Help me deal with anger and resentment towards my dying enstranged mom
February 26, 2017 4:23 AM   Subscribe

My mom has a few months left and I'm going to visit her soon. She is a very difficult person and I cut my ties with her 4 years ago. My sister still cares deeply for my mom and I felt a lot of pressure from my sister to be nice and visit her. I stop talking to my sister now because she didn't want to talk to me when I'm upset. Some new insights into my situation or suggestion to improve my relationship with my sister is highly appreciated.

Long story short. My mom was diagnosed with cancer about 8 years ago and now she only has a few months left. She is a very difficult person, i.e. verbally abusive, stubborn, irrational and worst of all, materialistic. I decided to cut all my ties with her 4 years ago and I have been living abroad away from home for 3 years now. Despite that, I still talk to her a few times a year on the phone or when I visit my family. My resentment towards her has increased a lot over the last few years because she is treating everybody like shit and I realized what an unhappy childhood I had. I was quite depressed the last few months because I lost my job and I was struggling to renew my permit. I'm really lucky that everything turned out well and I have a very good job now. I decided to visit my family for a week soon and I can imagine myself being very depressed during this period. My sister still cares deeply for my mom and I felt a lot of pressure from her to be nice to my mom and visit my mom. Any update about my mom upsets me because it reminds me of what a horrible person she is and I have to constantly remind my sister because she has a bad memory. My sister always make me feel guilty and selfish because I prioritize my own life and happiness. I don't think I can ever forgive my mom unless she acknowledge and appreciate my dad for taking care of her all these years (which even my sister think it's impossible until her last breath). I stop talking to my sister now because she didn't want to talk to me when I'm emotional or upset and she suggested that I should visit a psychiatrist. I don't feel the need to see a psychiatrist because I believe my anger and resentment will die with my mom. I've been wanting to write this post for a long time now but I'm not sure what exactly am I looking for.

My mom has always been a very sensitive topic to me. I don't talk about it because she is a horrible person and I get a lot of pressure of being nice to her just because she is my mom. When I look back at my childhood, I realized it was an unhappy and unproductive one. I received little attention and love from my family (although I realized now that my dad truly love me in his own way). I have very few friends and activities outside of school. All I did was studying and preparing for exams. My mom groomed me to become the person she always wanted to be and live the life she always wanted to live, e.g. get a college degree, a job, a husband and a house. Getting a PhD is my life changer and it opens up the whole world to me.

To me, she is as good as dead when she was diagnosed with cancer about 8 years ago. She gave up everything she enjoy doing and started pursuing materialistic goals. I think her biggest regret in life is not being able to buy more houses. During this period, my aunt had the same cancer and passed away within 1-2 years. It makes me realized that life is short and I should live my life to the fullest. Following my aunt's death, my mom created more family drama because she wanted my sister to inherit my aunt's apartment. She stopped talking to most of her siblings. Her relationship with my dad has always been very rocky. They lived separately for 1.5 years but eventually my mom had to move back because she was too sick to live alone. My dad has his flaws but he always take care of her eventhough she never appreciate him. He is having a caregiver burnout now and therefore, more reasons for me to go home.

I decided I had enough of her and her drama when she forced me to sign a contract for a house she intended to buy and forced my dad to use his retirement fund to pay for part of the downpayment. We started talking again 3 years ago because I thought she has changed and she sounded like she really care about me. Not too long after, we got into another fight and I'm deeply hurt when she called me a prostitute. Who would call her own daughter a prostitute?! When she had a very bad infection in November and thought that she was going to die, I called her to ask how she was doing. When she found out that it was not a serious infection, she asked my sister to tell me not to call her anymore. At that point, I feel soooOOOoooo stupid that I even thought of seeing her and spending time with her. Now that she found out she only has a few months left, she called me to apologize for hurting my feelings. My initial reaction is anger. Does she even remember what she said to me in the past?! After she called me, I feel very sad maybe because I feel that she still doesn't care about me or my life. Now she is telling my sister that we bought a fruit tree together in my dad's hometown and she wishes to tell me that it is fruiting now. This never happen as far as I can remember and it really pisses me off because she was so rude and disrespectful to my uncles the last time we were there. I feel ashamed to admit that I'm looking forward to not having her in our lives anymore. I asked myself many times if I have any regret when that day finally come and the answer is always no (maybe it will be different when I become a mother in the future). I think I've done the best I can do so far.
posted by liltiger to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am not sure if your question is about how to manage your emotions towards your mother or if it is about managing your relationship with your sister. On the first question, I think therapy is a good idea -- not because there is anything wrong with you, but because this situation is inherently terribly fraught and sad and complicated and the vast majority of people would need support with it.

Regarding your sister, I think you may need to exercise a little restraint if you want to maintain a real relationship with her. You say you have to "constantly remind" your sister how horrible your mother is "because she has a bad memory." This is a really risky thing to do to someone -- trying to correct your sister's mental story about her own childhood and life, at such a hard time, might mean you are trying to take away the best coping mechanism that she has come up with so far. I recommend that you try to stop correcting your sister's memory, as much as is possible. You have come up with an understanding of your past and your mother that helps you to cope with the life that you now have; you need to trust that your sister has done the same, and let her move towards accepting the harder memories in her own time. This doesn't mean that you have to agree with her story of how great your mother is, or whatever, but it may mean some silence and acceptance when she is just expressing her own feelings or telling you her thoughts.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:44 AM on February 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

I don't understand what you are asking. If you're asking if you should visit your mother, no you should not.

If your sister is caring for and/or having struggling with the death of your mother, and you are asking how to have a relationship with her, you need to understand the circles of support model. Your sister is in the smallest, most intimate ring to your mother; she gets to lean on you for support. You are in the next, more distant ring; you do not get to lean on her for support and must seek your support from your own friends.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:51 AM on February 26, 2017 [12 favorites]

This is such a difficult and hurtful situation. I also think having a counselor or therapist to talk to about it at length would be a good idea. There are so many layers--your upbringing, your relationship with your parents, your relationship with your sister. They interconnect in complex ways and it is worth the time to reflect. Just so you know, this kind of reflection is very common in adulthood, and especially when something as monumental as a parent's death is looming--you're not crazy, just human.

My suggestion for coping with your sister and your mom in the near term is to start developing a practice of compassion. Specifically, when you are thinking about them and what they are doing or what they have done, remind yourself of two things:

1. People are fundamentally good and try to do the best they can. This includes your sister and even your mom.
2. When people do things that are hurtful or problematic, it usually comes from a response to their own pain.

It may be that you don't fully understand the wounds that have driven your mom to do the things that are so repellant to you, but undoubtedly they are there.

It may be that your sister is trying to deal with her own wounds by focusing on the first point, as pertains to your mom.

It also helps to view your own self this way.

Again, there is no shame seeking support from a counselor or therapist and it will help to have that safe space to work through it all.

Best of luck.
posted by Sublimity at 4:56 AM on February 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you have so much to work through that coming up with the 'right' answer is a tall order. I would try to err on the side of kindness so that in the following years when you are processing all of this you do not have to wade through regret. You'll never regret being kind, even if it isn't deserved. Good luck.
posted by ian1977 at 5:18 AM on February 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think you have to decide what your priority is. For me, it would be whatever relationship you want with your sister, since she will be around after your mother is gone. Do you want a continuing relationship with her? You get to decide.

One unexpected (for me) piece of fallout from parental abuse is that it affects your relationship with siblings. You all have the same parent, but everyone has a different relationship and it's rare for siblings to be on the same page about their parents. So if you want a relationship with your sister, you may have to accept some limitations and/or overlook some things. But again, you get to decide if that's worth it to you. If it means visiting your dying mother when you don't want to, it may not be worth it, and that's ok.

Down the line, you may be able to discuss this with your sister but right now I think she has too much on her plate.
posted by BibiRose at 5:36 AM on February 26, 2017 [11 favorites]

It's not unusual for one sibling to have a different experience than the other within an abusive family, just to give you perspective on your sister.

You are enraged because the bonds and duty of family have put you in the position of being repeatedly abused. I feel like you need some sort of professional support because everything you describe is in the wheelhouse of a professional counselor. You need help to cut through and dissolve years of mistreatment and resentment, you need help keeping yourself clear of future abuse.

You seem ready to burst. Are you sure you need to make this trip? I would love for you to be able to visit while emotionally remains above most of what's happening, but you don't seem capable. Which is entirely understandable. Seek assistance. You don't have to face this alone.
posted by jbenben at 6:16 AM on February 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

she didn't want to talk to me when I'm emotional or upset and she suggested that I should visit a psychiatrist. I don't feel the need to see a psychiatrist because I believe my anger and resentment will die with my mom.

This is your sister's way of saying she can't be an emotional support for you right now, not the way you need it. She either had a different experience as a child (which does happen for various reasons) or she's chosen to forget the worst parts as a coping mechanism. It sounds like you, understandably, can't have the horrible stuff swept under the rug.

I don't think your different coping mechanisms will become more compatible once your mother dies. Your sister will probably still "forget" the bad stuff, at least for a while. So unless you think once your mom is gone you'll be able to roll with her forgetting, this will likely keep popping up. Maybe once your sister has time to mourn you guys can have deeper discussions, but there isn't a definitive timeline for how long it will take her to get there.

If you do have access to therapy, that may be a viable path to help you work through a way to balance your needs with your sister's. This isn't to say your sister's approach/memories are right, but if you want a relationship with her you can't make her be on the same page as you. You're stuck working with the sister (and her coping mechanisms) you have. Therapy may also give you some strategies to be there for your sister now without completely neglecting yourself. If that's something that is possible, it will give you a more solid foundation for you future relationship.
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:22 AM on February 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't feel the need to see a psychiatrist because I believe my anger and resentment will die with my mom.

I'm not sure this is the case. I have a friend who recently lost her abusive mother and her anger did not vanish.

When an abusive person in my extended family passed away, some of his children seemed to transfer their unresolved issues with him onto each other. (I am not a mental health professional and my interpretation could definitely be wrong, but it's absolutely true that his passing did not create peace in the family).

Regardless, you are struggling with these very difficult feelings and decisions now. That's as good a reason as any to see a therapist. Why wait until your mother dies to find peace for yourself? A good therapist will give you support to talk through this stuff. Going to therapy doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you, it means there's something wrong with what happened to you.

Good luck. I hope you find what you seek.
posted by bunderful at 6:48 AM on February 26, 2017 [8 favorites]

I don't feel the need to see a psychiatrist because I believe my anger and resentment will die with my mom.

It likely won't. I am in a slightly similar situation (sick mom, sister who gets along with her better, mom alternatively nasty and kind, sister memory issues) and what I did was to really work on maintaining a relationship with my sister that had very little to do with our mother. That is, we were all allowed to have our own views on our mom but we worked very hard to have a harmonious relationship with each other even if it meant not rehashing old arguments.

While your mom's death may close the book on any ongoing abuse you may get (John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats has a very good talk he gives about what a relief it is when your abuser dies) which it sounds like may be nice for you, it won't expurgate her from discussions with your sister or other family members. Part of the issue in these types of situations is not your relationship with the person, but the way other people tell you that you SHOULD feel about the person. People who don't know the history. People who think the problem is you.

So therapy can be useful in helping sort of untangle those emotions... how you feel about your sister, how much it matters to you that your mom is horrible, where that anger is coming from. Holding that anger close to you is continuing your bad relationship with your mother and there may be ways to get more at peace with what happened to you as a kid and continues to happen to you. But it all starts with deciding what you want, for you. Your story has a lot of other people telling you what to do and you seeming happier when you're off doing your own thing. You can go home and support your dad, work on your relationship with your sister and say goodbye to your mom. But you may also want to think on what an optimal solution would be for you that doesn't involve other people being different than who they are, because that's mostly what you're going to be able to move towards.
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 AM on February 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think you need to think this through with the perspective of what you need to do for YOU. Your relationship with your mother will probably never improve, and I promise you that her death will not free you of your resentments and pain. It might even make them worse. With that in mind, what do you need to do before your mother's death that will help you heal sometime in the future? Ultimately, most of us believe that you will need to forgive her in order to move forward, but it doesn't seem as if you are anywhere close to that yet. So maybe make an attempt to understand her? Have a conversation with her and sincerely ask her why she's this way or that way, and listen to understand instead of listening to reply. Try to do this with some emotional detachment so that you can listen without making it personal, even when her insults DO make it personal.
posted by raisingsand at 9:44 AM on February 26, 2017

Your mother is clearly a complicated person, and I feel with you. I have a mother who is difficult, and I have cut her off for long periods of time. We spent a few days together during Christmas, and I realized I am still angry and resentful.

At some time, many years ago, I realized that I don't want my mother to control my life, in any way. That includes not letting that anger I feel own me. I accept it is there and I don't feel ashamed about it, but I also don't let it determine my actions or thoughts for longer periods of time. And I try to do the right thing; I can't control myself 100% of the time, but most of the time I manage by keeping an emotional distance and acting as dignified and empathic as I can within the given circumstances. She is a human. I don't like her, but there is no good reason for me to confront her with her lies and manipulation, because they don't work on me and she knows it. By acting as I would towards any other old, vulnerable person, I help myself. I avoid confusion and guilt. Apart from that being good in itself, it is also one of the ways I prevent her from doing tricks on me.

My siblings have other relationships with our mother. As part of not letting my own anger own me, I don't engage with them in discussions about her unless they ask me for advice directly. If they do, I underline that we all have different experiences and different lives, and I tell them my feelings and coping strategies without demanding anything of them at all. My siblings will never ask me to take more (emotional) care of my mother, but my aunt sometimes will. And I answer that this is impossible, because my mother has never taken care of me, and there are no positive feelings to show. The care I can give is at the level of a professional caregiver: I can bring her to the doctor, and take notes or add information, but I can't get involved in her drama. If she lies at the doctor, I will correct her cooly and without emotion.

All of this I do for me, not them. I'm protecting myself and making sure I have time and energy for everything else in my life, that my mother doesn't drag me down.

In my experience, the feelings you have for or against a person don't die with that person, contrariwise. The feelings live on, and then you can't resolve them in any way. I think therapy is a great help to get on in life, and not be haunted by ghosts from the past forever. You probably don't need a psychiatrist - maybe a therapist who is specialized in cognitive therapy would be helpful for you.
posted by mumimor at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

nthing what everybody says about getting supportfor yourself, relating to sister with kindness.

One of the reasons you give for making the trip is to support your father. You could support him from afar. If he's the main carer can you organise some respite care? Even informal, somebody to come in for a few hrs so he can leave, sleep, whatever? Not sure what formal support is available where your parents live but a local hospice/social services/their church ought to be able to point you in the right direction.

He'd probably also find it helpful to know you're thinking about him and the rest of your family. The fact that there is more ambiguity in your feelings towards your mother/sister is neither here nor there for the purposes of supporting your father. And in fact it will only add to his burden to have to support you through that part of it. But if you can get in touch with him regularly and just be kind this may be helpful to him.

I will also say that these feelings rarely subside when the person dies. I had a difficult relationship with my mother and she was not even abusive in the classical sense. She's been dead for 25 years now and it took the better part of two decades for me to let go of the anger after she passed away. And I am still sometimes sad. At this time the sadness is less about my experience and more recognition that she loved my brother and me very much and was trying her best. The fact that that wasn't really enough is another matter. But sometimes everybody tries to do the right thing and there is still a lot of hurt all around.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:17 PM on February 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I found the book Toxic Parents and the workbook for children of emotionally immature parents really helpful in really starting to let go of my parents.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 7:55 PM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your answers. They are exactly what I needed. It's a bit hard to accept the fact that I'm abused because my family and close friends never think that it's a big deal. I will see a therapist and I just downloaded the book on Toxic Parents.

I marked Jessamyn's comment as the best answer because it resonates a lot with how I feel. Part of me wants to hold on to my anger and resentment because they justify my action of not wanting to see my mom. I will not let any part of her memories affect the good life I build so hard. And I will prepare myself to say goodbye to her in the coming trip.

I already booked my flights to visit my parents in less than two weeks. My sister is also working abroad but close enough to visit my parents regularly. She arranged hospice care for my mom and a part time cleaner to help my dad. There is a counsellor who visits my mom regularly and I think she must have convinced my mom to apologize to me. I think my dad is dealing with his stress and grief alone and it will be very hard to get him to open up. As for my sister, it's clear that I cannot provide emotional support for her unless she stop telling what I should do for our mom. I will show her this post.
posted by liltiger at 10:00 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by mumimor at 12:17 PM on February 27, 2017

Hugs to you. I want to say you do not have to try to get your dad to open up. You can be present and let him know you care, and let him grieve in his own way.
posted by bunderful at 11:56 AM on February 28, 2017

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