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This Month’s Letter

Dear KRS,
My mother has been diagnosed with leukemia and is unable to tolerate treatments. Her doctor has placed her in hospice care with a prognosis of 3-6 months. Through a lifetime of practice, Mom has perfected the role of victim and the art of assigning guilt for her pain, physical and emotional, to others. 

At this point when the family is trying to draw near and be supportive, she seems to have gone into overdrive. She wants everyone to do all things, including live their lives, according to her rules. If any of us has good news to share from our lives, she is quick to tear it down. She is critical of everything and everybody, and her remarks are incredibly hurtful. Needless to say, my dad, who is her primary caretaker, takes the brunt of the abuse.

How can we best support her during these last days while not letting her guilt trips destroy us? 
Thanks for your help.
- Grieving Caretaker

Dear Grieving,
Fortunately, in recent years attention has been directed to the role of caretaker – and the importance of caretaking FOR caretakers. Before then, it was a silent struggle for so many who felt guilt over their conflicted feelings. We now are learning that caretakers can’t give (energy) they haven’t got, so it has become a priority to be sure that caretakers consider their own health needs as they care for the dying family member.
Recognize also that this process presents an excellent opportunity to let go, learn and change on the deepest level. Try to open your hearts to the idea of forgiveness for your mother on whatever level you can summon, which will be challenging when she’s “making her last stand.” Some people soften during the dying process and attain some level of enlightenment as the inevitability of the end presents itself; a surrender into the process and an opening to letting go of earthly travails. Others rage all the way to the end. [for a more complete understanding of this, check out books by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who fully describes the five stages of dying]. 

Keep reminding yourself that your mother is scared and trying to hold onto control in any way she can. Unfortunately, this manifests in heightened controlling behavior with her family. I once heard a loving wife say to her terminally ill husband (who was being rude to the aid): “Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you get to be rude to others.” It was a way of treating him in like a normal person, like she would if he wasn’t ill, and he responded very well to her, ceasing any further rudeness to the aid. You can try a version of that with your mother, but if her pattern of victim role is what you say it is, it’s iffy that she will respond positively. Having said that, I know that end of life “gifts” happen to aware people in all roles of this circumstance, so never give up hope.

I understand that you all would like a transformation from her and a healing to a lifetime of an unhealthy relationship with her. You’d like, in a sense, to get from her what you’ve never received. Your work now, is to let go of that expectation from her and instead (in the months ahead) learn to fulfill those needs yourself, being your own unconditionally loving parent (while strengthening the remaining family core, healing together and building something better together).

Your mother may still come around to softening and acceptance but either way, be sure to treat this as your own treasured experience; your own opportunity to learn and grow. While 3-6 months may seem long with this type of treatment from her, rotate your days, get your father out of the situation as much as possible (out to lunch, a walk around the block, etc) and keep letting go of the tendency to cling to her hurtful words – keep letting them go and wrap yourselves in the supportive love of each other.

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