Very confused about Mom's anger at me. Any advice?

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My mom, 88 yrs old with heart failure, living in her own home and not doing well at all physically. Also, is quite depressed and does not want to talk to people any longer. Brothers call once a week, for a few minutes. I call every couple of days now. This question is about our conversations which take place over the phone:
I try to be there for her and listen as other family members won't/can't and have even told her not to talk abut her problems. That leaves me, the daughter. I listen. But, I always pay for it. She will talk about all the things that are troubling her (that's okay), but then she will say "you don't understand". I try to tell her that I DO understand and then it turns into an argument. . She will say "I did not mean understand in that way". So I ask her what do you mean when you use that word? (I am at this point lost) and she then says: "It does not matter. It is just a saying and why are you so particular and precise about everything? And why are you trying to correct my English? I am thinking what??? What has happened here? I am totally confused by what has happened. I am sure this is confusing to you, the reader, too? Then, my mother will say, if you keep on asking, this conversation willl end. And this time, I got angry and said "I have done nothing wrong here, I was just trying to understand, and so be it, let it end and I say goodbye. And then I feel like I have done something wrong, but I don't know what and I feel guilty. Has anyone experienced this and, if so, what is this? As to whether of not she has dementia, the doctors are out on that one. The basic test, she passes. And she wont go to doctors very much, so no testing. She will only go with my brother to the doctor as he was the one who used to take her. He will not listen to me, is difficult, and so I no longer communicate with him, as it is pointless to send a "heads up" about possible dementia in an email and get a response saying "just don't write to me and stop expecting me to do everything".
This is so not true. But that is not the question. The question is why does this make her so angry? Thank you.
Jackie

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You're doing the best you can. "You don't understand". "That's certainly true, Mom, I haven't walked in your shoes. It must be hard".

She sounds depressed. Can you mail a note to the doctor about that? If you are not her healthcare proxy, the doctor can't GIVE you information , but you have the ability to send him your observations of her behavior and mood.
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Jackie you are allowing her to control the content and direction of the conversation. Try to agree, then redirect. "No, I don't understand, but I am getting there. How are you feeling? Your color is good. Let me see your legs. Did you see the Podiatrist this month? " I take her vitals. " Pulse is good. BP is xxx over xxx, that's lower/higher than last time. Can you stand up and we'll see if it changes? How is Aunt Ceil doing with her health?" And you write down the vitals for her to look at later. If mom needs a haircut, I go to the beauty salon, pay for cut & color and ask the girl to set up an appointment with mom. When it is done I tell mom how nice it looks. Always LEAD the conversation to a better place. Find out who she dines with and ask about them, that gives her someone else to complain about instead of you.
Always thank the aides for putting up with a tough customer.
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Jackie, I'm sorry for all your hurt and confusion. It seems very unfair. It IS very unfair.

I hope this might explain one little aspect of it, as an example. That skirmish about whether or not you understood. You meant you understood what she was saying to you, and you did, because you were listening closely and contact her frequently. She meant you don't understand how it feels to be 88, have heart failure, feel like crap all the time and have bugger all to look forward to - well of course you don't! Why would you? You were, then, talking at cross purposes. Can I ask, without its sounding snotty, whether this happens a lot between you and your mother?

The thing is, I think there might be a parallel disjunction going on emotionally. You end up feeling bad about your mother, unfairly, and are looking for some kind of answer as to how it's your fault, what you've done wrong. The point is that it's NOT your fault, and it's none of your doing. But of course you still feel bad *for* your mother: she's elderly, and ill, and not in an enviable position. It's about sympathising with her, but not accepting responsibility for something you can't change - let alone blaming yourself. You're not to blame.

If your brother is also a bit of a chip off the old block, by "don't write to me and stop expecting me to do everything" perhaps what he means is that he's paddling as fast as he can and he doesn't want to hear about another thing to put on his To Do list. He might have phrased it better. In fact he'd have done better to pick up the phone and talk to you about your concerns, but…

Your mother's anger with you. She's not angry with you for failing to cure her ills. She's angry about having those ills, but not with you. What she probably does get annoyed with you about is your hoping, trying, to make it all better. You can't. You don't have the answer.

What I'd suggest is keeping your conversations shorter and more varied - tell her about your day, talk to her about small normal things, keep it brief and keep it ordinary. See how it goes for a week or two and whether the mood lightens.

Looking ahead, if your mother has had heart failure for a while (I mean years and years) she may have vascular dementia and she may have depression - I stress the "may." There is nothing to stop you telling her doctor of your concerns, as long as you bear in mind that the doctor cannot tell you anything in return - you'd be putting in a report, not opening a discussion. It might be worth doing.

I feel so sorry that your poor mother is clearly suffering, you would like to do something about it, and you must feel thwarted. It's an upsetting position to be in. If you can get a firmer handle on what it is possible to help and what you can't do anything about, I hope that at least you'll feel much less hurt personally. Best of luck, please keep posting.
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HomehealthNurse, reading about your heart surgery brought back memories of my cancer surgery. I felt like I was hit by a freight train. My sig other was clueless about helping so I was pretty much trying to care for myself. He would stand around with his hands in his pockets as he was from the old school where the woman took care of anyone sick and took care of the house. Mars vs Venus :P
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JackieJ, I really think your mother would be so much happier if she was around people from her own generation, either by way of going to a senior center during the day, or moving into a retirement community. Then she would feel she could talk to people who *do understand* :)
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I am a nurse and a 64 year old recovered from open heart surgery. Both a caregiver and I needed to be cared for. My daughter and I got at "odds" when she was my primary caregiver after surgery. I said to her "You don't understand" and she said she did because of her health problems--which were not the same as mine. There is a "generational" gap. There is a different ethic in the two generations and it "figures into" the equation. Some things bothered me that seemed trivial to her and vice versa. As a nurse, I really didn't understand open heart surgery patients until I became one. All I can say is do your best to let her explain (if she can) and just let the rest go unless it is a safety issue. After my surgery: I tried to explain by saying "I feel like a 16 wheeler truck just ran over me." My energy level was at a all time low, it didn't seem as if I would ever "get back to normal" and depression wanted to set in. I was having trouble eating because I didn't even have strength to chew and swallow as before--so I requested soft foods and liquids. I had trouble moving and bathing and getting on clothes--all of which frustrated my daughter to wait on me. I couldn't think straight either--it seemed as if my whole life had turned upside down in one day. And did I mention the pain?--they take a saw and split your sternum bone--ouch! As I kept at recovery by eating right, sleeping right, hydrating (drinking lots of water); taking my medications, exercising and going to church and social functions until GRADUALLY I felt, and moved and thought better. It took 6 months to go back to work and a full year to get back to "normal". Listening and doing what she asks without trying to "teach" or "fix" her is the best answer I can give you. I needed help with meal preparation, laundry, bed making, general house work, dumping the trash, getting the mail, going shopping and to doctor appointments--hope this helps.
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It can be so frustrating to deal with people that we want to help, but they push us away. It's good you are still trying.

I know that when I was staying with my cousin in her house after she took a fall, I was bending over backwards to help care for her and her household. However, as soon as I would walk in the door, she would start picking for an argument. She would say things that were so off the wall and untrue. She was very unreasonable and did push me away. Sadly, when I got the phone call to check on her later, she had gone way downhill and was no longer able to care for herself.

I then realized the dementia had caused her disagreeable behavior. So, I would not judge her too harshly. Perhaps your mom is not able to prevent her behavior that makes you feel so bad. She may not be able to control it. There's no need to blame yourself for that.

It's too bad she won't pursue more medical evaluation. It must be scary for her, but at least the truth could give some answers on what is actually going on with her. I would keep check on her, but don't blame yourself. That is not productive and only adds to the problem. Do what you know is right and have peace in your heart. That's my motto. Good luck.
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Jackie, I don't know why conversations can twist like this or why we end up feeling like we've done something wrong when they do. This happens frequently with my mother. It can feel like she is trying to pick a fight. I think it happens because they are mad at the world. I've also wondered with mine if she is trying to drive me away so she can be alone. I don't know what it is. One thing I've tried to do is to steer away from conversations that I know will go south quickly. This includes most conversations that would be interesting, so we're confined pretty much to small talk and conversations about her past.

The sentences that start "You cannot understand" bother me a lot, because they ignore the human capacity for empathy. "You cannot understand" to me means that the talker is feeling that they alone are the only person who has ever suffered such trouble and grief. It is usually used like a bullet to cause guilt in a person who is being sympathetic with them. I think it is just anger at the world aimed at the person who least deserves the anger.
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You ARE trying, that is clear. I have had people who are suffering tell me I don't understand. Most of the time they are absolutely right. I can't understand completely what another person is going through. That does not mean we can't identify with feelings like sadness, fear, frustration, anger... we all have those. If your Mom takes issue with you saying you understand I would agree with her but then I would tell her that you love her and are trying to be supportive. Ask her how you might do that. She might just need you to listen. You might mention that to your brothers as well. On the other hand, if your Mom is wearing you down with her negativity you might need to draw your boundaries now before you become resentful.
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