Worm Out

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother and I have always had a difficult relationship. It feels like
she&'s been the rock in the road of my life. She never believed me
when I told her about abuse issues in our family. She ran off every
boyfriend I ever had. She refused to help me pay for college. She cut
me off for a decade when I converted to Judaism. More, more, more….
She was just diagnosed with metastasized cancer and is refusing
treatment, putting herself on a hunger strike, and trying to die as
quickly as possible. My other siblings had an equally difficult
relationship with her. But now that she is dying they are bending over
backwards to hold her hand, wipe her brow, and act like she’s the
queen of the universe. I’m a 55-year old CPA in a new happy
relationship and drowning in tax returns. I understand that she&'s dying
but don’t want to be a hypocrite or give her more chances to ruin my
life. Do you have any advice for how to deal with an end-of- life
situation that I don&'t want to make worse but also cannot give her the
obedience and tears she seems to expect?

Worm Out

Dear Worn Out:

Assuming her body follows her will, time is short. I understand tax
season dominates most years, but you’ll have more of those later, and
your mother will only die once. Only you can know what will be okay
for your soul and heart. My usual question to folks with difficult
relationships facing a death is this: If she died today, would you be
okay? If not, you still have time to do something about it.

I recommend shooing away brow-wiping siblings for an afternoon. Say
you want some one-on- one time. Wait till she’s had food and a nap,
and then say something like: I know it hasn&'t always been easy
between us. But you’re my only mother. I’ve always respected that
you believed your opinions very strongly, even when I didn&'t agree
with them. I wish you could have felt the same about me but it was
clear that you didn&'t. But I recognize we won’t always have the luxury
of eye-to- eye contact, so I want you to know that I asked for this
alone time so we could be really honest with one another. My life has
turned out better than you thought it would. I am happy. But if there’s
anything you want to say to me about your life, my life, or our
relationship, I&'m listening.

Then really try to listen. Don’t be defensive or argumentative or feel
you need to justify your life. This is probably your mother’s last time to
tell you what she thinks you need to hear. You may be surprised if she
is milder or less judgmental than she was in life. But no matter what
she says find some way to respond to her that doesn&'t provoke an
argument. Find a way to communicate from your new happy and
confident self, so that you feel like you said what you needed to. End
with, I know in your way you tried to be a good mother. After all, she&'s
the one that&'s dying you. I don&'t think you should have to swallow your
truth but I am encouraging you not to upset her last few weeks with a
strident need to assert something that will have no impact on her
quality-of- life or your reality. It could come back to bite your
conscience or relationships with your sibs later. If you are really
happy, you will find a way to keep peace as she passes. You’ll feel
better if you do and worse if you don’t.