My family lost Dad ten years ago this July. He and my Mom were 48 when he died. My brother had just turned 16, I was 18. Three days after his funeral I more or less ran away from home. There had been a long battle with cancer before his death, and my family hadn't been close in a very long time.
Now I'm 28 and living in NY, and my Mom's 58 and still in Memphis. I try to call her every now and then, and I've come back at least once a year to visit, mostly for Christmas. My brother stayed in town, and now lives at Mom's parents' old house. He obviously sees her more than I do, but not much.
We both know Mom's lonely, but this past visit I've realized that if anything she seems farther away from happiness now than she was ten years ago, and I don't know what to do about it. When I'm in NY, Mom likes to call and make small talk - she makes sure to say she loves me and that she's proud of me - but trying to get her talk about how she's really doing or why our family's in trouble feels like pushing a house up a hill. When I'm here visiting, things only get worse - she puts on a happy face when we're visiting neighbors or other relatives, but when I'm here I feel ignored and dismissed, and any attempt to talk to her about anything substantial results in an epic fight. When she does get honest, she talks about how she has no reason left to live and how she'd wanted to live only a day longer than her husband. When I'm here sometimes I really do feel alone - like Mom's already checked out of this life and is just waiting to die. This, as you can imagine, hurts me a lot - why doesn't she want to live well for her children?
I feel like the only thing that might help Mom is some attention from someone who's better equipped at listening to her without flying off the handle, and the idea that she's gone ten years without talking to someone vexes me. But Mom refuses to get help - I was able to lure her into one counseling session at her church, which seemed to go well, but she never went back. I think that in a way she's comfortable being miserable, and that she's determined to never be happy again since Dad's gone - or that if she ever did find happiness she wouldn't be a good widow. This is all speculation, as Mom won't talk about why she feels the way she does - she insists that she's not my concern, and frankly when she starts talking about not having a reason to live I'm too upset to listen to any more. I just can't imagine that she understands how much this hurts me. And my brother's more or less checked out of her life - I used to hold that against him, but I've only been here four days and have already lost my temper at her, and now I'm avoiding her as much as possible.
Her general attitude isn't the only telltale sign that something's wrong. For one, Mom refuses to move out of the house that we grew up in, a 5-bedroom house that has fallen into such disrepair. Nobody blames her for it - one woman on a very limited income can't be expected to take care of such a big, old house by herself - but she refuses to do more than entertain the notion of moving someplace else. Another sign is that she's taken to hoarding - the house is full of things that don't work or that she doesn't need, and lots of paper. But she won't let us throw anything away - she says it's her house and she can do what she wants. She's been trying to hold a job, and just got laid off, but I know that she just doesn't really care. She's also mentioned in passing that she's getting by off unemployment, and behind on paying her taxes - but again, she won't talk any more about it than that, and if I push her for more information she snaps at me or ignores me. It seems like things are just getting worse with no relief in sight, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if her house gets repossessed or, even worse, she hurts herself more than she already has.
Well, this past Christmas was the worst so far. By the end of the day my brother was gone, I was more or less constantly in tears, and I honestly don't know if I could take another Christmas like this. I'm at the point where I can't deal with coming back here - mostly because I know that I can't help my own mother. If anything she needs professional help, but I don't see her doing anything for herself for a very long time if ever. I don't have the strength to take care of both her and myself, and I know that even coming back sacrificing a month to come back, clean out her house, and force her to get help would probably only bring disaster. It's partly why I skipped town so long ago - I wanted to make a life for myself, not let Dad's death give me an excuse to let it waste away. Being miserable for ten years isn't any way to honor Dad's memory - and I know that beneath it all my mother is a smart, creative, and clever woman. But I don't know how to get that part of her to reemerge, and frankly I don't know if I can.
I don't plan on getting married or having kids anytime soon, but I know how important it is that my mother is there to walk me down the aisle and to hold her grandchild. And even if neither of those things happen, I want my family to really be there for each other, and I want my Mom to be happy. So seeing her so unhappily stuck in a bad cycle hurts.
Any words of advice you can give me would be tremendously helpful. If you've got some encouraging words for Mom, I'll send them along. Either way, thanks for listening.