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Unresolved issues with toxic mother now dead

(16 Posts)
mamhaf Tue 11-Nov-08 19:53:15

I've been reading and contributing to the recent toxic parents/in-laws threads here and in AIBU.

Thishasreallyhurtme's two threads about her MIL got me thinking, and talking, to DH about our own, now deceased mothers, who were definitely what you might call toxic parents.

My own mother, who died of cancer five years ago aged 60, found it impossible to have grown-up relationships with anyone, least of all me. She'd had a dreadful childhood and it wouldn't take a psychologist to see how her many problems stemmed from that.

She was jealous of me, and angry because I chose to go my own way in life rather than be dependent on her and my father.

We had some major fallings-out but never sat down and discussed the reasons and tried to find the time I'd gained enough self-confidence as an adult to perhaps think about doing that, she was very ill with cancer.

Her terminal illness and death was, as you can imagine, dreadful. She fought the inevitable until the end. I'd had information from the hospital which neither she nor my father knew about how long she had left - although she did know she was terminally ill.

After she died I had recurrent nightmares where she was alive again, but I knew she was going to die, and in the dreams I couldn't puzzle out how she was still alive yet was still going to die - but only I knew this and she didn't.

These dreams had gone away, or so I thought, until this weekend. On Saturday I dreamt she was alive but going to die; on Sunday I dreamt she was alive, but this time I poured out all I thought was wrong with our relationship - how she couldn't have grown-up relationships etc.

I can't remember how she reacted in the dream.

I thought I'd come to terms with my relationship with her. She'd been ill for several years before she died, so it would have been inappropriate to try to have frank discussions when she was so ill, but these sort of things clearly don't end when someone who caused you misery passes away.

One of the saddest things is that she was a great mother in many ways and I have to make a conscious effort to remember all the good things she did as a mother rather than the negative ones.

Has anyone else experienced anything similar? Have you resolved it, or does it never go away?

Ally90 Tue 11-Nov-08 20:27:05

Can't help here, my mother is still alive though I am not in contact and no intention to be in contact.

What you are going through sounds really awful...would you try councelling? You can still come to terms with your relationship, even if she has passed away and therefore unable to discuss things (so it says in one of my self help books blush). Remember the relationship was 50% her responsibility and 50% your responsibility...You tried to the best of your could do no more.

mamhaf Tue 11-Nov-08 20:33:22

thanks Ally - yes, I thought of counselling, but tbh I don't know that it's affecting me enough to want to give up time to do that (2 dds, ft job, sick father and elderly grandmother).

It might be a route I'll go down in the future. I hardly ever have the dreams now, but they came back this weekend because I'd been thinking and talking about her a lot.

Ally90 Tue 11-Nov-08 20:55:28

Hmm lost a post then...! Sounds like you have a lot on your plate at the you feel this is something that you can push to the back of your mind until the present busyness has passed? If you do then it may be best option for now. But if it is unresolved in your mind it will keep coming back to you. Maybe make space for councelling when you have time in the future?

lilacclaire Wed 12-Nov-08 01:04:16

Oh, I hate talking about this, but hopefully I can help a little.
Had a LOT of issues with my father, who died from cancer, I never found the courage to confront him about the past.
We couldn't have resolved it after diagnosis anyway, as it was in his brain and he didn't know what day of the week it was a lot of the time.
What has helped me is FORGIVENESS. I can't emphasise how much it has helped me to realise that my dad was not perfect and probably didn't know how to be a great parent (who does)?! And that his mistakes that were just that, mistakes.
You said your mum was a great mum in other ways, so she obviously loved you, I have no doubt my dad loved me, they just sucked a bit at the parenting.
Anyway, I have forgiven and let go of the past by realising none of us are perfect.

arabella2 Wed 12-Nov-08 10:04:51

Hi mamhaf
My mother died of cancer as well, 2 years and 2 months ago now. We also had unresolved issues, at least I think we did, which we never really discussed.... she also was a good mother in lots and lots of ways, it's just that I found her very difficult to talk to (in that she couldn't just listen, she would always be telling you that what you were thinking was kind of not right), quite bossy, very into formalities and appearances.... it sounds like nothing but it all meant that I was very distant from her, though we did see each other and she saw my children a lot, at a time when she could have done with me being a lot closer. I'm not proud of some of the things which I said to her but at the same time she sometimes behaved in a way which I found wrong eg. the time when my first ds, then a baby, was really ill with flu, I was pregnant with dd no.2, dh was ill and I was slightly ill. I really needed my parents to be around so they stayed longer (they lived abroad at the time) - however ds never once went and sat with them because he was feeling so ill, he was glued to me. She was really resentful of this and kind of made comments along the lines of why would her and my dad be there then, she totally did not see that I might just need their presence at a very stressful time. (However on the subsequent visit she did say "he just wanted his mother"). I used to kind of be scared of her sulks because she would do this if she thought you were not behaving up to scratch. This said however she was very loyal and if I was finding things difficult she would always arrange to come and visit (which is much more than my dad does now - he has gone off to live somewhere else near one of my mother's best friends that he is infatuated with). However somehow the way I behaved towards her was never good enough and so we got lost in this kind of her wanting more and more and I don't know what and me withdrawing because of the pressure. The last week of her life nobody really realised she was so near the end (though in retrospect I think we should have) so she was abroad with my Dad and I did not see her. I would have been VERY scared to see her in such a state but I think if I had been more loving towards her I would have been by her side a lot more (though it was also hard because my 3rd child was only 5 months old at the time). I don't know how you deal with these things, sometimes I think I have got off scot free and in a sense I should be paying for the things which I said which I know were wrong (being rude or behaving impatiently or just not talking). It now feels as if I walk the planet without her now until my time comes as well.... I think it's difficult to come to terms with just how short life is and just how much today really matters - today and all your behaviour towards other people on that day. My dad and sister have never acknowledged how controlling my mum could be which kind of makes it worse but my dh could see it. However she was larger than life, very affectionate and kind of emotional and I think in lots of ways I just couldn't accept her character - and also there was still that slightly being scared of authority figure thing. Anyway mamhaf, I don't know if this is similar to your situation and I hope if you have actually read this far you have not fallen asleep. Just to say that I really know about the silence after somebody's death and the regrets about how things could have been. On the other hand sometimes I think that is all we were capable of at the time and if she was still here we would both be a lot more mature with each other. In the last 6 months of her life things seemed better but maybe she was just too tired. I just wish I had gone to see her where she lived during her last summer but instead she came here to see all of us and I find it difficult to forgive my own selfishness.

Kewcumber Wed 12-Nov-08 10:13:17

mamhaf - I have no father to speak of now though he was a great father growing up (so in some ways not disimilar to you). He's in his 70's now and I just know that I'm going to have the same issues as you when he eventually dies.

What I have found helpful is NOT to try to remember the good things about him but to be honest with myself. To remember the good AND the bad - ie the person that he really is not the one he appeared to be all those years ago.

To just try to understand that he just isn;t able to be the father I want and there is really nothing to be doen aboout that as it would require him to be a different person which I can;t do anything about.

Struggling to come to terms with your mothers death is much more a reflection of you as a person I beleive. Taht you are a person who wanted a good relationship with your mother and regrets not having it, that you grieve for that relationship that you will never have the chance to have (though in reality you were never going to have it, death does rather scupper even the possibility beyond all reasonable doubt doesn't it!).

IMVHO - it refelcts well on you that you are struggling with this as its "normal", shedding such baggage without a backward glance would (again IMVHO) be far less healthy.

ginnny Wed 12-Nov-08 10:21:48

I think counselling would help you mamhaf. You can get 6 sessions free on the NHS.
My father was about as toxic as it gets, an alcoholic who was incredibly cruel to me as a child. When he died all the stuff I thought was long since buried in my head came to the surface and I thought I was going to go mad with it all.
I had counselling and it helped me to just put it all to rest. I still think about him from time to time, and remember both the good and bad things, but now I don't dwell on it and its helped me to understand him : he never should have had children, he just wasn't cut out to be a father, I know he loved me in his own screwed up way and despite it all I loved him too.
I hope this makes sense to you, counselling will clear your mind and help you to come to terms with everything.

Wigglesworth Wed 12-Nov-08 11:26:31

Oh my Mamhaf and Arrabella, I have the same relationship with my mother. I never realised it until a few months ago just after I had my DS. I have never felt like I could talk to her about stuff cos she would judge me, boss me, criticize me or tell me that I am stubborn if I didn't do things the way she wanted (still does those things to this day). I too think she is jealous of my independence and my life and is in many ways childish.
I remember one incident when I was 17, she found an empty morning after pill packet I had hidden under my bed. I had a boyfriend of six months at the time and we had only just started to have sex, we did use protection but it split etc. Taking it made me really ill, all of which I hid from her cos I knew what she would say. She confronted me and instead of lending a sympathetic ear she told me how disappointed she was in me and that she couldn't believe I would be having sex (she's not religious or anything, for the record she got up the duff with my brother and was made to get married). She then promptly told me that I would be going on the pill. She didn't tell me how responsible I was for seeking help and sorting it out, she didn't sympathise and tell me that I never have to go through that alone and that I should have come and talked to her about it.
My mother fortunately is still here, I know what your saying because I too love her very much and she does care and wants to help me. In a way I blame myself for letting her control me and criticize me and not telling her to piss off but she has a temper (not violent just shouty) and I could never be bothered with the hassel. Sorry I am waffling on now and taking over the post but I just wanted to say that reading all these posts has made me realise that I need to sort this out before it's too late.

Acinonyx Wed 12-Nov-08 12:42:01

My mother also died of cancer 5 years ago and we had a lot of unresolved issues. I always knew this was going to be a problem. I did occaisionally try to talk through things but she had quite a temper and was very irrational in her thinking and hard to talk to.

It comes and goes. I think it does get easier with time, but then something will make me brood on it and it can become overwheming again. Then there is the guilt of course , for not managing to have a better relationship once I became a responsible adult. I consider her to have had diminished responsiblity - but I didn't - what was my excuse? I am somewhat obsessed with the whole question of free will and responsibility, as a consequence of my family experiences.

The thing that tends to rake the past up over and over is having dd. The study of history is largely an effort to safeguard the future by understanding the past. In that respect, it is necessary to have some insight into these problems even if you cannot out them right.

RantinEminor Wed 12-Nov-08 13:28:19

hello - my mother died of cancer almost 10 years ago. I really recognize what you are saying. Funnily enough, I have just this week finished a course of counselling which has finally helped me to come to terms with my relationship with my mother. It has taken me all this time to face the relationship, unpick it and finally make peace with it. I would really recommend that you consider counselling for yourself.

Good luck.

toomanystuffedbears Wed 12-Nov-08 18:19:57

mamhaf-(((hugs)))I really don't know, but I'll guess and say I doubt things would have been different if you had told someone. Is this the center point of your turmoil?

arabella2-Your mom sounds like what was described as a "covert narcissist" in the book called Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary

lilacclaire-I agree with can be tricky though and isn't for every circimstance.

I think one of the keys to healing and dealing with these issues is to find what field of play you are on. For me, I had to find the truth that my mother simply did not love me (perhaps could not love me) as she was bi-polar and an alcoholic. She passed on in 1980 when I was 18. I had to recognize that yes, I had a toxic mother (I was shocked to learn that I did not have an ideal childhood-I alwasy thought it was fine). Her ridiculing and dismissiveness led me to hide my feelings which developed into me not having feelings. I was lucky, though, in having access to self-therapy in horseback riding, swimming, and believe it or not back then-martial arts (I was the only girl in the class). I had self-esteem in my own accomplishments. But as an adult I did not have those activities and slipped into dystemic state-not quite depressed but have a very low baseline for living. My narcissistic Middle Sister treats me the way she was taught to treat me by mother, ie: used me for her superority fix. That perpetuated and made things worse for me...(until I got pg and found MN! grin).

So my suggestion is to try to find what was going on with your mom/parent. Study up on personality disorders and see if any ring bells for you. That will help immeasurably in explaining things. NPD-narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder-is sort of a mix of a bunch of different things...and especially check out Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome if your parent was a heavy drinker (whether identified as alcoholic or not). Reading 'Toxic Parents' wouldn't hurt and "The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists" is also recommended.

I wrote an essay for earlybird last Feb? about toxic parents being ill/passing on. It may not be relevant to you but here is the link (cross fingers-first link attempt):
Look at this page .

Take care and it is a long process. I do believe that grief will never go away unless it is dealt with (ignoring it is not a long term solution).

toomanystuffedbears Wed 12-Nov-08 18:23:44

blush every circumstance...TMSB trying to type with dd2 on her lap.

Better go play wink.

imnotmamagbutshelovesme Wed 12-Nov-08 18:30:57

I had a complex and awful upbringing but from 18 I had a relationship with my Nana. It was mostly good but we had our moments. She then betrayed me but as she was dying of cancer I could never have had it out with her. I am left feeling angry with her, angry with my MIL who has also betrayed me and worried about what might happen with my birth mother. Stuck all round really.

arabella2 Wed 12-Nov-08 21:32:24

hi again
just to say that thinking about it, I don't think it appropriate that I write about my mother on a thread about toxic parents..... as we were growing up she was totally great and totally present - maybe a bit over protective. I related to this thread because she died without us having discussed the fact that during the last 10 years of her life our relationship was definitely quite difficult, but this doesn't make her toxic - maybe it makes me toxic!
Sorry, this is out of kilter with all the other postings by people who feel very sad about their upbringing, but I felt I had to say it as my mother might read from the hereafter and get really upset!

mamhaf Wed 12-Nov-08 22:17:15

Thanks everyone, some very good support here.

I haven't read everything carefully, but I'll go through the comments in more detail when I don't have dh buzzing around and dds up and about! I need to get them off to bed.

I'll definitely read up on personality disorders as I think that'll be a help.

Counselling would be a good idea, but I honestly don't have the time to spare for it just now - I've just come back from visiting my dad in hospital; one of my dds is recovering from an injury and I don't feel the problem is affecting my life to such a degree to make it essential to sort out now - although it is something I'd love to resolve.

Hugs to all of you who've gone through similar situations - losing someone is very hard whatever your relationship was with them.

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