Dear Family Advisor

I don't want to visit my mother anymore.

Last updated: Feb 24, 2010

letter writing

My mom has been in a care home for almost 15 years. She doesn't know who I am or who anybody else is. She sits in her wheelchair, not looking at me, and won't lift her head. My heart is broken. When I see her, I see me -- will I be like this, too?

I'm working two jobs to keep my home, I'm recently divorced (my husband cheated on me with my former best friend), and I just celebrated my one-year mark of surviving breast cancer.

I'm ready to quit visiting Mom. I know it sounds horrible, but I'm not sure I care anymore. I'm in therapy, and I'm desperately trying to work through what life's handed me. Surely I'm not the only one out there who feels like this. I need someone to know about it -- someone who maybe won't judge me.

So don't visit your mother. Give yourself a pass.

You may be surprised to hear me say that "“ I usually say that our elders and others we care for need us to keep a watchful eye. I strongly believe that we need to be their advocates, but you're in a unique circumstance.

Caregiving can be like fighting on the front lines of a war -- the rules are different when life gets this brutal. I'm going to say something strong: Your mom's life, in many ways, is over. Yours doesn't have to be.

Before you quit visiting, is there someone who would be willing to check on your mom at least once a week for a while? Ask. Tell your pastor or rabbi how badly you need a break, ask a relative or one of your mom's old friends, or call up your local Alzheimer's Association chapter and inquire about volunteers. Try to get someone else to visit your mom weekly for at least a few months.

I also want you to do two other things: First, write your mother a letter explaining why you won't be visiting. Say everything -- how much you love her, how much this scares you, and how you wish it could be different. Include all the dark things you don't even want to say out loud.

Next, write yourself a letter. Tell yourself how brave you are and acknowledge all you've been through. Write all those ugly things that roll around in your head all day -- the self-deprecating loop, I call it. Remind yourself what a good, faithful daughter you've been, and what a survivor you are. As caregivers and family members, we rarely get thanked or told we're doing a good job.

Then, burn the letters. Make it a ceremony, V-day -- V for victory. You finally said it all.

Now, stop visiting. Are you panicking yet? Does it make you pace with worry or lose sleep? You may find you don't actually want to quit going -- you may have just needed to say it. This may be more of a cry for help. Or you may be completely burned out. You won't know until you get to that first day when you don't go to see your mom -- your body will tell you how you feel.

We know deep down what we need, and a crisis isn't the time for others to tell you how to feel. So tell all those people and all those voices in your head to back off. Does it need to be forever? Maybe not, but you have to be willing to risk it. You need to see that you do indeed have choices and power.

Part of your stress has to stem from the fact that you feel powerless in all this -- powerless to help your mom, and powerless to prevent yourself from aging and possibly winding up the same way. I know that she doesn't have a choice either, but it doesn't help to suffer along with her.

Start spoiling yourself. Set the table at night -- for you -- and sip a glass of wine. Start treating yourself as lovingly as others should have treated you. I'm not talking about spending loads of money, but buy yourself flowers, get a new scarf. Connect -- or reconnect -- with other healthy-minded people. It's time to surround yourself with goodness.

You might find that not visiting Mom won't instantly change your life. Maybe she's not holding you back or draining you as much as you think. We hold ourselves back, too. That's why taking steps to take care of yourself will help guide you to the rich and fulfilling life you dream of.

There may come a time when the pressure is off and you'll consider visiting her -- because you want to. If that day comes, do so. But don't jump right back into your old routine. Why? Because it will feel like you never stopped. It's easy to start a new life -- it's much scarier and more challenging to keep it up.

In time, I believe that you'll begin to see your mom and yourself in a different light. You can love her just as she is and be at peace, not because things are perfect but because you've dealt with all life has handed you. You'll know that what you want for yourself is what your mom would want for you, too -- for you to live a good life filled with joy and hope.