As some of you may already know, my mother’s health has been in a long, slow decline for…well, a very long time. As some of you may already know, my relationship with my family is complex – isn’t that the way with familial relationships in general? But yes, very complex and often Fraught With Peril.
My immediate family lives in Chicago. I am many miles away in Pittsburgh.
My mother has been having serious health scares for many years. At her advanced age, these scares are more and more likely to be more than a scare – there is no way to tell when something is going to happen and resolve itself, and when it is going to be the end. And I have limited resources – financially, psychologically, physically. I am not moving to Chicago, and I cannot afford to travel there often for various and sundry reasons that I will not get into here.
And whenever I talk to my mother, it seems she understands this. She always says that I don’t need to be with her, that there is nothing I can do if it is her time to go…and I know her, and I know that she is quite capable of being scared and lonely and wishing I was there and not telling me because she “doesn’t want to be a burden”. She is many things, and one of them is a grade-A martyr. (I say this with irritation and love.)
I was writing in my journal the other day, trying to process how I am feeling, and I think I captured it. It isn’t refined, it may not make sense, but it feels like truth to me. So, these paragraphs you have just read? Only a preamble to what I’m going to lay down. They have been written to give you, Dear Reader, some context. And it will never be enough context.
I wasn’t certain I was going to write this up for public consumption until I read this Facebook post by Elizabeth Gilbert this morning. Reading all of what Liz wrote (not just the words on the photo – the meat is in the words below the picture) helped me see that this is an important topic.
So here we go.
January 27, 2015
There needs to be a reliable record of how I’m feeling at this time in my life, just because so many (frankly) fucked up things are going on.
First, I love my mother. I dislike her sometimes, I am angry with her more times, but that doesn’t negate the love.
If I was living in Chicago, I believe two things would be happening. I would be trying to help her – and failing – and I would be resenting her and my father even more. And I would most likely be negatively impacting my marriage. So that’s actually three things.
Being in Chicago would not be the balm some make it out to be. I would basically be there to nag and be ineffective…unless I lost my integrity and began doing things Mom didn’t want, behind her back, forcing her to do things she doesn’t want to do in the name of helping her. I am not ready to become that person. I don’t think I will ever be ready. Mom is an adult who has routinely made poor choices in a variety of life arenas. I have been aware of this since I was very small.
It is not my job to codependently manage my mother and her codependency. That truth is at the base of my so-called “indifference,” at the base of my being a “cold and cruel person” (as I have been recently called). I see it as a renunciation of idiot compassion in this scenario.
And yes, I wish I had the capacity to fly out to Chicago whenever she needed care. I wish I could afford it in all the ways that I patently cannot afford it – financially, physically, psychologically. The costs are high. And to be really frank – I don’t think she wants me there.
I think she wants her martyrdom more than anything else.
It has been my experience that Mom has always wanted her martyrdom more – more than a happy life, more than a healthy marriage, more than a needed divorce, more than her health, more than the well-being of her children. As recently as a few weeks ago, when I was expressing fear/anxiety/upset about her refusal of the care we were attempting to set up for her, she angrily told me that it was her choice to make decisions that we didn’t agree with, and that she didn’t really care about how I (and others) were emotionally impacted by those choices.
That sort of honesty was a true gift to me – it was a window into what this part of life is truly about for my mother…and in turn, what I can make it about for me.
I can work toward compassion, love, empathy and appropriate boundaries, or I can fall for the oldest trick I was taught: to forsake these values in a grab for control at the expense of self.
Mom taught me that trick well, and clearly, it is still a seductive choice – I wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t! Still, I have my mentor Anne Brannen’s words, and they guide me: Codependency is an addiction, and it could kill me if I let it. I need to hold this revelation close, and let my mother’s example be the gift that it is.
I’m not going to squander the gift.