Not My Job to Save Her: Watching a Parent Grieve

Sad senior Asian womenLosing my dad gave way to grief, the overwhelming life I lived for an entire year—a year of details I can barely recall. I was thrust into this whirlwind of a life that I had no control over, and the fog was just so thick. I couldn’t think, concentrate, breathe, or find my ‘happy’. I needed to get out, and I did. I stepped away from the excessive sadness, trying to move on and do what was best for me.

I realized I couldn’t fix her; I could take control of myself. So I moved on. You have to. I realized so many things, but most importantly: LIFE is a gift, and I wasn’t going to waste another year of my life lost in the fog while my husband and children just waited for it to lift. It was up to me. It was hard then, and it’s still hard. I speak of the decision to take a step back, let go, and let my mother find her own way through the grief of losing her husband, my dad.

Guilt. There is a lot of guilt. She’s my mother. She’s alone. Then there is anger, because—you know what? She’s not really alone; she chooses to be alone. She’s the one who shut everyone out. It’s a constant struggle between guilt and anger. I feel guilty for being angry, and then angry for having to feel this constant guilt. I love her, but she’s gone. She’s my mother, but she’s not the same. I’ve lost her, too. I lost her when I lost him, and as time passes it’s not getting better —just more evident that she can’t live without him. Then there is sadness, because how can I not be enough of a reason to go on? How can she look at her own child and grandchildren yet not want to fight for this life?

I just want my family back. I wish every day this didn’t happen. I wish everyday for my old life back, to hear my dad’s voice, to see my mom happy, and for me to feel secure in the fact that I had parents who would take care of me even though I was an adult. I want my kids to feel loved, and not always have to dwell on the fact my dad’s passing changed their grandmother. I want them to see her happy on special occasions, instead of always bearing witness to her crying. I want them to know, feel, and understand the heartache of death but also realize that there are 100 more reasons to live and go on.

We had a great relationship that was fun and loving. Now I’m taking care of her, guiding her, worrying, and making decisions. I feel it changing.

We have always been so close. Mother and daughter, yes, but also friends. We had a great relationship that was fun and loving. Now I’m taking care of her, guiding her, worrying, and making decisions. I feel it changing. She’s bitter, negative, unable to make a simple decision, and incomprehensible. She says she tries, but “trying” isn’t going to a therapy session and then taking the pills they prescribe with wine. Trying isn’t isolating herself from her family and friends. Trying isn’t drinking at home alone. “Trying” isn’t asking for advice, yet not taking it. “Trying” is doing what’s right, what’s healthy, and what’s in the best interest not only for herself, but for her family.

It’s been three and a half years of this. It’s exhausting. It’s sad and it’s hard. It’s hard to live and it’s hard to watch. It’s hard being 39 years old and suddenly not having parents. It’s hard being an adult and watching your “young” surviving parent age 10 years in three years. It’s hard to talk this way about your own mother. It’s hard for me because I realize from a medical standpoint she has depression; however, the steps she takes in her life are not always in the direction of recovery, or reaching toward finding her capabilities to cope with this loss. Her life isn’t over; there is so much love left in her life, yet she’s drowning. And I will not—cannot—drown with her.

I will always be there for her. I will always love her. I will always try to guide her toward the light and out of the thick fog I was once in. But I finally realized it’s not my job to save her. It’s hers.

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  • Carol

    Carol

    June 28th, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    Very heartbreaking. I went thru the same thing with my mom when my dad died and even though I realized pretty early on that this was going to be her challenge to overcome it still made me feel very guilty to make me realize that this wasn’t something that I could ultimately do for her. I could stand by her, yes, but the getting over that grief was her own personal journey.

  • Tabitha

    Tabitha

    June 28th, 2015 at 5:54 PM

    I’m sorry but how is this not your job?
    Don’t you think about all of the things she has done for you over the years and think that there is no way that you could ever repay her or make it up to her?
    Doesn’t she deserve more than that?

  • Donna M.

    Donna M.

    June 29th, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    I think the author has made every attempt at helping her mom beyond this sorrow, but mom is just not responding. We can always do all we can to help our loved ones through difficult times, but we can’t make them FEEL something they are not ready to accept. We all have the power to overcome negative feelings, but some of us have a harder time realizing we can take control of our sadness by CHOOSING to see the positives in our lives, while we carry the memories that made those lost loved ones so precious to us. It’s really difficult to offer a loved one every reason to keep living, and watch them choose to be consumed by a loss.

  • Amanda D.

    Amanda D.

    June 29th, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    It’s obvious from your hurtful comment that you’ve probably never gone through a similar situation. Have some compassion. It is the hardest decision in life to make, to walk away from the person (or people) who gave you life.

  • Corey

    Corey

    June 29th, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    She is sad and lost. Any of us would be after losing our mate. Could you encourage her to stay involved with doing things that she likes, making new connections with other people who may could help support her and comfort her when you need a little time for you?

  • Donna M.

    Donna M.

    June 29th, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    It’s so sad that your mom doesn’t realize the absolute GIFT it was, to have lived a life with a man who loved her so, that she misses him so terribly now that he’s gone. So many people are not so fortunate, and I speak from a difficult experience. As much as you want to let her grieve in her own way, it may be time to bring some tough love, and let her know that by choosing to isolate herself in her grief, she is robbing you and your children of the parent (and grandparent) that remains. I pray she realizes there is so much more life to live, and she finds a way to take control of her broken heart.

  • Amanda D.

    Amanda D.

    June 29th, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    I went through the same thing with my mother. I didn’t lose my dad in the same way you did… He was my step dad, and he didn’t die… He left, for another woman. Then my mother fell down a flight of stairs and broke her ribs. Her life literally feel apart. And it broke my mother. I tried for a year to help her but her addictions only got stronger, and they were there before the 6 new prescriptions, so it went from bad… To unbearable. I became the caregiver. I literally bathed her. I did everything. I flunked out of college, I know my son felt neglected… It was hard. She was incoherent most of the time. She could make the drive to the liquor store, but not the grocery stores, so I did most of her shopping. After spending all the insurance money (from the stair fall) and losing her house, I tried one more time to help her… But I found that in the end, the only way to help her was to stop doing it all for her. It has been 5 years. We still don’t speak. There’s more to that story, but jeez, I’ve written a novel. I just wanted to say… I understand. Sometimes you have to steep back. You have to take care of yourself, and your family. It doesn’t mean she’s not worthy, but as you said, if she’s drowning, she’ll only pull you down too. I’m so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you. 💖

  • Author

    Author

    June 29th, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    I am the Author and I can not help but respond. I have tried everything. I have and still support her in this process. We’ve gone to therapy, doctors appointments, traveled and I include her in everything. However, there comes a point where she has to figure it out. I would never let anything happen to her and I haven’t hung her out to dry by any means but after almost 4 years she needs to decide the best way to heal and find the light. I can’t save her, she has to find the way for herself and a way for her life to go on.

  • Kmae

    Kmae

    June 29th, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    At some point the tables usually turn and most children become their parents caretaker in a way. I am sorry this happened to you at a fairly young age. I do think it’s important to remember that your mother will be different from now on, and to let go of your own notions of how things should be, at least as well as you expect her to do the same. Maybe meet in the middle, perhaps hearing there are many more things to live for in life is a trigger, considering she has lost the love of her life, the person who also gave you life. He can’t go on living, so how can she enjoy something she feels she should be enjoying with him? Maybe being with the family they created together, that wouldn’t be in existence without their love, feels different in a hard way for her now that your dad is gone? Perhaps she would benefit from not having expectations put on her. I understand it has been almost 4 years, but learning to live after your other half is no longer living can take quite a long time. And it is hard to be told life is in fact a gift when it doesn’t feel that way anymore. Spouses often deal with survivors guilt. I understand the Author is also venting but it does sound as if you have a lot of expectations and are willing to consider both your parents dead if they aren’t met. Plus fault finding and woe is me. I do not set out to offend but maybe if you see your own pain first, you might learn not to resent your mothers.

  • Terrence

    Terrence

    June 29th, 2015 at 4:50 PM

    Maybe I am the one who is all messed up but I sense that there is something very wrong with the whole idea that we have to let her figure this out for herself. Hasn’t she always cared for you and done what she can for you? This is your turn to do the same for her. I don’t think that she is going to drag you down with her if you have made your own peace about this, and that just assures that you are actually strong enough to deal with her pain and yours. She needs that strength , and I am sorry, but I just think that you owe that to her.

  • Dana

    Dana

    June 29th, 2015 at 6:44 PM

    It’s your job, your responsibility, to take care of your mother during this terrible time. Just like how she took care of you for years when you couldn’t navigate the world, it’s your duty to return the favor. Have some compassion for someone that lost her other half. Nothing will ever be the same, stop trying to force it to be.

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