My mother is a toxic person and now she is dying. Do I go see her?

7 answers | Last updated: Oct 14, 2016
Pennyk asked...

My mother is and always has been a very toxic person. After therapy my counselor suggested she is a borederline personality. She is this or just naccisitic, controlling and angry. I don't like the way she talks to my Father, or even strangers. She rarely says please or thank you and when she does if sound weird like she doesn't really mean it. She has no friends, and has alienaned most of the family. She rarely has a good word to say about anyone. I choose to move awy 15 years ago to another state 1200 miles away. I have been getting happier and healthier ever since. My life is good. My Mother told me about two years ago she has breast cancer. She is morbidly obese maybe 500 + lbs, doesn't exercise, eats instant anything, she smoked most of her life and only quit to get a gastric band which never worked for her. I resent that she wants sympathy for her illness when she didn't even try to be healthy. When I was younger and I would beg her to quit smoking she would say eveybody has to die from something. Now that it's happening she wants me to feel bad for her? I got the call July 3rd, she is now terminal. They are going back into chemo to extend her life a month maybe two. I'm struggling with how to handle it. First of all I can't afford the cost of traveling there right now, money is tight and my daughter starts school next month, I have school supplies, school fee's etc.. My car 10 yeas old and frequently need something. If I spend what little money I have to go visit and something goes wrong with the car or we have any other issue I'm screwed. Emotionally it's easier if I don't go, I don't want to have sympathy for her. I don't want to tell her how I really feel because that seems mean and inhuman to dump on a dying person. I can't pretend I like her, I do care enough that I don't want her to suffer. I feel bad for my Dad & Brother who are there to help her, but Dad enabled this behavior put up with it. When she punched me in the face once, he just stood there. He has never known a normal life, so he thinks this is normal. I pray he finds some leval of happiness after she is gone. Do I go, do my duty as a daughter no matter what it costs me in the end? The emotial toll is high for me I have been moarning the mother I never had for years. I don't know what to say to them if I don't go. Any words of wisdom.

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

Penny, you raise an important question with a two-part answer on whether or not you should go see your mother even though she is a toxic person and dying.

On the one hand, you need to take care of yourself.

If she causes you such heartache and your finances are so lean as to not be able to travel 1,200 miles to see her, you should not go. Take care of yourself first; otherwise there will be nothing left of you.

On the other hand, if you DON'T see her before she dies, you may regret it.

As we grow older and experience life's ups and downs we often gain greater compassion for our differences. Although, this doesn't seem to be true in your mother's case as you describe it, it may be true for you.

Once the blood stops coursing through your mother's veins, she will live only in your memory. You may (or may not) regret that you didn't see her one last time.

If you even think there's a slight chance of this, which I think you are questioning here, find a way to visit her. Maybe your dad and mom can help pay for your trip.

Your and your daughter's futures lie ahead. Your mom has lived her life, made her choices, and although she's not happy, it's her life.

Ask yourself

Will I have any regrets if she dies and I didn't see her one last time? If so, find a way to see her.

There are other ways to see her. Consider using a video communication tool like Skype. Most laptops have a camera built in not to mention phones with this feature.

Also talk with your brother. Depending on your relationship and before your mother's death, could be a powerful time to share your feelings as brother and sister.

Another perspective on this can be found here: Wishing a parent would die

Community Answers

Pennyk answered...

Thank you! I spoke to several friends who know my situation. Although they have different relationships with their parents they understand and support my decision not to go. I have decided to write my parents a letter about any and all positive memories I have, the funny moments, honestly there were a few. I will explian that finanaces and my inability to handle the situation are preventing me from coming to see her in her last days. I doubt they will understand Mom has always viewed me and everyone else as a servant to her needs. I think however this will send some love and positive energy their way and allow me to preserve my delicate finacial situation. I have so little positive loving memories, It's hard to explain, but it's difficult to have sympathy for someone who tormented you for years, who made you and most of your family estranged, die. I'm human I can't not feel something for anyone who is suffering, even my mother, but I don't want or need that as my final memory of my mother. I'm directing my energy into my daughter to stop the cycle of abuse. To create a strong bond and be there for her whenever she needs me. Since she represents the future, I think this is a better use of my time and resources. Thank you again!

There now answered...

Hi, I appreciate your questions. I've thought about how to answer, and all of what I have to say are variations on "no".

So no. Do not open your heart to this person. No. Do not sustain a fantasy that they'll have a deathbed conversion. No. No. No. To expect or want or hope that somehow in the face of death a person who considers others to be tools or toys to fill the bottomless pit of their needs will suddenly become generous. No. Please expect quite the contrary. You may choose to be present, you may allow yourself to feel, you may listen. Please, PLease, PLEASE, do not open yourself to the final gesture of projection and external parasitic validation the dying one is in search of. Be strong, be centered, be absent.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I agree that you should not go. I myself am wrestling with this, as my mother whom I have not seen in 15 years is in the final stages of terminal cancer. I have spent many years hoping she would see the light of the things she has done and hoping for her to change. I will never get the heart felt apology I want from her. She will be a cold person up until her final breath. Even though I only live a half hour away, I have already decided that I will not subject myself to her games or attend her funeral. I don't care if I'm disinheritated. Nor do I care what the rest of the family thinks. My mother has been the source of all the problems in our family ever since I can remember. My father became her enabler. He doesn't have a spine and I have lost all respect for him. So I can totally relate to what Penny is going through. It is good that you have supportive friends who understand where you're coming from.

Olive127 answered...

I had a similar experience three years ago: a dying estranged toxic mother requesting I take care of her in her terminal days. I am anot RN. Although I did not want to go 300 miles and take time from work, I knew I would feel badly forever if I did not Also she was living with my brother and sister in law who were finding the situation very hard. So I went. But I resolved there would be no discussions about the past or any contentious issues. And although she tried twice, I just was not available for that type of communication, knowing from experience (55 yeats) how it was likely to go.I am glad I went; I did it for me and for my brother. I returned home exhausted and ill but I had done the right thing for me and my brother and sister in law. Now I am in therapy attempting to undo all the ramifications of that abusive relationship. And making progress. My current struggle is in feeling if I can't feel compassion for her,and find some way to forgive ( whatever that means) that I am the disappointing poor person I was always told I was. I think your decision to remain where you are is correct. You should do what feels right for you. Bravo for having the insight and courage to honor your inner voice. answered...

I understand. My dad was toxic. I was told by one of my siblings to visit him (1,500 miles away) on his death bed. I didn't. I didn't go to the funeral either. I have no regrets.

I am a male, not a female, so I may be giving you bad advice because women are generally more communicative than men are.

But if I were you, I would call your mother every day until she died. I would explain to her every time she tried to put a guilt trip on me for not "being there" that I cannot afford to go. I would ask if she would see me if her finances didn't permit it. I would ignore whatever answer she gave to that. I would add, regardless of whether your mother taught you this or not, that you learned from her that one must be prudent and realistic about what one can do and what one can't do. I would add that she would not want you to die in a car accident or be mugged because your old car broke down on the way to see your dying mother. Ignore any abusive answer. You know that's her accustomed modus operandi, so stick to your guns.

The bottom line is that you must go on after she has left the planet. And whether your mom wants to admit it or not, you were raised to be a logical person about what you can and cannot do at any given time. You are not superwoman.

The fact that you want to do what you think is best means you are a good person. Calling your mother on the phone will give her every opportunity to make you feel miserable for not "being there". But that's her problem, not yours. Calling her on the phone will give you closure on your mother's last moments. And it WILL make her feel better, regardless of whether she admits it or not.

If your relatives demand that you "be there", you should calmly inform them that you ARE there when you speak to your mother on the phone and, if they want you to be physically present, then they will have to finance the trip and any loss of income you will incur while you are there.

You tell them that you are doing what you can. If that is not enough for them, that is unfortunate, but they have no right to condemn you for acting responsibly and prudently.

I am a Christian. I firmly believe that doing what I suggested is Christian behavior.

God Bless you.

Lotsofguild answered...

I am a RN of many years. One of the saddest things I see is when someone with family dies alone: No one to sit with them, no one to see them pass, no one to hold their hand or hold a bit of water to their parched lips...No--- nurses are not there for that despite what you want to think. We do not sit with and hold dying people's hands. I was wretchedly angry at my mother and have little solace when thinking back on our relationship. However, when she lay dying, I made sure someone was there to sit with her always in the last 4 weeks of her life. I tried to ease her passing not only for herself, but for myself as well. And that has nothing to do with me being a nurse.