In the middle of March of this year, I got a Facetime phone call from my mother. I had a feeling it was going to bad news for two reasons: 1. It was late in the evening in California, which meant it was very late in Eastern Canada, where she was calling from. 2. I hadn't spoken to her for a little over a year.
To offer background on the family dynamic would require a novel, so I will highlight some points on what caused the break down.
My mother may not want to admit it, but growing up, she was physically and emotionally abusive. So was my father, but he was rarely home, so the majority of parenting was performed by her. Thus the vivid memories of those instances. I can recall a time when I was about six-years-old, asking her why she didn't love one of my brothers. Every time I look at my wedding and engagement ring, I see a physical scar from an episode when I was five-years-old.
Most of the physical evidence faded, but the emotional ones didn't. I ended up escaping and moving out of her house when I was almost 17, getting myself into a worse situation, but then all I wanted was to breakout.
As I grew up and moved from Canada to California, the distance proved to be beneficial for both of us. Slowly, I started to try to rebuild the relationship with my mother. Sure, there were ups and downs along the way, but I truly felt that my mother had gotten over her abusive tendencies and had learned from them. Given my new opinion, I readily invited and welcomed her help when I had my first child in 2008. She was loving and very helpful, and came to visit often to aid me when my second was born just 17 months later.
As my children started to grow, however, I started noticing more of the behavior that I had experienced as a child. Words, mostly, but aren't those the ones that stick with us the most? There were two occasions that really told my inner self that something was amiss. A friend pulled me aside and told me she had heard my mother say something abusive to my son when they were visiting, and a conflict with my in-laws that ended up turning into a very massive, unreasonable blow up. The latter was not entirely my mom's issue, but I felt that she lit the fuse.
After several attempts at trying to encourage her to try counseling, to no avail, I felt it was better for me to separate myself from the situation, and monitor the kids contact with her. Understandably, this didn't sit well with her, and thus, the disconnect. Unfortunately, as is common in my already dysfunctional family, it trickled over into my relationship with my eldest brother and deepened our lack of connection.
Which brings us back to March. The phone call. "I have pancreatic cancer." I didn't know what to say. There was no small talk, no bridge. MrMuffinTop and I knew that the issues I had would obviously take a back burner now, and we were going to focus on getting through this together, as a family. We took the kids to my hometown to see her, and help the kids have fond memories of their grandmother.
Since then, she's undergone a very major surgery, removing parts of her stomach, pancreas, colon, and bile ducts. She's had a few stays at the hospital, and is still recovering while living with my brother and sister-in-law. Her six month treatment of chemo starts in a few weeks, and we are all hopeful that she'll fight through it, and live a long and healthy life, cancer free.
My struggle is stemming from trying to be supportive of my mother during this scary time, while maintaining my sanity and protecting my family from a person that I see as volatile. How do I put 30+ years of these feelings aside? Should I?
Interestingly, people who I consider friends all tell me what the "right" thing to do is. But what if that doesn't mean right for my family? For her?
This is a very important aspect of my life now, and I would sincerely love to hear if any of you had to deal with a similar situation, and how you handled it. Or just coping with a parent with cancer. Please leave your comments below.
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