Category Archives: Book

Nothing Was Ever Enough

In today’s post I share Part 3 from Chapter 5 in my book, Final Years Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives ChangedPart 1 of my excerpt from Chapter 5, can be read at this link on my blog: Mom’s Final Act Hurts Those Left BehindPart 2 can be read at this link: Mom’s Final Act Hurts Those Left Behind (Part 2)

Nothing Was Ever Enough

stock-footage-old-people-and-feelings-portrait-of-worried-old-woman-with-white-hair“My mom lived with pancreatic cancer for eighteen months, which was a lot longer than any of her doctors predicted.  They said three months without chemo and six to twelve months with it.  And she lived eighteen months.  So it was—it was grueling.

When there was an emergency, I was usually the one to go.  My mom said that she liked having me there better than the other kids because I knew what to do.  My brothers seemed helpless when they went back to help her.  She told me I was the best caretaker, and it’s probably because I’m a nurse. ”

And that makes sense.

“Yeah.  And that was a nice thing to say, but nevertheless, it still wasn’t enough for her.”

How often did you go to be with her in those eighteen months?

“Twelve times.   And that was never enough.  Even that was not enough for her.  All of her friends, after she died, remarked to all of us kids how remarkable it was how we rallied around and spent so much time with her, and how we all came out a lot, but in her mind we weren’t there for her.”

Isn’t that amazing?  It sounds like the glass was half empty versus half full.

“It totally was.  Her whole life was that way.”

That had to be so difficult for you both as a younger child and as an adult.  To never have that acknowledgment, that, ‘Oh, thank you for what you did for me, thank you for coming, for being here …’

“No.  Never.  Never.  You know, I told her, ‘Mom, if I didn’t have a job and a husband, maybe I could come out and just stay with you.  But I can’t.  I’m sorry.  I cannot do it.’  I told her that a million times.  And she just never could accept it.

I was struck by how much Helen’s mom reminded me of my own mom and her inability to acknowledge my love for her, what I did for her, and to let me know she knew I loved her.

 We All Invited Mom to Move In With Us

1396“We all told her she could come live with us, every one of us did, and she refused.”

That really struck me because it sounds like you all had some difficulty with her.

“We did.  We did.”

I think it’s great that you still offered to have her come live with you.  But she wanted you there.

“Yes.  She didn’t want to leave her house.  Also, her health insurance was an issue, because she had Kaiser health insurance; so she couldn’t live in any of the towns we kids lived in because Continue reading

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Mom’s Final Act Hurts Those Left Behind (Part 2)

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Part 1 of this excerpt from Chapter 5 in my book, Final Years Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives Changed can be read at this link on my blog:

Mom’s Final Act Hurts Those Left Behind

Mom Wasn’t Upset When I Left for College

What did you find most difficult about your mom, as a child growing up and as an adult?

“Boy.  They’re two separate entities, really, in my mind.  Growing up, I really didn’t feel like I had a bad mom.  I was not acutely aware of it.

I remember the day I left for college, my mom just said, ‘goodbye.’  I was the last kid to leave, and I remember being slightly struck at the time that she didn’t seem upset that I was leaving.

I got a ride from a friend who I went to high school with.  He picked me up and we drove out to New Mexico together to go to college.  Just the fact that she didn’t go with me, and she wasn’t upset …  Again, I was not that aware of it at the time.  I think I was just sort of glad to leave.  It’s looking back now as a mother and knowing how it ripped my heart out when my kids left for college—it’s a big piece of you.  It hurts me that she wasn’t upset when I left.”

I certainly understand that.  And I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute.  That was also a generation who didn’t always express their feelings.  For example, I know that my mom was upset when I left for college, and when I moved to Colorado.  But I also know that she tried to keep it together for me.  To challenge you a little, is there any possibility that your mom was trying to act like it was fine, and when you left, she bawled her eyes out?

“I have no idea and unfortunately, I can’t ask her now.  Yes, it’s possible.  That’s comforting to think that maybe she was upset, so that was kind of you to bring that up.

I really don’t remember anything being difficult when I was a child.  I think our relationship became more difficult when I got married, which was when I was 30—things might have started to change then.  They were better when I was in my 20’s than they were later in our relationship.  I don’t know why that is.  I think things going on in her life made her personally more miserable, and a piece of it way down deep inside was probably that she was jealous of me, because even though I was newly married, her marriage had fallen apart, and she really had nothing.  She had no career to keep her occupied. She never went to college, and she always regretted it.  She was very bright, and could have gone later, but she didn’t.  I think that both my sister and I really were the objects of a lot of jealousy on her part because we had careers, which she never had.”

She envied that?

“I think she was envious of my sister and me for having fulfilling careers; and that our children weren’t our whole lives, like we were in her life.

My dad said she just became a miserable human being after the kids left, and that’s when they split up.  He said he couldn’t stand it anymore.  He said she was very happy when the kids were home and growing up, and she had a role; they were happy then, but that all fell apart when we left.”

So you were her identity.

“ Yes, she was very proud of her children and it gave her a reason to be, he said.”

That has to be tough to feel her jealousy.

“Yeah, it wasn’t outward—it was veiled.  But, clearly, clearly now, I can see it,

c-l-e-a-r-l-y.

Especially now that you have your own kids to compare to when you look back?

“Yes.”

696 - CopyMom Became Bitter

It sounded like your folks, when you were younger, got along fine.

“Oh, they did.  My friends used to comment on how sweet it was that my dad, every day, when he came home from work, would take my mother in his arms and give her a hug and a kiss.  Sometimes my friends would come over, and my mom would be sitting in my dad’s lap in the big armchair.  Nobody else’s parents acted like that so they always remarked on it.  About how sweet that was.  So they were happy when we were growing up.

I was 22 years old and in my last year of college when my mom and dad divorced; Continue reading

Mom’s Final Act Hurts Those Left Behind

875.JPG copyFor many adult children, saying good-bye to a parent in death does not leave them in peace and can in fact leave them dealing more with guilt than grief. I am sharing such a story here, an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my book, Final Years Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives Changed. This is my interview with Helen. Helen’s words are in quotes and mine are not. My thoughts are in italics.

Helen, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and I were in intermittent email contact during her mother’s final months before she succumbed to pancreatic cancer at age 87.  She passed in December, 2011 after being ill for 18 months.  Helen’s father is 91 years old and still living.

I received the following email from Helen in March, 2012.

Mom’s Final Act Hurts Those Left Behind

“My mom died on Dec. 27.  It has been a difficult time, NOT because she died but because of what she did as her final act.  She changed her will and did not tell anyone, not even my brother who is the executor, and left the bulk of her sizeable estate to charity.  It is so hurtful and so unbelievable that she chose to leave this world in such an unloving and hateful way.  My siblings and I are having a hard time grieving…

We scattered her ashes out at the beach (this weekend – early March) and said our goodbyes, but we are all having trouble working through the normal grief process because of what she did.  It’s even worse than that; she asked my 25 year old daughter a year ago if she would agree to be the head of a charitable trust she was setting up for after her death—and didn’t tell her how much money would be in it nor that her act would be very hurtful to her own kids.

My daughter was blindsided and taken advantage of.  She agreed to keep this a secret from us at my mom’s request.  She now finds herself in a terrible position, and feels that we are mad at her, which we are not.  We are mad at Mom for taking advantage of her this way.  The charitable trust will have THREE MILLION dollars in it—quite a task for a now 26 year old who is busy in law school, to administer.  She has to research charities (mom designated human rights and conservation), decide how to invest the money, and decide who to give it to and when.

I’m someone who isn’t grieving the way most would grieve for a lost parent…”

My heart went out to Helen.  Her situation is a prime example of how a difficult relationship with a deceased loved one and unresolved emotions such as guilt, hurt, and anger can complicate and hinder the pure experience of grieving. 

When we spoke during our first telephone interview, Helen’s pained voice unmistakably expressed a deep sense of feeling betrayed and deceived by a loved one.  I could sense her still grappling with her shock from this bomb that had been dropped on their family from seemingly out of the blue.

“You have to understand that it isn’t about the money.  We’re all doing okay as far as money. It’s that my mom would do this and be so secretive, and have her last act be something that would hurt us so much and be so hateful.  I just don’t understand how she could carry this secret and this hate in her heart and take it into death.  And the position she put my daughter in as trustee— it felt like it was to create a wedge between us (my daughter and me).”

 Maybe the upside of our interview not recording is that you can talk about it again, and maybe that will help you process it more.  (Due to technical issues with our first recorded interview, we followed up with this second interview.)

“I don’t know.  It’s all fresh in my mind again because my mom’s house sold; it closed on March 8th so the money was just put into the charity account.  My daughter, as you know, is in charge of it.”

How are you doing?

“I’m doing—I’m mostly fine.  I occasionally have a moment.  But I’m considering getting some counseling.  I’m just so angry with my mother for not—not letting us work this out before she died.  It would have been so much easier, you know?

Oh, I get it.

“And, I’m just furious with her.  Anyway—I’m doing well for the most part.”

Dysfunctional or Not?

How many siblings do you have?

“I have three siblings, 2 brothers and 1 sister.  I’m 58, the youngest of four.”

What were the interactions like in your family?  Were your interactions communicative and honest, or more dysfunctional?

“Oh, boy.  Okay.  I think our family was functional.  I don’t think we were dysfunctional.  But I don’t think there was a whole lot of communication.”

That’s pretty dysfunctional.

“Well, dysfunctional?  I mean, I think of dysfunctional as, like, wacko.”

I think it’s a catchall word for …

“Okay.  Well, it depends on your definition of dysfunctional.  But, Continue reading

Book for Caregivers to Aging or Ill Parents

Final Years cover on AmazonYou may wonder how I went from writing about my soul mate dog in MAGGIE The Dog Who Changed My Life to writing about parent care and loss. Although they are two different topics, both of my books bring to light difficult feelings and experiences that many find hard to talk about and listen to. Both MAGGIE and my parents touched my deeply and changed my life.

Are you a caregiver to aging or ill parents? Have you lost your parents? Many baby boomers are part of the sandwich generation caring for both their children and elderly parents. In my new book, FINAL YEARS Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives Changed, ten people shared stories of tough decisions, family dynamics, grief, and healing as their parents’ health diminished and they eventually passed. I weave my own account through each of their chapters. Continue reading

Excerpt from FINAL YEARS Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives Changed, Part 2

Continued from 10/25/13 post

final-years-sm…After all, I was in the healing profession. I had become a nurse practitioner and Dad turned to me when he couldn’t find assistance through his own doctors to help him find even a small degree of comfort in his day-to-day life. I tried everything I knew in both Western and alternative medicine, but not knowing his diagnosis it was almost to no avail. As a result, I went down many blind alleys and unfortunately took him with me. Had I known his diagnosis, we could have gotten him into hospice much sooner than we did and perhaps provided some of the comfort he desperately sought.

Some of us are more sensitive than others. Those of us who are more sensitive may more easily step into the shoes of the person in agony and feel their pain more than those of us who are less sensitive. That can overwhelm us. For me, it’s not that I felt my dad’s physical ailments, but he so readily shared his anguish with me that I was beside myself at times. My heart broke for him. Others are better at keeping emotional distance from Continue reading

Excerpt from FINAL YEARS Stories of Parent Care, Loss and Lives Changed

Dad and me“How did you keep all this inside these past five days?” my husband Tom asked me as we drove my mom’s Subaru from Indiana back to Colorado after her memorial. I had just shared the traumatic events of my mother’s last day in the neurological Intensive Care Unit at St. Anthony’s hospital in Crown Point, Indiana. I was still in a state of shock, grateful to be talking about these dreadful, unexpected moments with my husband.

I am a nurse. I had sat at the bedside of dying patients and their families many times. Yet that could not prepare me for my own parents’ decline, or for sitting at their deathbeds. Countless times in my life I had heard people say, Continue reading