Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My mother has breast cancer. She’s 95 and according to her the doctor
said it was “very little,” that she should be fine after he takes it out,
and that she won’t need any treatment after surgery. I begged her to
sign the HIPPA forms so that I could talk directly to the doctor and she
said she would but didn’t. She has surgery scheduled for Wednesday.
To make matters even worse, she’s forbidden me to tell either of my
brothers (both of them live in other cities), or any of the other
members of our family. So I am left dealing with all my anxiety alone,
and I think that no matter what doctors say, things happen, and if she
died on the table, they’d be very angry with me for not telling them so
they could talk to her before. Do I have to respect her wishes if I can’t
convince her to tell them? Do I just have to live through this in silence
and with lots of prayers?

Dear Burdened:
I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand it feels important to
honor your mother’s wishes. It is her life, and her surgery, so if this
would add extra stress, you should not tell them. On the other, if
something did go wrong during surgery, and (excuse me) she died,
they’d legitimately turn on you to say, How could you not have told us,
no matter what she said to do or not. Take her out to brunch and try
to convince her to take your muzzle off. Say that their support would
mean a lot to you, and you know they love and value her, and would
be hurt if they found out after the fact that she’d had surgery and
hadn’t told them. Note: Shame and guilt can work intra-generationally
in both directions.
Being in town is not the only criteria, however, to show love. You can
call each of them and say, Call Mom more often and tell her you love
her. That goes with or without surgery. Ditto for the occasional card,
flowers, or chocolates, just because, and also because no matter how
the surgery goes, 95 doesn’t imply many years left, healthy or not.