October 2, 1997
Detail from "Family," 1917, woodcut by Emile Nolde. From"German Expressionist Woodcuts," 1994.
A Mother's Cruelty
As Yom Kippur approaches, I am thinking about my mother in thenursing home and feeling guilt, dread and anger. At this point, herdementia is advancing, and although she recognizes me, she isunbelievably mean to me and my children, ages 9 and 12. My husbandwon't even visit her anymore, because her vicious comments left himexhausted. As he says: "If the visits make even her miserable, whatis their purpose?"
What I'm wondering is whether or not to visit her at all. She istotally abusive; whatever I do, bring, say or offer is attacked. Onthe other hand, I feel terribly guilty if I do not visit. My aunt(Mother's sister) constantly calls me and tells me what a baddaughter I am if I miss a week.
Part of the problem is that -- even though the doctor says shebehaves this way because of her illness -- she was always cruel. Shebeat me and my brother (he lives far away and hasn't been in contactwith her for 12 years) and attacked us with criticism, blame andname-calling. It was only after years of therapy as an adult that Icame out of the unhappiness of my childhood. I tried to forgive mymother because she had been abandoned by my father -- who probablyleft her because of her mean personality.
Deborah, could you help me with this one?
Mothers. No matter what, there is a profound attachment betweenmother and child. Even as adults, children who had been hurt orneglected by their mothers can run, but they cannot hide from thebond or the anger, love or yearning left in its wake.
Perhaps it is because mothers give us life. Or perhaps it is thefirst attachment we know. In any case, it is clear that your motherhas always been troubled and the relationship between you twodifficult.
You must look deep within to find the right move here. Ignore youraunt's guilt trips as well as your own internal ones. Ponder for whomthese visits take place. Talk to your mother's doctors, nurses andsocial workers at the home, and ask if your visits make her worserather than better. Find out how she behaves with the nursing-homestaff. Also consider asking a relative, your mother's rabbi or aformer neighbor to visit, and find out how she behaves with them aswell. For all you know, your mother would prefer a weekly treat, acard, or photographs of the children to your visits.
In any case, should you decide to continue these visits, whetherweekly or only occasionally, leave the children home with yourhusband except on the very rare occasion.
Finally, if you conclude that these visits are more for you thanyour mother, consider visiting when she is sleeping so that you maytake care of your need without inflicting further pain upon yourself.
My sister is dating a low-life bum, but she is madly in love withhim and is just too naïve to see that he's a gold-digging,obnoxious gigolo. My sister is 66 years old, a widow of three years,and this is the first man she's dated. She was married for more than40 years to a real mensch and has never been with another man.Also, her late husband left her very well-to-do.
This 58-year-old man has been divorced numerous times, has neverdone an honest day's work (he calls himself an entrepreneur), andseems to have no possessions besides a fancy car. He rents a singleapartment in Hollywood. Also, he claims to have no people. Here's aman with no money, no job, no home or no family, and he is chasingafter my naïve sister to marry her and to get his hands on herpot of gold.
I have told her what I think, but she tells me to mind my ownbusiness and that she's big enough to take care of herself. How can Iprotect my poor, unsuspecting sister?
You heard the lady. Mind your own business. You already told herwhat you think. Now she'll have to think for herself, love hard andmaybe lose big. And if you are a good sister, you'll be there for herwhatever happens, with nary an "I told you so."
Who knows? This beau might be the real deal, and, if so, won't youlook like a jealous sibling?
I am writing in response to "Confused Pal," the woman wonderingwhether or not to tell her friend that the man the friend is datingis a "creep" ("The Creep Factor," Sept. 19).
When I was 24 years old, I was incredibly naïve and married aman who turned out to be a sociopath and addict. I had no idea, but acouple of my friends did -- and no one told me.
Of course, the marriage was a quick but painful fiasco. He stolefrom me and my parents, he dragged me through the filth of his life,and he left me in debt. I lost a great deal, learned a lot aboutpeople, stayed single for eight more years, and have been married nowfor 14 years to a great man.
My point is that I wish my friends had told me. I don't knowwhether or not it would have affected my decision to marry, but Iwould have felt cared for, and just maybe that horrible chapter of mylife might never have taken place.
Older and Wiser
Dear Older and Wiser,
Thanks for your feedback on the "Creep Factor" subject.
Yet hindsight is rather beside the point. It is easy, a couple ofdecades after the fact, to believe that you would have felt caredabout by your friends.
Try to think back to just how in love and naïve you were at24 years old. Do you think you would have believed them, or that hadyou believed them, you would have snapped out of love's magic spelland broken it off? That would have been about as easy as stopping araft in a rushing, downhill rapid.
In the end, good judgment comes from experience -- and experiencesoften come from lousy judgment.
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Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angeles psychotherapist.
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