Irma’s Daughter

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m 65. My mother is 96. We’ve always had a fractured relationship. It
goes beyond the typical mother daughter things. She’s disagreed and
disapproved with virtually everything I have done since becoming an
adult. Probably my coming out as a lesbian was the biggest, though
she has been equally sour and negative when I decided to become a
foster parent. My former partner of twenty years and she seemed to
get along, but my mother has rarely had a kind word for me. We talk
every Sunday. She almost always tries to pick a fight, even when I am
trying my hardest to be nice. She’s fading slowly, nothing diagnosable,
just aging. And yesterday I was realizing how much I really do care for
her, and imagining a world after she is gone. I want to tell her but I
also know her inability to hear sweet things will make it awkward.

Irma’s Daughter

Dear Daughter:

Tell her. Now. Call especially to do so, midweek to say, I love you and
really value how important you have been in my life. (Tip: Don’t
preface this speech with, I was thinking about your death.) There’s not
a parent alive who doesn’t want to hear that from a child. And not a
child alive who doesn’t want to hear that from a parent. That’s
especially true for families who’ve experienced dislocation in their
relationships, something that often occurs when a child comes out,
even if the parents eventually reconcile to the news.

You don’t say how often you visit your mother. Perhaps it’s time, even
if a long weekend is better on both of your psyches. That’s in part to
see how she’s doing with her day-to- day activities, and also to give
both of you time to say whatever you want to one another. That may
include rehashing some of the old things, and also for you to reaffirm
your loving message. You may have to occasionally bite your tongue if
she reverts to old behaviors. But when she is gone you will be happy
you made her feel good as often as you could, as long as you are also
honest. It’s amazing how we all mellow with age. And important to feel
good about your relationship if she were to die today.