It’s not your problem, Mom!

Since losing my brother to cancer, my mom likes to get involved in everyone else’s problems. How can I get her to back off?

Take it gently, advises our elder.

Dear EWC

So in 2008, our family took a big hit. We lost my brother at 18 due to cancer. He was an exceptional human being so we all will forever be changed by this. I developed severe anxiety and my mom, well that’s why I’m here. Six years after the loss of my brother, we then lost my grandma (mom’s mom) to cancer also. As you can imagine, we both have our own ways of carrying on their memories. My mom does a lot of Relay For Life, collecting donations, things like that to give back. Myself, I got a tattoo for my brother, I named my daughter one of my brother’s favorite names, etc.

However it is my opinion that my mother has a bad habit of attaching herself to other people’s issues. She has actually considered buying a house for a coworker who found herself with two children and no place to stay. She doesn’t even own her own home yet! Well that coworker seems to be doing just fine without my mother having bought the house. I am not an insensitive person; however, I have seen what it is like to be too nice and get taken advantage of. This morning she has called out of work because a different coworker is having surgery to remove her female reproductive organs due to cancer. Obviously from our life experiences, she can relate to that. She sends me a picture from the hospital with her and the girl’s whole family. Anyway it is my opinion that she is getting too close to these people’s issues.

My concern is my mother’s wellbeing. What if this girl were to die on the operating table? My mom would have to experience death all over again and be depressed and have it affect her work, etc. Being at the hospital is something I think should be reserved for families. Send the girl flowers and cards and offer help if she needs but I just think my mom is getting too close and it’s just going to end up hurting her in the long run. Am I wrong? And if I’m not, how do I try to get this point across without sounding like a horribly insensitive person? Everyone has issues; she can’t fix them all but she tries. Even if that causes her pain. I don’t want her to be insensitive but I do believe she should learn how to distance herself. You lost a son from cancer, that doesn’t mean to commiserate with every cancer sufferer you know. I’ve known several people diagnosed whom I have said prayers for but unless they are family, you won’t catch me in the hospital with them. Luckily the people I know have miraculously been in remission but that’s not always the case. Please help!

Alexandra replies

Your concern for your mother touches me. Your family has certainly had some very difficult and sad losses and I’m so sorry for that. Losing a son/brother to cancer at 18 must be an unbearable loss and I can see how it would change you.

Frankly, I don’t think there is any right and wrong here. We all handle grief and loss in our own way. I think your way — getting the tattoo and naming your daughter one of your brother’s favorite names — is a lovely and lasting tribute. Your way of supporting others with cancer with your prayers is also lovely and caring.

However, it seems your mother’s approach is more emotional and hands on. She obviously feels the need to get close and to give of herself regardless of the hurtful emotional — or financial — consequences. Apparently that is just her nature, and I don’t think you can change that.

However, I do agree with you that considering buying a house for a homeless co-worker is a bit extreme, and in circumstances like that it’s my opinion that you could — and should — try to gently intervene. I’m assuming that she’s not a wealthy woman and gestures like that are really impractical. I’m also wondering how the girl with cancer’s family feels about having her there, and if she has asked them. Some people like to keep hospital visits private within family at such a time, while others are grateful for the support. I know that when someone has cancer, many friends back away because they are uncomfortable or don’t know what to say. It’s to your mom’s credit that she wants to help, but I understand your concern over the emotional toll this kind of personal help could take on her.

While I don’t think you can change her need to ‘help’ in this way, I do think you could express your concerns to her in a gentle and loving manner, and perhaps suggest some ways in which she could be supportive of people without becoming quite so personally and emotionally involved. I, too, have a need to reach out to people, and I know my own daughters sometimes tell me when they feel that getting involved may hurt me. Always I listen and consider their opinions. That doesn’t mean I always back off!

I wish you the very best — your mom is lucky to have such a caring daughter. Please feel free to write to EWC any time. We’re always here for you.

Letter #: 445895
Category: Family

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