Question for Bernie
I wrote to you a few weeks ago re my mom who has secondary cancer with an undiagnosed primary. I appreciated your reply which helped me to see things a bit more clearly. However since then my mom’s illness has gotten worse. I am very close to my mom, and it has been a very difficult six months for all of us, of course mostly for my mom. What I didn’t mention in my last email was that my mom’s sister has made life even harder for us all of us.
She was in the medical profession and decided from the word go that she knew best by telling us the time frame my mom had left, and making some ridiculous statements—for example, that she has 75% of her grieving done. She made this statement when mom was just in the early stages of treatment. She is a very strong character and is “always right” and every time we spoke to her, it was about death. She just deflated us with her “know it all negative predictions.” Unfortunately my mom listens to my aunt and thinks she knows all.
Their own mom died when they were very young, and I feel my aunt thinks she is preparing us even though we are adults. I offered to stay home when my aunt arranged for us all to go to a wedding of some goon overseas, but my mom insisted I go. The day before we flew over, my aunt rang my mom and told her that she did not think her family knew how sick my mom was—and then asked my mom if she knew she may not have much time! This really upset my mom. By the time we returned from the wedding after having a very upsetting time with my aunt continuing to hound us about ridiculous things. We could not get a phone signal so we were worried about mom.
After just being gone for two days, we came home to find mom back in the hospital. At that point, mom was very angry and told us we all went off and left her. We were very annoyed with my aunt so did not speak to her for weeks as we don’t want to say something we regret for mom’s sake. Mom is now very jaundiced and she is on a lot of medication. She sometimes does not want to take the medication as it makes her drowsy and relaxes her muscles making her less able to move around.
I try to be gentle with her and give her choices as I want her to still have some control. She is in pain, though, when she does not take them. My aunt has visited and I am polite for mom’s sake, and also I don’t have the energy to be angry. She did get her to take her tablets though. I do feel mom lost her voice when my aunt stepped in because she felt mom should make no decisions for herself—even though mom was very capable of making them. When mom spoke, we no longer heard her but my aunt instead. It was like brainwashing!
I even tried to get my uncle to speak with my aunt but he said no one can come between them. That wasn’t what I was trying to do. Mom is getting weaker and weaker now. I know we are losing her. We have her at home, though, because she is still strong enough to be here. I need to know what we can do now apart from just “being there” for my mom. People are giving us advice, telling us what to do, and to be honest they don’t know what we have done and should not be telling us how to behave.
I feel some of her friends are not dealing, and we end up walking on egg shells around them to protect them. How do we get through the coming days, weeks, or months—and after, whatever it may be. I feel we are dealing quite well under the circumstances, which in a way worries me—are we in for a big fall? I feel we are doing all we can for mom to help her and yet give her some control and dignity. Is there anything more we can do? Which of your books would you suggest we read? Please, can you help? Thank you.
First of all, just listen and don’t tell people what to do. When you allow your mom to talk about her feelings and thoughts, she can hear herself. This is the very best way to help her process what she is going through. You can also use this technique for the friends and other family you mentioned who seem to be unable to fully accept the situation. Encourage them to just “let it all out” and you will be very happy to simply be a good listener. The wonderful Helen Keller who was both deaf and blind said that deafness was far darker than blindness. You said yourself that you resented your aunt telling you what to think so that should motivate you to not do the same thing to your mom or her friends.
I encourage you to get my latest book, The Art of Healing: Uncovering Your Inner Wisdom and Potential for Self-Healing. This will be of great help to your mom and to you. Read it to her if she would like for you to, but do not force her to listen. Instead, read it yourself and put the ideas in it to good use for yourself. Encourage any other people (like those you feel you must “walk on egg shells around” to read it, too).
Tell your aunt to read a new book, published this past April, entitled You Are the Placebo by Dr. Joe Dispenza. She also should read my book—Love, Medicine and Miracles.
And yes, just “be there” for them and they will thank you. When I say to just “be there” for your mom and other family having a hard time going through this, I mean to be a supportive listener, letting them talk and process their feelings and thoughts through being able to hear themselves talk to you. It is not helpful for you to try and “solve” their problems coping with the situation—but by being an active listener (which means letting them know you are listening by keeping eye contact, leaning forward, and sometimes nodding), you will help them solve their own problems on how to best cope with the situation as they listen to themselves talk.
Finally, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” Life makes us all “lifelong learners” and that is a very positive part of being alive.
Question for Bernie
I couldn’t sleep last night because I was wound up by a telephone conversation I had with my mother. There was nothing unusual about the content. I spent the day with her last weekend and she wanted to see me on another day the following week. I didn’t see her because I had other things to do, and so she phoned and gave me an ‘earful’ about how disrespectful I was and that she would never treat anyone like I do.
Anyway, as I was lying in bed feeling frustrated and angry, and feeling sorry for myself now, and remembering the same feeling as a child, the three words ‘LOVE, SUPPORT and ENCOURAGEMENT’ kept coming into my mind. I thought to myself, “Isn’t that the answer to most things—those three little words? They sound so simple but mean so much, and I wrote them down in the dark on the front of my notebook so I would find them again in the morning.
You did what I have being advising people to do for many years—you listened to your heart and followed it with the strength to say “no” to another person so you could fulfill your needs, too. It is a special challenge to do that when the other person is your mother who doesn’t respect the boundaries of their “adult child.”
The most effective way to let her verbal abuse bounce off of you and finally end is to become what I call a love warrior. In that role, when your mom drives you nuts, just listen and then say, “I love you.” Stop with just that short, sweet phrase. Do not start making excuses or explaining yourself. Whatever she says in response, don’t take the bait. Just let her finish and repeat, “I love you. I’ll talk to you later, Mom.” It might take several weeks, but eventually she’ll get the message that you are a grown-up and intend to have your own boundaries, just as she has hers.
Someday you will have a wonderful, positive conversation with her in which you can both agree that each of you deserve to run your own lives and not take orders anymore from each other or anybody else. Then you can celebrate the joys of being free, loving adults who don’t make demands on each other, but will always love one another and can now truly enjoy your times together.