I am witnessing the demise of my mother. My mother is 84 years old and in moderate health. She is slightly overweight, 30 pounds or so, with high blood pressure. Her mind is fairly sharp though, especially considering her age. She enjoys reading and traveling and doesn’t appear as old as her age suggests. Yet, I can see she is slowly wasting away.
My mother is stressed. She is maxed beyond her limits. If I were going through what she was going through, I’d be stressed too. And I am. I am stressed from helping, listening, and watching her. I often cry after visiting with her.
And I’m so mad at her. I’m mad at her choices. I’m mad that she has handled every problem in her life the same way. Avoidance.
My mother rarely makes a decision on her own terms. She has avoided and avoided until she has been confronted with a crisis and forced into a decision.
She never participated in the finances with my father. Once he became ill with Alzheimer’s she was forced into learning the sad state of their affairs. That set in motion the immediate sell of my childhood home. The whole process was frantic and chaotic. There was no planning and organizing the massive undertaking. A dumpster was ordered and there was a massive exodus of items. Anything that didn’t appear valuable, to the person packing, was dumped. Throughout the whole process my mother protested the mad rush of packing and argued with anyone who suggested she throw out some trinket. She focused on the small and meaningless items, trying to somehow gain control over the situation.
Then came her move last September. Again the decision to move was reactionary. My sister was living downstairs with her three children. Her boyfriend had moved in. My mom was tired of him taking advantage of the free room and board. She was tired of taking care of the entire full household. So she decided to sell the house and move. Rather than tell the guy to get the hell out or tell my sister to find her own place, she chose to move.
The same packing process took place this time too, although slightly less chaotic, the same meaning was placed on meaningless items. Packing became a negotiation between insignificant things. When she wasn’t looking, unused household wares were sent to Goodwill. Through the promise of instant cash, items were placed on Craigslist.
And today, all of my mom’s lack of decision-making is catching up to her. My sister still lives with her but is unable to take care of her children currently as she is away. One of her daughter’s just broke her leg and is requiring extra care. She is sleeping in a recliner while my 84-year-old mother sleeps on the couch next to her. This is not healthy or appropriate for either of them.
I love my mother very much and we’re very close. This isn’t a case of poor me. I don’t feel neglected. My mother is a good person, an amazing person. She gives and gives but there is a point when giving isn’t helping the situation. She can’t see it what to do but she is waving the white flag. It’s time for a different approach.
So, what do you do? Why do people choose avoidance and what can you do as a witness to this behavior?
One major reason we avoid dealing with the things in our life is because we’re scared. We’re scared of what people will say, what they will do, what our lives will be like when we face our issues. Perhaps the person we need to address will be angry and lash out. They may place all sorts of blame on us for their problems.
Maybe you’re scared of having a choice so you’ve given away any belief that you do get to choose what you want in your life. You’re scared to say what you want and need. Maybe you don’t believe you deserve it?
As a witness to someone avoiding their problems, how can you support yourself and them, if appropriate, yet not get sucked into their drama. It is drama. It’s a game that they are refusing to stop playing.
Ask yourself, what is your role here? What are your expectations if the situation resolves itself? What if that expectation isn’t met? Do you have an expectation that the entire situation should be different? Let go of the expectations and “shoulds” and just see it as it is.
You have to get clear on your boundaries. How far are you willing to support the other person? Someone who has a history of avoiding their issues may not want to change. You have to be prepared for that option and know that you are not going to change them.
You have to be ready to let go of your old stories. Who are we if we aren’t the person with a troubled sister or brother? What’s our new story?
You also need to recognize that it’s easier to focus on someone else’s issues than your own. Perhaps the whole scene you are participating in is just a subconscious way of avoiding your own work. Knowing when to step back and disengage is huge. Maybe the whole scene has nothing to do with you and you’re causing more problems by getting involved. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it means you love yourself more and that is crucial.
What I know for myself, as I go through this situation, is that my mother is an amazing teacher. I’m thankful for it every day. Because of her, I’m making different choices in my own life. I’m sure there are still things that I will mess up and refuse to face but for now I’m learning. It’s all we can do.