How can I cope with the guilt of not wanting to care for a terminally ill narcissistic mother?

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My 67-year-old mother has just been diagnosed with a lethal form of cancer that kills most people within one year. With treatment she might have five years left if she's lucky.

I have intentionally lived far away from her for years because our relationship is very volatile and we have very upsetting blow-outs every time I visit home or she visits me. After the last time I saw her, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow myself to be alone with her again, as her cruel and destructive comments to me usually always are delivered when it's just the two of us. She doesn't treat my siblings (I have two older sisters) this way. Reading some articles about narcissism, I think I have identified myself as her 'golden child.'

I live on the other side of the world from my family and they are all wondering when I am going to rush home to see her (although they are all aware of the terrible relationship we have). The thing I am really wrestling with right now is the disturbing truth that I don’t really want to see my mother even though she is almost certainly going to die in a matter of months (or years, if her treatment is successful). This is hard to admit, but when one oncologist, now roundly dismissed, suggested she take no treatment at all and just live out the rest of her time (nine to 12 months, max) as she wants without the sickness that radiation, chemo and a major operation would entail, I was (silently) rooting for her to choose that option. It would be over soon. No drawn-out illness, no constant need for attendance and the accompanying necessity to be compassionate towards someone about whom I have very ambivalent feelings. And of course I feel guilty about feeling like this; I must be a very bad person to feel so cold towards my own mother.

My eldest sister lives with my mother and my other sister lives very close by. I believe they are able and willing to take care of my mother's needs during this time. However, I feel an obligation to 'be there' for them (for example, to shoulder some of the load of caregiving) as well as to show up and act like a 'normal' daughter would in this situation. I also don't want to regret not seeing or caring for my mother after she's dead. With her current treatment plan, she could be looking at up to a year of chemo, radiation, major surgery, recovery, and then another round of chemo and radiation. My mother is very focused on coming to see me where I live before the surgery, although I have never invited her to do so. But now I feel I must allow her to visit me, as it's one of the only things that is keeping her going.

I am so torn by my emotions right now. I know I have to take care of myself, but every time I have tried to set up boundaries with my mom she tramples them and I react with anger. I can't have this happening while she's dying; I would never forgive myself.

What can I do?

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Rose, thanks for sharing an update. I pray that you will be able to make peace with your mother as best you can before she passes away. For your own sake as well as hers. She's probably very frightened right now, (but would never dare show that) and suppressed fear can come out as anger. That doesn't in any way excuse the behavior, or diminish your pain, believe me, but it's a way to frame the situation. Sometimes I think that if my mother were completely in the grasp of dementia, it would be easier for me to cope, knowing that "she can't help herself." It's knowing that she's actually choosing to behave this way towards me that stings.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a counselor. She asked me what I thought my mother's core fear was. At first I said loss of control, but then I realized that was only the by-product. Her real core fear, I believe, is her deep, deep insecurity. The feeling that she's somehow "less than" everyone else. Looking back over her life, I can see how this played out. I know very little about her childhood, only that her mother died she she was an adolescent. (That in itself is an issue. Since she didn't have a mother beyond her pre-teen years, how could she possibly know how to be one?). She has always been tenaciously defensive and always had a need to be "right."

Her core fear bumps up against mine (rejection/abandonment) and it makes for a pretty impossible situation. Hence the hugs. Yesterday's was quick and limp. She didn't embrace me.. just stood there. After a second or two, she patted my hip to signal it was over and tottered off to bed.

All in all, I feel more at peace, knowing I have—in good faith—done everything I can do. I've been her caregiver for 12 years, the past two in her own home. I've navigated the maze of doctors, procedures, medications and healthcare issues, which I believe has prolonged her life and given her a better chance for quality of life (if she chooses to receive it). I've encouraged her to go to counseling to get some help in processing her repressed emotions, but her denial is too deep and she staunchly refuses. I've dealt with the personal grief of not only watching my mother decline, but experiencing her rejection and disdain for me when I try to help her. I've received very little assistance or understanding from family members (blessings to you for helping out your sister!) and have maintained my jobs in the middle of it all.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to choice. My mother chooses to live out her remaining days in denial and whatever inner fear and turmoil she has. It is her choice to reject the love and support of her only daughter. I have done, and will continue to do the best I can under very difficult circumstances.

I hope you'll be able to find a small gesture, or some words that will not only pierce through your mother's darkness (whatever that may be), but bring peace to your own soul as well. We can't go back and undo years of strife, especially when the other person isn't going to make the journey. So all we have is what we do today. And tomorrow... for as long as we have.
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It is interesting that my year-old post has "come back to life" just now. JW, I feel for you. You are in a terribly painful situation, much the same as my eldest sister who is caring for and living with my mother. My mother is emotionally abusive to my sister, who has her own significant physical and mental issues. I am afraid that she (my sister) may actually be self-harming because of the stress of caring for and dealing with my mother.

So, to bring my story up to date: my mother is now in the end stage of her cancer. A long course of intensive chemo and radiation has completely failed, and we found out last week that her cancer has metastasized into many of her organs. Her intestines are disintegrating. About a week ago she was hospitalized with severe intestinal bleeding, and the doctors recommended that I return home asap if I wanted to see her again. They didn't think she'd be leaving the hospital, ever. I flew home immediately. The day I arrived she was released from the hospital and entered hospice care in her home. However, since she got home her health has stabilized somewhat (well, as stable as she can be) and she has become paranoid and very, very angry. She is combative and aggressive with just about everyone involved in her care. But when someone from the outside world comes to visit her, she's charming and as sweet as she can manage to be. It literally makes me sick to be around her. I feel I am only here to give my sisters some help. I have not been able to have any meaningful conversations with my mother since returning home and my expectations for that happening are close to nil. I feel so upset at the way she treats my sister (and myself) that it's very hard to find the emotional energy to have a heart-to-heart with her before she dies, although I know this is important for many reasons. I just don't feel I have it in me right now, and I may not before she dies, which could happen at any time.

So JW, I think you have hit on the only sane way to deal with this difficult situation: make peace with yourself knowing that you have done and will continue to do the best you can. I am going to try to remember your words in the coming days/weeks as my mother becomes, most likely, less and less rational and more let's face it, crazy and selfish. And I am going to help give my eldest sister a break from caring for my mom. Not by going in myself -- that would be a recipe for disaster -- but by encouraging my family to do an intervention with my mom to get her to agree to pay for a full-time home health aid to take over for my sister. I'm also going to help my sister out financially so she can go on a short break out of town, and get away from our mother for a few days.
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Rose, I know you posted this thread about a year ago, but I just discovered it today. I hope things are better for you. But I'd like to tell you, and others, what seems to be working for me. My mother is narcissistic and controlling... and I am her scapegoat, her only daughter, and her full-time live-in caregiver. I gave up a lot to do this, but I felt it was the right thing to do. I've spent the past couple of years in agony, trying to figure out how to get through to her, somehow, thinking that if she understood what she was doing, she would "see the light" and suddenly appreciate the support and assistance from me. Wrong. Not going to happen. Then the cycle of resentment, guilt, frustration, responding out of anger, and self-condemnation. It was making me crazy.

I finally just stopped. She's not going to change. She sees no need for change. I am the one who is wrong (just ask her!). My brothers are perfect (they rarely see her) and I am nothing to her.

She's 84, she has mild dementia and she just plain wants to be left alone. I have finally accepted that. Now, instead of trying to get her to take care of herself, to eat properly, to drink her fluids, to get outside once in awhile, or at least get out of the recliner from time to time, I just go about my business. I still meet her basic needs. I cook. I clean. I still check on her during the night. But I don't expect anything from her. No love. No compassion. No acknowledgment. No kindness. She's simply not willing to give that to me. In fact, she refuses to let me talk to her about anything other than the weather. Literally. Imagine living in a house that's not your own (as I am constantly reminded) and not being able to speak freely.

Instead of grieving over that, I do one simple thing. Once a day at some point, I ask my mother if I can hug her. She lets me... for a few seconds. Then it's over. But it is a connection. And if we can't connect intellectually, emotionally or any other way, we at least have that.

A lot goes into that brief daily hug, at least for me. It has to contain everything I wish we could have shared, everything I wish she would let me say to her, and I have to derive from it everything I had hoped she would be willing to give. It has to be "enough."

And so far, it has been. I can't do anything about her physical illness or her emotional and mental issues. But at least now, I've made peace with myself, knowing that I have done and will continue to do the best I can.
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I love the advice to get a counselor. As a mental health therapist I can tell you from experience that you are not alone. Many clients wait until adulthood to address issues they have carried with them for a life time. Being in therapy does not mean there is something wrong with you! Having a parent that was physically or mentally abuse can have lasting effects well into your adulthood. Now that mom is sick, it is very natural for you to harbor some guilt over not being there, or perhaps not being a better daughter. Don't do that to yourself. Ask yourself what you need to make peace with her and your relationship and then take steps in that direction. If it is important for you to feel that you have helped your siblings then make the trip. If you are at peace remaining where you are because that is what's best for you, respect yourself for making a safe decision. The important thing is that you are able to be at peace with yourself when all is said and done.
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My husband’s mother is a very hateful and cruel woman; whom the siblings as well as her ex-husband believe is a narcissistic, sociopath. When I married my husband, he was surprised at how my family functioned, social gatherings without drama, people enjoying the gathering without any arguing and no excessive drinking. As his mother lives only two blocks from us, she was always invited. However, it was always a huge amount of drama getting her to attend. When his mother did attend, there was an uneasy feeling within the group. Not to exclude her, I made every excuse to assure her that she would be happier if she just attended. I was responsible for taking her to every doctor’s appointment, picking up groceries and taking her to the pharmacy. She was notorious for cancelling her doctor’s appointments an hour prior to the appointment; cancelling upwards of 10 times in a row. She would ask inappropriate questions about our relationship. She would call and rant for hours if allowed about crazy things; she is paranoid about everyone and rarely leaves her home. The scary part is she has a loaded weapon in her home. After calling our home over 20 times in 15 minutes; including our cell phones, my husband blocked her calls from our home, still allowing her to phone his cell. This actually caused the demise of our relationship, she phone my husband and ranted for an hour and no amount of reasoning could make her understand that she had caused this to happen and it was important for our family unit to have a calm and wholesome life. Just blocking her calls made her call the other siblings ranting about how cruel he was, how terrible I was and that she was sure it was my doings. He also told her that she could talk to him anytime via his cell phone but, she was not allowed to contact me or my family that he did not want, what was a healthy family, to have deal with her problems. He and his sibling’s wrote her a very detailed letter before Christmas, a year ago, outlining all that they had dealt with during their childhood, how she had affected every relationship, they ever had and how she constantly tried to pit one sibling against the other, and swear each to secrecy. Within the letter, they told her this was no longer acceptable. This letter sent her over the edge, swear she was the good mother, giving everything she had, how dare they challenge her parenting. It has been over a year with all ties cut, she does stay in contact with the other sibling’s, but it is very rocky and she can’t seem to stop bashing us for staying our distance. On the bright side, my husband is the happiest I’ve ever seen and our relationship if great. News from the siblings is her health is failing and she feels like we, my husband and I, should be more concerned about her health. Honestly, my husband feels as though she is dead, he has mourned the mother he should have had and the mother he still could have had she been willing to understand boundaries. Sad, but I think it is best for all. She will only continue the same behavior until her death if we allowed her back in our lives.
Therefore, I feel you might want to take the same approach, remember you did not ask to have this type of mother and she is not a child, she is responsible for her behavior and if she cannot or will not change, then live your life to the best of your ability without guilt, for it is a useless emotion.
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(((((((hugs))))))Rose I do think you know what to expect. It seems unlikely that she will have changed much, but you can always hope. I think it is wise to prepare for the worst, and have plans on how to deal with an "upsets". Any guilt has been planted into you by your mum, due to her mental illness. and it is a means to manipulate you. Please recognize it as such, and do not give it much credence - let it go for what it is. I hope and pray that the visit goes reasonably well, and that your mum leaves at the planned time. I say this as I have had a problerm with my narcissistic, BPD mum coming to visit and then staying longer than planned. Finally, between the tension and stress she brought with her, I refused to let her come to visit any more and confined my visiting to me going to her. You have this site to come to for suppor any time. Good luck and keep in touch. Joan
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Hi Cat, Jeanne and Lisa, and thanks for your replies. My husband is great and he will be with me the entire time my mother is here, but she gets to him, too, unfortunately. But yes, we will have each other to lean on.

I don't know what to expect in terms of her health. Her doctors are allowing this trip, so I guess they think she's up to it. When I spoke to her last she said she felt a bit wobbly (as you would if you had just had a chemo session!). In terms of her mental health, I have no idea what to expect so I will expect the worst and hope for the best.

Thanks again for your support, you all rock.
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Ok, no more cold medicine. Sorry rose. Just saw the date of the last post. Good luck! Hope you have a husband like mine. You pretty much know what's coming with her visit. You'll do great!! Lisa
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Rose, I agree with cat and Jeanne. Go there. Do not bring her to your home. What if she can't go back? And the guilt? Why? Ask yourself has your mom been the loving nurturing mom that you deserved growing up. Mine wasn't. Just plain mean and hateful. I made the mistake of letting her into my home for 2 years and evicted her evil behind. Please don't let yourself get caught up in something that will tear u apart. Cat and Jeanne are very wise women and have helped me tremendously. Their suggestions are great!
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Hi Rose: Good to hear from you. I guess I'm thinking about your promise to yourself that you would never be alone with your mom again. Is your husband going to be home during your mom's visit? Do you have a close girlfriend who would be willing to come stay at your house during her visit? I'm hoping you can surround yourself with adequate support, people who can engage with your mom and help her enjoy her visit while also giving some protection in numbers.

I feel for you and understand your dread. Try to distance yourself emotionally from her words and don't respond to negative comments. If you can control your anger by realizing that your mom has a mental illness, then things will not escalate. I think you know all of this. Maybe you and your hubby can practice on how to respond to her, before she arrives.

Good luck Rose and keep us posted. Hugs, Cattails
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