Doing things that make you sad.
November 20, 2017 5:12 AM   Subscribe

Ever since my mom became ill, I have been having a really hard time keeping in touch with her. I need to be strong and be there for her, but I subconsciously avoid calling or interacting in general. How can I get over the sadness and go back to being a loving daughter?

My mom (who lives in another country) had a stroke and has been bed-bound for almost three years now. While at first I dedicated my time to helping her and being there for her emotionally, once I returned to my own home things changed drastically. Things were a little traumatic for us at first. She was in a coma for a month, I took three months of leave from work to take care of her (which was the most stressful period of my life), and in the end she miraculously recovered but could never walk again and she needs a lot of assistance.

Now I feel like I am grieving her, only she is actually alive. I can't really describe it, but there is this wall of sadness that makes me want to avoid talking to her. She used to be super active and had a million things going on. We used to be very close and I used to enjoy nurturing and even spoiling her a little with gifts and care packages (she deserves it - she has always been loving and dedicated). We would have long conversations about a million things, at least weekly. Now I can barely make myself pick up the phone to call. I feel horribly guilty about this.

It has been a couple of years now, so it's not like things got easier with time. She hasn't complained, but I can tell she is confused and misses me. Besides the sadness, I just feel terrible telling her about my life, because it's like listing all the things she can't participate in since she can't even get out of bed. Sometimes when I make myself call, we have nothing to talk about and it brakes my heart. Now I'm getting ready to have a baby, and I feel even worse because I know she wishes she could be involved. I do have two sisters who continue to pamper her and are much better at it than I am. I can tell they are also a little mystified by my withdrawal but they have been kind enough not to say anything and have been supportive and encouraging, which makes me feel even guiltier. I can't burden my sisters with my own feelings because my family are quite "stiff-upper-lip" so I'm not sure they would understand, plus they have enough on their plate as it is.

I would really appreciate tips on getting over the sadness and coming up with conversation topics that will make engage her. I know I need to be there for her, and I want to prioritize her feelings over mine, but so far I haven't been able to. I want to take care of her, and I hate myself a little for leaving her hanging when she needs support. I want to send her little packages and gifts again, but I somehow they feel like pity presents now. It's like everything I would like to do for her has a veneer of sadness and I can't get over it so I end up doing nothing and neglecting her.

I appreciate any tips on changing my mentality or practical strategies to make the interactions less sad, or to learn to ignore the sadness and do what I have to do.

Thank you.
posted by Tarumba to Human Relations (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Now I feel like I am grieving her, only she is actually alive.
It makes complete sense that you are grieving her - the person she used to be who was so active and energetic.

Sounds like you're making some assumptions about how your mom feels and what she wants to hear about. Is it possible to ask her if she'd like to hear about them or if she'd rather talk about something else?

Does she have any interests she can pursue from bed - following politics, reading, knitting, local gossip? You could engage with her around those things. Even if she's not able to help you with the baby, I'm sure she'd love to hear about how your pregnancy is going and possibly give advice. You could also use this as an opportunity to ask her about her pregnancies (with you and your siblings) and possibly extend that into family history if that's the sort of thing you're both interested in.

Also, therapy could be a place to process your grief and get some support.

I'm so sorry about your mom, and that you're both going through this.
posted by bunderful at 5:44 AM on November 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

If you are getting ready to have a baby there's an enormous set of things you can talk about - her experience of mothering you and your sisters, what she learned, how you changed and grew.

You could show her things you're preparing, talk about your hopes or fears etc. She will be able to participate in a remote way - could you Skype after the baby arrives for example?

In any case, be gentle with yourself. Dealing with decline and birth simultaneously is a tough call, psychologically. Your grief is real and complex but love is malleable, you might find new ways to feel and show it if you can let down your guard a little.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:01 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Sounds like you're making some assumptions about how your mom feels"
Yes, and some about The Way To Feel. They're not "pity presents," unless you decide they are. Decide they are not. Voila, they're neat little fun gifts again. Flip everything in your head--the way you're thinking about your mom is that she's no longer the athlete she was, but she still is, only the playing field and the sport are different. Now her lifting her head and smiling and talking are the feats. She's still killing it. You can still be a fan.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:04 AM on November 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

There was a period of time in my relationship with my mom where I was where you are now. Here are some tips -

- Set a schedule to call her and stick to it. Maybe that means you call every Sunday at 2:00. Maybe more, maybe less. But make a schedule and stick to it. This will help with the feelings of guilt because you will be doing something.

- I used to make a list of things to talk to my mom about. That's okay. Yes, it feels weird because that was not how your interactions used to be, but it will help with the conversation.

- Yes, talk about your life. You say you want to prioritize her feelings over yours, but talking about your life will not hurt her feelings. In fact, now that she is immobilized, she will live, a bit, through the lives of her children. That's okay. Tell her about all your maternity stuff - feet swelling, the color you chose for the nursery, your weird pains. She will love this. Really.
posted by eleslie at 6:06 AM on November 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

Besides the sadness, I just feel terrible telling her about my life, because it's like listing all the things she can't participate in since she can't even get out of bed.

You have this backwards. You are about to become a parent and that may be the event that ushers in for you the understanding that living a life of joy and happiness is what your parent wants for you. To talk to her and let her see that your life is moving ahead day to say will not make her sad; it will give her the gifts of pride and the satisfaction of a job well done.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:07 AM on November 20, 2017 [20 favorites]

If you have access to some talk therapy, you should get some talk therapy. Or if you have access to support group or online group for children of parents with serious illnesses, that might help. The grief you feel is natural and typical, but also often unrecognized by society and hard to explain to ourselves. My perception is that it might help you to actually be in a setting, whether therapy or somewhere else, where mourning "officially" happens and is understood.

(My therapist said some of this to me some years ago - my mother has a serious and ultimately terminal illness and I've felt a lot like you with the avoidance and complicated grief. Also, don't let people be assholes to you about your feelings - sometimes people will say really mean things because they don't know what to say, and it's okay to push back on that. )
posted by Frowner at 6:39 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a tough one. My father became very ill at the end of his life and eventually passed away (not saying this will happen with you). During his illness he was quite reticent and even downright nasty, so that made it difficult for me to be close to him.

In hindsight, I would have spent more time being there just doing whatever he felt comfortable with (i.e not talking). He would light up everytime I tried to record things and ask questions about his that you are about to have a child I think is a good time to maybe try and collect as many recordings and life lessons as you can and don't think so much about the sadness but also about the future.
posted by The1andonly at 6:54 AM on November 20, 2017

You are getting great advice here, I have one more thing to add:

"I do have two sisters who continue to pamper her and are much better at it than I am."

Do the bits you are good at, and leave the other bits to them. Don't beat yourself up if you can't be all the things that your mother needs right now - you don't have to be.

It sounds like over the last couple of years, you've done a huge amount already. Do what you can, and try to see yourself as "part of the team" with your sisters, rather than competing with them, if you can.

I'm so sorry you're having to think about all this at the same time, and if it helps to hear it from one more internet stranger, it sounds like you're doing great.
posted by greenish at 7:15 AM on November 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

As someone who's done some of the same things, it Does very much make sense that you're grieving the person she was and the relationship you had. And I think a lot of my withdrawal and not sharing as much was trying to protect the other person from the pain of things they can't do (which, of course, is something they worked through in their own ways, and it wasn't like my Not talking about it made it so they Could do those things). But even more, I was trying to protect myself from the pain of their struggle. Which doesn't really work, either - not sharing hasn't made it easier for me overall, either.

Lastly, shame and guilt over not talking as much only make this stuff worse. So be gentle with yourself, realize that you're still recovering from those terribly tough times, and that this is still really difficult. You're doing what you can for now, and hopefully you'll get more energy for the connection, too.
posted by ldthomps at 11:14 AM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is she sad about being bed-bound, or is this more about your feelings? I think there's probably one set of approaches here if the issue is that you're grieving the mom you used to have and/or feeling pity for her that she wouldn't necessarily want versus if you're picking up on her grief about not being able to do what she used to.
posted by salvia at 1:38 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't intend for this to be harsh, although it may sound a bit, but you get to choose between being sad or being sad and feeling guilty. Sadness under these circumstances is perfectly natural, not something to be avoided. But there's still room for happiness, good memories, and closeness. You'll be sadder when she's gone. Phone yer mom.
posted by kate4914 at 4:06 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just feel terrible telling her about my life, because it's like listing all the things she can't participate in...

I’ve never been a mom but my impression of moms is after you leave the house they love hearing anything about your life.
posted by bendy at 1:10 AM on November 21, 2017

Also, talking to you about your upcoming baby is giving her a way to participate in your life. Just talking helps. It's even better if she can do things like help you put together a registry, shop for the best stroller, etc.
posted by salvia at 3:38 PM on November 21, 2017

I am really sorry that you are going through this.

I would really appreciate tips on getting over the sadness and coming up with conversation topics that will make engage her. I know I need to be there for her, and I want to prioritize her feelings over mine, but so far I haven't been able to.

You know, feelings are not crossword puzzles. There's nothing to solve and no one correct answer. There isn't anything to prioritize. Even better, there is space for everyone's feelings to exist and endure in the same space and time (maybe just not at the precise second, all the time). When you are yourself, you'll be fine conversing with words or silence. Your fears, anxieties and worries need the preparation and planning, you don't.

It is natural to be sad with this huge change in your life, and the anticipated changes in the near future. You are allowed to be sad; at the same time, you don't need to drown in sadness. We all learn to swim, as terribly simplistic as that sounds. There are lifeguards in the meantime (aka therapists/ support groups). You are thinking like the child but you have the fortune to be able to think like a mother. Your mother is still here, do not miss out on this. You might be uncomfortable a lot of times, but you'll come through better than fine. Personally, some of the worst guilt I've felt was somewhat assuaged when at 30-something, I learned the difference between regret and guilt.

Finally, the thing about ignoring feelings, situations, people- especially family, is that it backfires with a fierce force that becomes even more insurmountable. It is liberating to not let one's fears own oneself.

My best to you and, congratulations.
posted by xm at 11:13 AM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

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