Feel­ing lost as Mom nears death

Star Tribune - - ADVICE & GAMES - E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@wash­post.com.

Adapted from a re­cent on­line dis­cus­sion.

My mom has Stage 4 can­cer and I’m griev­ing al­ready. What do I do? I know you say one day at a time, but my heart is bro­ken and I don’t think I’ll ever re­cover. To put the cherry on the sundae, I’m in my late 30s and very sin­gle with no chil­dren or family to speak of. I thought I had another 20 years with my mom. This is break­ing me. How do I go on? I’m see­ing a therapist but noth­ing will ever make sense again.

Dear Carolyn:

It will make sense again, I swear.

Or, it’ll never make sense and you’ll look back and re­al­ize noth­ing ever made sense to be­gin with, it was all just ex­pec­ta­tions. Which is ac­tu­ally not as dark a sen­ti­ment as you might think. Los­ing some­one so im­por­tant changes ev­ery­thing — it’s a pro­found and per­ma­nent shift.

But as some­one who has lived it (I was mid-30s at the time, sep­a­rated, no kids, re­al­iz­ing those 20 years I had counted on wouldn’t hap­pen), I’m com­fort­able say­ing it’s bet­ter on the other side in ev­ery con­ceiv­able way be­sides my mom’s ab­sence. Go­ing through it made me less self-con­scious, less com­pet­i­tive, stronger, kin­der ... or maybe just less mean, more aware of my faults, less in­clined to wield those faults against oth­ers, bet­ter at us­ing my time on things that mat­ter to me, bet­ter at rec­og­niz­ing my good for­tune, more pa­tient with other peo­ple and their faults, more able to laugh/point at my­self and call B.S. when my be­hav­ior un­der­mines ev­ery­thing I just typed about my­self just now.

The “mak­ing sense” stuff you counted on be­fore will seem in ret­ro­spect like a his­tory of go­ing through the

Carolyn says:

mo­tions be­cause you just ex­pected to, ver­sus care­fully chose to.

I don’t know why it takes hav­ing our guts ripped out for some of these things to make sense sud­denly (and to those who achieve com­pas­sion­ate self-aware­ness with­out it, you have my deep­est ad­mi­ra­tion), but that’s of­ten how it hap­pens — so we must find our way through the wreck­age and to this other side.

But I’m get­ting ahead of my­self. You have im­por­tant enough work in just spend­ing all the time you can with your mom, and cry­ing it out. It re­ally is OK not to get more am­bi­tious than that. Leave the other stuff in the back of your mind for when you’re ready, to keep you mov­ing through your more dif­fi­cult days. You’re feel­ing bro­ken now and you’re sup­posed to, but you will also mend when you’re ready to. Not into the per­son you used to be, but the per­son you’re meant to be, the one who can look at the same view as al­ways but see twice what you saw there be­fore.

My heart goes out to you. Hospice is great with qual­ity of life for your mom, and sup­port for you both. Get help with ev­ery­thing you can. Who are your best friends to whom you can rail? Who will bring you gin at mid­night? What can you do to take care of your­self — mas­sages? Walks? Bak­ing? Med­i­ta­tion? You have to recharge. Con­sider read­ing Atul Gawande’s “Be­ing Mor­tal.”

7. “I smell women, smell ’em in the air.”

8. “One more day stand­ing about, what is it for?” 9. “There, out in the dark­ness, a fugi­tive run­ning, fallen from God.”

Yes to all of these, thank you. And ev­ery­one should read “Be­ing Mor­tal.”

Carolyn says:

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