on February 29, 2016 [22 favorites]


The one thing I would wonder about in what is being reported to you is that she is still undergoing chemotherapy. Given the side-effects, I would have thought that if someone is actually nearing death in hospice treatment, they would have stopped the chemotherapy to give a more peaceful end of life.

So it is certainly possible that while her cancer is terminal, she may live for months and if you visit now you could be subjected to months more of very difficult pressure.

If it's reported to you that the hospice has ended the chemotherapy, and she is now under palliative treatment only, then it might be time to try a visit.

But this may be a regional thing: where I am (Ireland) hospice treatment is very much focused on quality of life in the final stages, and active chemotherapy or radiotherapy would be provided in a general hospital.
posted by Azara at 8:25 AM on February 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


She's stalking and abusing you by proxy. It's very sad that she's dying, but it's beyond inappropriate that your workplace is getting calls with deeply personal information about you. To me, this indicates that she sees this more about getting you back into her control than about any kind of "comfort" or desire to inform you. You're right that she's sick, but it's the kind of sick that will get nothing from your suffering.

I would go volunteer at a hospice in your town, with people who are not currently abusing you, and make your peace with not having the mother that you deserve.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:32 AM on February 29, 2016 [28 favorites]


Also, I would bet cash money that something about the story is wrong or twisted or dramatized and that you will not ever get accurate information about her actual condition. The people who call your work and tell them your mom is dying and you're not in contact? They are not healthy people with appropriate boundaries, and I would not at all trust the information you're getting.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:37 AM on February 29, 2016 [21 favorites]


Half of all patients stay 20 days or less.
posted by wnissen at 8:37 AM on February 29, 2016


Azara is right: she is either in the care of hospice OR she is undergoing chemotherapy. To the best of my knowledge, which includes seeing 3 close family members through the end of their lives, those two things are mutually exclusive even in the states. I would try to call the hospice. They are very compassionate people and when you explain your situation they may be able to give you some guidance.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:39 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


It is NOT correct that she cannot be getting both chemo and hospice care at the same time. Hospice is for palliative care regardless of life expectancy, and this includes pain management. Chemo can also be used palliatively for some cancers.

Do not rely on any of us or any of your relatives for information with which to make this decision. You need data from a medical care provider working with your mother.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:52 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


What DarlingBri said about the chemo--there are some cases in which, e.g., chemo is used to shrink tumors which are causing severe pain, even though there is no expectation that it will extend life. It's an increasingly controversial practice, but it is done in some hospice care.

But (speaking from a similar situation) I also agree that your mother and the people around her randomly informing your coworkers that you're not in touch with her cannot be trusted to be providing accurate information about her condition. Don't rely on what they say to make your decision. Don't do anything that would leave you hurting if it turns out that they're lying.

I don't think there's any way to predict how you would feel after seeing your mother on her deathbed. It's too huge. Who knows themselves that well? So I would instead consider how able you feel to handle the whole range of possibilities, because, honestly, any of them might occur. It sounds to me as if you still feel fragile and vulnerable with respect to her, but that you do feel that if you can give her some comfort by telling her of some of the good she brought to your life, you would be glad to do so. So I go with the people who suggest writing a letter. That keeps the contact one-way--sparing you from most of the worst outcomes, which you might not be able to endure--while allowing you to do her a kindness.

(And, Christ, I really need to start thinking about this for my own life...)
posted by praemunire at 9:05 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would bet cash money that something about the story is wrong or twisted or dramatized and that you will not ever get accurate information about her actual condition. The people who call your work and tell them your mom is dying and you're not in contact? They are not healthy people with appropriate boundaries, and I would not at all trust the information you're getting.

Agreed. I have a mom who has been living with stage four lung cancer for five years. I have an arms-length (not no contact but low contact) relationship with her and part of it concerns her inability to have boundaries about

- her cancer (giving me incorrect or misleading information, saying she's on "chemo" when she's just taking medicine not categorized as chemo)
- other people (misrepresenting our relationship so they hassle me on her behalf, well-meaningly but totally inappropriately)
- severity/urgency of issues (calling me when I am away to give me bad news instead of waiting until I am at home and near by own support network)

So, I sympathize, it's challenging. As per usual you will have to just make your own decision. If it were me and I really wanted to see her I'd basically have one "say goodbye" visit and be clear (as clear as you can be) about this to her and others. You are making a visit. You are not going to make another one. Otherwise writing a letter and having a one-way interaction is totally within your rights. You can decide that whether or not she is at the end of HER life, she is at the end of your-life-with-her. It sounds cold as hell, but at the same time, so is child abuse and neglect. Make a decision you think will make you feel that you did the right thing moving forward. If that means closure, just pick your own timeline.

After your mother dies, the people with bad boundaries are still going to be around, so it's not like her death is going to be a final THIS ENDS NOW point as much as you might wish it to be. Good luck, take solace and comfort in the life you've been able to have that has been improved by her not being in it. I am sorry it's a choice or set of choices you've had to make.
posted by jessamyn at 9:35 AM on February 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


I had a very similar end-of-life experience with my mother (mental illness, abusive, no-contact, cancer) last year.

From a practical standpoint, I would get in contact with the hospice she is staying at and inform them that you are not to be contacted by any personnel there. Do they same with anyone else who calls you. I don't know if they're legally obligated to do so, but you're hardly the first person they've been in this situation with and they should respect your wishes and privacy.

From an emotional standpoint, I would not feel like you have any obligation to see her. Remember that no one who tells you otherwise has walked in your shoes and has no grounds to make any judgments. If you feel that seeing her will give you some kind of personal closure, that's fine, but as others have noted, there is no Hollywood Moment that will occur between you two.
posted by mkultra at 9:38 AM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


If she's asking people to contact you, then she should be willing to authorize hospice personnel to speak with you. Do you have contact info for the hospice? Is so, why not call them and see if they will speak with you and let you know what's going on? If they say they cannot talk with you because your mother won't authorize it, then maybe that should be the end of this.

(Btw, I have not read every single comment, so if this has been suggested, I'm sorry for the repetition!)
posted by merejane at 9:48 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am so, so sorry for what you are going through.

It sounds less like you are waiting until "the end" because you want a hollywood moment, and more because you want to minimize the aftershock of your visit.

Would it bother you to see your mother unresponsive/unconscious? If not, I think it is very wise of you to wait until she is near death. The problem is determining when that is.

Find out what hospice agency your mother is attended by. Call the hospice facility and ask to speak for the nurse caring for her. State that you are x's daughter and that you would like to visit. If you are not authorized to talk to her doctors then you will probably not be able to get specific information on your mother's condition. Instead, tell the nurse that you are extremely busy at the present but would like to see your mother before she passes, and ask the nurse if she predicts she will be alert and oriented in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months? She will probably balk at making a Death Prediction but this line of questioning might give you the insight you need.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:50 AM on February 29, 2016


Write a letter. Do not visit.

Yes, inform relevant parties you are not to be contacted. Absolutely. I'm so sorry your workplace is involved at all. I'm so sorry.

If you are "no contact" then you have already grieved. Also, you don't seem to understand what dying of cancer is like, it's not like she'll be able to interact with you "at the end." And no one knows when that time will come. I'm not sure why you are thinking of getting involved at all. There's nothing for you to do.

I'm so angry at your distant relatives. They won't stand by her themselves because she's abusive, but they will carelessly urge the person your mom likely victimized most (you) to step up. No.

Hospice people are lovely and your mom is receiving care, just not from you. Her situation relationship-wise is the result of her choices. While it might be hard to seek help for being emotionally violent, she was aware being violent like that was damaging to others. Mental illness isn't a blank check to behave as badly as possible. Mental illness didn't take away all of your mother's responsibility or agency.

You won't be a better person for standing by her through this experience. If you need to do something altruistic, go do that somewhere you'll be safe.

I believe in love and forgiveness, but you can forgive from a safe distance. This has nothing to do with you. You've already suffered and grieved. You've done enough. Be well.
posted by jbenben at 9:59 AM on February 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


Hi. I just realized something I wrote came off wrong. Sorry.

When I wrote "I'm not sure why you are thinking of getting involved at all," my derision was aimed at your relatives, not you. I was very badly trying to point out how faulty their thinking is.

I meant that I know you are being guilted into thinking you have some responsibility to show up, that doing so will be meaningful and great. If you were smart enough to go "no contact" (you are) then by all means don't fall for that load of emotional blackmail horseshit.

Again. My derision was aimed at your relatives, not you.

They are lying and passing the buck. I'm guessing that's what they've always done. These people looked the other way while your mom suffered mental illness and you suffered abuse. They're obviously coming from a damaged persepective. Emotionally healthy folks would not bring this to you in this way, it would not be causing you angst or a moment's pause if it was coming from the right place.

I hope I explained this better. I've thought deeply about these issues. All I can see is you trying to resist reacting in ways that were "normal" when you were actively being abused. Please continue to resist those old patterns, the results for you will not be different this time. You're right to stay out of this. It's just more of the same. You're OK.
posted by jbenben at 10:28 AM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Your mom sounds a lot like mine; I also went no-contact around 7 years ago, and it was a similarly stabilizing decision. I agree with those suggesting that you write to her... based on my own experiences, I think you have to assume that you may not have all the information regarding her illness (my mother regularly either embellishes or outright lies about being ill in an attempt to pressure me into contact by mobilizing various family friends and relatives... who themselves will not deal with her!). She may indeed be ill, but that doesn't mean that she will transform into the person you want her to be-- I think for those of us with terrible parents, there is always a small hope that the parent we wished for will one day materialize. Unfortunately, that is highly unlikely-- people don't undergo fundamental functional changes just because they are nearing the end of life, especially not those with serious mental illness who can't or don't think they bear any responsibility for their broken relationships. In all likelihood, the way forward for you and your own progress is to try to release your expectations of what she will do, and comport yourself according to your own values-- you can't control her reaction, so the remaining questions are: what do you want or need to convey to her, and is there a compelling reason to do so in person?
posted by shaka_lulu at 11:25 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


I just want to hammer home Internet Fraud's comment:

She's stalking and abusing you by proxy. It's very sad that she's dying, but it's beyond inappropriate that your workplace is getting calls with deeply personal information about you. To me, this indicates that she sees this more about getting you back into her control than about any kind of "comfort" or desire to inform you. You're right that she's sick, but it's the kind of sick that will get nothing from your suffering.

If you've been dealing with a BPD relative for years, you surely recognize this pattern. I'm not saying this means you shouldn't go visit her, just that you should be REALLY realistic about what's actually happening.
posted by Brittanie at 12:49 PM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


When one of the relatives calls, ask for the number of the Hospice, call there and ask to speak with a social worker. This person will be a saint. Tell him or her about your concerns for yourself and ask them for a recommendation. It may be that NOW is the time, and go, make peace with your Mom, but offer no rekindling of the relationship that has caused you so much pain.

If, after your visit you're feeling better about having said your goodbyes, that's really all that's necessary.

But in most cases, once someone is in Hospice, there's usually not much time.

The right answer here is what's right for you. Take good care of yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:56 PM on February 29, 2016


If she is in hospice, she is not on chemo. Hospice is where people go to die. I worry this is hyperbole. So, go see her, one more time, but make it the last time, regardless of where she is, or what state she is in.
posted by Oyéah at 12:59 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I agree with Oyéah. This is the last time, regardless of the outcome for her.

Scenario #1: she is actually dying

Scenario 2: she is not actually dying and is exaggerating for attention, or winds up making a miraculous recovery

In both scenarios, you visit or send a letter/phone call one last time, but you won't know which one it is until you get there; if it's scenario #1, you get the closure you want and her negative influence stays out of your life due to her being dead.

If it's scenario #2, you let this be the last time you visit-- treat it like she is dying (I mean, she is more or less dead to you now because of her actions in the past.) Even if you get a call later on that she's for-real dying, too bad-- you already said what you wanted to when she was dying the first time. She used her one shot at a deathbed apology/discussion already.

If you visit instead of sending a letter, my advice is to visit for an extremely short time. You show up for visiting hours, and then immediately get back on the next plane. Do not stay with your extended family or any family member if you must stay. Stay in a hotel or airbnb, and control your own transportation. Take the next day off from work so you can ease back into your life, and arrange to speak to a therapist if possible.

I don't think you're under any obligation to visit or respond in any way, but if you want to, that's my advice.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:41 PM on February 29, 2016


She can do both hospice and chemo but it is uncommon. Nthing call the hospice and talk to her social worker type person, she should have one assigned to her. Even if they are not allowed to give you much info, they can facilitate communication and provide you some support/buffer. I am a hospice RN, I am happy to answer questions here or in mail. I'm sorry for all you must be going through. Warm thoughts your way.
posted by eggkeeper at 1:42 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was in this exact situation. MeMail me if you'd like to have a one on one discussion with someone who has been there.

Take care. I'm sorry to hear that your mom is so ill.
posted by Sublimity at 1:46 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I went through this recently, although I was not completely no contact. I think there is a lot you can do. Expectation setting is really important. I want to share "one weird trick" with you:

My mom was diagnosed BPD and Bipolar. She used to threaten suicide all of the time. Her sister, my aunt, is now a full clinical professor of psychology at a large teaching hospital. When I was in my 20s, my Aunt was in grad school and taught me how to handle my mom's suicide threats. She told me to set up an expectation structure with my Mom. My aunt told me that the next time I called my mom I was to explain that the suicide threats were very difficult and that they would have to end. I was to tell my Mom that if she mentioned suicide I was going to get off the phone right away.

I did exactly what my aunt said. I told my Mom that if she threatened suicide I would get off the phone. 5 minutes in, she threatened suicide. It was really hard but I said I have to go mom. I then hung up. The next time we talked she began obliquely referencing suicide. I told her I had to get off and I hung up.

My mom lived another 21 years. She never once threatened suicide again. Ever. It went from 1,200 threats over my first 22 years to zero in the next 21 years. It was like magic.
People who are BPD are deathly afraid of being abandoned so they constantly test you. But if you stick to your guns, they get so scared of being abandoned that they stop the behavior.

I suggest you set up a plan to communicate with her, with your partner's help. List the things she does that really trigger you. When you call her explain that you need her to work with you or you won't be able to stay in touch. Tell her that if she engages in any of the listed behaviors you will leave the room or hang up the phone. Then execute the plan. You can do it. I did it and it changed my life forever.

I was there for my mom's passing and I was happy to be there with her and my family. I think you should reach out to her after setting up the expectation structure you need.

If you want to talk or have questions, you can hit me up on MeMail.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:17 PM on February 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


I was in a very similar situation, having cut off contact with my BPD mom for most of a decade, with the rare exchange every few years. She eventually committed suicide. She had covered herself with Fentanyl patches and was unconscious in the hospital for a day or so before she finally passed. I did not make arrangements to go until she was dead. It was the right choice for me. She had already destabilized my life too many times, and I had my own daughter and a job to take care of. It's such a personal choice. How unfortunate you are being forced to make it in view of everyone your family has contacted.

I don't regret not seeing my mom at the end - it was the only rational choice for me at the time - but I think if it would have happened today I would have been able to manage a single visit without internalizing things, and without feeling frustrated that the visit didn't bring her any comfort for more than five minutes. It wouldn't have. Sadly, she was kind of a bottomless pit that way. Nothing could reassure her for long. Maybe you are also accounting for that in your decision.

My mom's death allowed me to feel compassion toward her in a way I couldn't have when she was alive because she couldn't do anything else to hurt anyone. Realizing that allowed me to open my mind to the hurt that she must have felt her entire life. I hope your mother's death allows you the space and peace you need to process everything that has happened, come to terms with the idea that it will never be different - never be resolved, and be comforted that she isn't suffering any more, and you don't have to suffer any longer than you need to for closure.

No matter your decision, I think it's going to be the best one you can make with the information you have. Do what feels right, change your mind if you feel moved to, and be gentle with yourself.
posted by Karessa at 9:03 PM on February 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


Just jumped in to say my mom died in October. My folks were alcoholics (Apple doesn't fall far from the tree), and somewhat physically and definitely emotionally abusive. I have issues with her illnesses and death, but more relating to the fact that I didn't feel like I put forth my best effort to give her a better quality of life the 2.5 years before she died, because I work in emergency services and because I'm her kid and I felt guilty. But she and dad fought me every step of the way and there was lots of anger and yelling and periods of not talking. 8 years ago, I moved 4 hours away from all of my family for a reason. Nothing I could do would ever be good enough, and she made sure I knew it.

That being said, I did go visit my mom for a week before she died, because it was my birthday and I knew the end was coming. She didn't, and dad didn't. It was a lot more arguing and fighting, and by the end of the week I'd had enough and drove home. About 2 days later, dad called and said "come on back." So I didn't make it in time, but neither did he, as he had gone to the house to take a nap. I felt guilty, again, but I also know from the line of work I'm in, that she wouldn't even have known I was there.

Long story short, go now, say your goodbyes, and come home and take a personal day or two to get your mind straight. Get legal help if any matters need to be settled (I wasn't in the will because my parents hadn't updated theirs' since 1993, so dad and I are now fighting about him not taking any action; another story, another time). Get a counselor/therapist/religious person or call your EAP for bereavement counseling because losing a parent is hard.

One last thing, and I don't know if you'll feel it or not, but it was something that was difficult for me to work through, and that was when she died, I was conflicted. I was sad my mom died; that her last few years were awful; that dad lost his partner of 37 years...but I also felt like the weight was gone. I never have to listen to how frustrated she was with me or how much of a disappointment I was, and eventually it's been easier to be my own person. So don't be surprised if there are a lot of weird feelings in the coming months. Good luck, and hang in there.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 10:32 PM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


First of all, I'm sorry for your troubles, truly.

I skipped the other comments so forgive me if I'm repeating anything;

I feel like you must honor your desire for self-care and no contact. Nothing is going to change here. (In my experience) there will be no magical apologies or remorse for hurts she has caused. How could there be, when they were born of her mental illness?

If you want to be in contact with her now, while she is somewhat coherent, you could write her a letter and let her know, among other things, that you forgive her for the hurts she caused, and that you love her. You could also let her know that it is not possible for you to see her now. Don't give reasons, she already knows the reasons and it would only give her fuel to argue.

In my experience, people with stage 4 cancer also end up with brain tumors, which further erode who they were in earlier life, making them more erratic, and even less pleasant to be with. That's why I think you should remain no contact. She's likely even less herself than she ever was, and I don't think you should let sentimentality create a space where you could be further hurt.

You can easily find out from all of these well-meaning but misguided relatives and friends when she is truly at the end. Be in contact with them, but not directly with your mother.

I'm so sorry for your impending loss.
posted by vignettist at 12:10 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think you buried the lede here: She is apparently asking various people to contact me (call my workplace, email me, phone calls) and ask that I get in touch with her. When these people call, they explain my mom is dying and that I am not in contact with her, even if they are talking to one of my co-workers or my boss. ... I asked my distant family members if they would be willing to get permission from my mom to talk with her doctors but they said they did not want to get that involved. So they are distant, and don't want to get involved, yet want you to get involved, and involve your boss? That is some of the most boundary-trampling behavior I have ever heard of. Everyone except them is expected to get involved!
posted by wnissen at 9:56 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


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