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I will not be mean like my mother when I get old!

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From Another Era: Moms Lie

I will not be mean like my mother when I get old!

Dee* is outside a Barnes and Noble bookstore soliciting signatures for a political initiative when she intercepts me leaving the store. She and her husband, Peter, have been investment clients since the early 1990s. I assisted them with long-term care issues for her father during his last days at which time I became closely acquainted with her mother, Maureen.

Maureen is a handful. Her meanness affects other family interactions.

Dee and Peter are sensible, civic-minded citizens who participate in local politics without financial gain. Now in their 60s, Dee and Peter married young and started their family immediately. Their two children are nearing their 40s and beginning to show mature concern for their parents.

Dee tells of her daughter, Silvia, hesitatingly approaching her about delicate end-of-life issues. She was very tactful, but she said she had realized that she did not know anything about our finances or legal matters. At first I was a little taken back, but then I said to myself Hey, dont act like Mother. Then I realized I was glad that our daughter cared about us. I showed her the drawer in my desk where we keep everything and told her to go there when the time came. She was relieved that I trusted her enough to tell her these things.

However, her daughter does have one strict requirement. She said to me, You must promise not to go before Grandma does. There is no way I could handle Grandma!

Dee is Grandma Maureens primary caretaker. As Dee talks of her troubles dealing with a woman she characterizes as hateful, a mixture of wearied emotions play across her face. Because I am her financial advisor with years of experience dealing with elderly clients, I am to Dee a safe listener, an understanding listener who will not judge her badly as she vents her seething frustration about her mothers selfish, short-sighted and demanding behavior.

On the one hand Mother is very independent and does not want help. But on the other hand, she wants tons of pity, Dee explains, Much of it centering on her medical treatment.

Dee tells of accompanying Mother to a recent doctors visit. Unfortunately, Mother does not hear as well as she should, but she is too stubborn to admit she has hearing problems. The doctors comments about MRI photos of her spine I see some old damage but nothing too terrible that would require back surgery comes out of Mothers mouth on the drive home as Well, Ill have to have back surgery now!

Dee recreates her reaction to her moms statement What?! What did I miss? to which her Mother answered: The doctor said my back was terrible and I would need back surgery.

Maureen has good health insurance that allows her to see different doctors. While such coverage is normally a good thing, for Dee it becomes a complication and burden. When Maureens primary physician said Mother was doing okay and to come back in a month for a checkup, Maureen took his instructions as rejection. Dee scrunches her face and sticks out her lower lip in imitation of her Mother: Imagine that doctor not wanting to see me for an entire month!

Apparently Maureen complained about her heartless doctor to her elderly friends, who set an appointment for her with a new doctor in town. Of course neither Mother nor her friends bothered to tell Dee until the new doctor ran all the same tests the previous doctor had run and came to a similar conclusion: Maureen was going to live.

Its so sad because my mother could enjoy so many things these last years of her life, Dees voice is tinged with disbelief, She has a great-granddaughter who is a wonderful little girl. Her parents work differing schedules so one of them is with her all the time. This makes their weekends special, when the three of them can function as a family together. They live in _____, (she names a city two and one-half hours drive distant) They are busy with their lives there and so they dont come up here very often. They have invited Mother down to stay overnight. They have a room for her. But she wont go. Dee adopts an officious attitude and speaks with a snippy tone, mocking her mother. They are supposed to come see me, Im not going down there to see them. She reverts to her normal voice. Several years ago she wrote them a letter, saying she had bought a nice present for Easter for their daughter, but since they didnt come up to see her, she took it back to the store. Dee recounts the story sadly, shaking her head.

Clearly, taking care of Mother drains Dee. As I listen to her stories, I wonder if the worry lines on her face would be less pronounced if she turned her back on her mothers complaining and self-centered behavior. But I know that is not a choice for Dee. She is the Responsible Daughter, the one who will fulfill her familial responsibility, whatever the amount of misery extracted.

However, Dee believes one positive result will come out of her sufferings. I will not be mean like my mother when I get old! she states emphatically. She does not want to inflict pain and misery on them, but she also has a selfish reason: She does not want to miss moments of happiness with her family that she believes she can enjoy even to her very last days.

*names changed

Robert J Cullen

April 2004

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