By Jody Valley
Listening to Mom
Q: I just talked to my mom on the phone and, as always, it is so upsetting. I just don’t know what to do. I feel so helpless when I talk with her because I can’t change anything. My mother is a widow and has no one living near her to help her. My sister lives about 50 miles away, but they don’t get along, and so they have little contact with each other. I have one other sister who lives in another city which is far away. She and my mom get along okay, probably because they are so far apart. I guess that is why I also get along with her, at least most of the time. Unlike my sister who is close in distance to Mom, my other sister and I don’t have to deal with her that often.
The problem with my mom is that she is so toxic to be around. She is always ill, sometimes real and sometimes not. She has some mental health issues (bipolar, depression, and off and on prescription drug addiction). Mother is so negative all of the time. She focuses on all the things that have gone on in her life that have hurt her, and all the people who have “done her wrong.” She has no friends because no one wants to be around her.
Now, when I talk with Mother, she often doesn’t even make sense. Her interpretation of what is happening is so off-the-mark that it is hard to know what to believe about anything, and how to respond to her about the situation she’s describing.
She also is so prejudice that at times it is hard to listen to her – I just want to scream at her to shut up. Today when I called, she was crying, telling me that she didn’t want to live because she is so alone, and that there is no one she could turn to. I can understand that with her life, as it is, she wouldn’t want to keep living. I wouldn’t want to either, if I were her. I just listened and tried to be loving. But that seems so little and I feel so guilty for not doing more. What else can I do? If I can’t do more, how can I come to terms with the inadequacy of just listening.
A: I understand your distress and wish there were some easy answers when dealing with a family member who has mental health issues, is so toxic, and ill as well. You didn’t say if she was taking any antidepressants for her depression, or anything else for being bipolar. If she isn’t, I would certainly try to get her in to see doctor to see if medication won’t help. Does she qualify for assisted living? She would probably be happier with more contact with others, hopefully not scaring everyone away. I know it seems like so little and futile at times, but by your calling, listening and acting in a loving manner towards her, you are pretty much doing all you can for her. Take care of yourself; it is the ultimate stress to have a burden that you can do little about.
Q: Do you think it is right to ask someone to do something that they think is immoral? That’s what my brother is asking me to do. He thinks that I should date women, even if I am not at all interested in them knowing that I am gay. I would be just leading them on, and I think that would be dead wrong. He says that there would be no harm in it, and I might even grow to like it. Fat chance, I say. He says that it would make my parents happy even though they know that I am gay, and it seems to me that they have come to terms with that fact. My father even goes to PFLAG!
A: It seems to me that your brother is speaking out of his homophobia. And, you don’t need to brought into that sickness with him. It’s time to tell him to that you will promise not to tell him how to live his life, and you expect the same courtesy.