Why Didn’t She Try to Help Me

Question: Dear Luise: I lost my mother at the age of 21 to cancer. Although her illness steadily declined, she kept a fighter’s attitude and said that one day she would regain her health and all would be back to normal (which we believed in and very much supported her attitude.) There were only a couple of times when it got really bad where she had vaguely mentioned that she didn’t think she could continue on living in the painful way that she was and when i asked her if she was done fighting or getting to that point she said no, andso i went with that (which was honestly what i wanted to hear at the time.) Well, she eventually died and what kills me is that we never got to talk about her likely death or even the process and if she was even ready herself for it or even what she would have wanted/hoped for if worse did come to worse. Do you think she expected me to know this and to initiate the hard/awkward conversation? I can honestly say that as a young person at the time who had literally zero life experience with major situations like that did not know anything about the inevitable. I had never lost anyone and all growing up we hardly ever talked about death in our family. Sometimes I wish she would have gone in an accident and died instantly because then there would be no way that I could beat myself up over not getting to say what I/we wanted because there would have been no chance to, but in this case there was, months and months of chances to say goodbye. A part of me thinks she was afraid to tell me the truth or maybe her herself was just not accepting of her own death.In your opinion, does it even make sense for a mother to shelter the truth from her children, no matter how extremely scary? It almost angers me today that by denying everything back then, it seems to have only made it harder for me to move on now. If you have any advice or possible opinions on this nagging pain I would greatly appreciate and welcome it. Thank you! -M.

Answer: Dear M.: Your mother had every opportunity and didn’t take it. We can only guess the reason for that. Mine would be that she wasn’t able or ready to be that realistic or fatalistic. She fought long and hard and may have felt that she had to maintain a positive attitude to support that fight.

You were young and unskilled in such dire matters and unable to address it directly. It’s clear that you were encouraged to evade the issue. There is no way that your mother was trying to steer you toward later regrets or guilt…she was trying to protect you…and herself. She didn’t want to have that conversation, either.

Now, here you are with a lack of closure and a sense of being robbed of the opportunity to work it through with her. She just couldn’t or she would have. She did what she thought was best under the circumstances. All you can do it get that and accept it.

Beyond that, here’s what I did when I lost my mom. I wrote to her. That may sound pretty stupid…letters to heaven? I can’t say I saw it that way, not really, but I just couldn’t face the closed door and the empty space. I wasn’t capable of it when she passed. So, as ridiculous as it would have appeared to others, had they known, I started a “Mom Journal.” I poured my heart out to her…my grief, my rage and my fear. I was still in my 20s and, like you; death was something I had no experience with, much less any reliable belief system established around it.

As time went by I became less emotional and more at peace in writing to her. It became more about sharing my day and my feelings. Finally, I started writing answers back to me from her. I didn’t tell anyone about that, either. I knew it was off the wall and I also knew she wasn’t answering me. I was writing it…but I knew what she would say to me if she could, so I wrote it.

That’s what worked for me. I have no idea if it will work for you or not but you are an articulate writer and express yourself well. What do you have to lose by giving it a try? She is in your heart. She always will be. Blessings, Luise




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