Hey Jude

Hey Jude,

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last month.  I know it’s terrible and I feel bad for her, but I haven’t had a proper relationship with her in a very long time, so I don’t really know what to do or how to feel.  My aunts and uncles and cousins keep ringing me to see how she is doing and asking if there’s anything we need.  But honestly, although I rang her to say I was sorry to hear the news,  I haven’t met her and don’t intend to either, my father is her carer.  Am I terrible?  I feel really bad but I just can’t be in her presence and feel too much has happened.  She has hurt me so much over the years.  Don’t know how to deal with this.



HI Deirdre,

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I am sorry to hear of your mother’s diagnosis, and subsequently what you are going through because of it.  It is so hard when a family member is diagnosed with cancer, and it’s not always for the obvious reasons people think.  Sometimes, like in your case, it can be difficult to feel sympathy for this person if we are estranged from them.  It brings up an array of mixed feelings about the entire relationship and of course, can stir up feelings of guilt and confusion.

First off, with regard to your relatives, it sounds like they are not aware of the extent of the breakdown in your relationship with your mother.  And to be honest, it’s none of their business either.  Of course they will be concerned, and will be asking you for updates etc, in this scenario, it will help you if you say very clearly that you don’t have all the information, and you feel it would be better to speak with your father, her carer, to see if there’s anything she needs.  Keep it short and concise, and remember that although it may seem awkward, if you don’t feel ready to discuss anything further with them, then that is ok too.  You will need time to process this and figure out what is best for you.

In relation to your mother, I’m glad to hear that you phoned her about her diagnosis.  Although your relationship is clearly very strained, it is important to acknowledge the reality and severity of the situation, for both her and you.  This is important because when someone we are estranged from becomes ill, it changes the reality, and gives us the opportunity to decide if we want to reconnect with that person or not.  To be honest, it sounds to me that you haven’t fully decided yet.  Although you say that you don’t intend to meet her, at the same time you say you feel terrible and feel really bad.  She must have hurt you very deeply.

Of course the past is history, and neither of you can undo the hurts, but what you can do is make a healthy, considered decision going forward.  I would really urge you to explore this with a therapist, and because your mother is ill, there is an element of time constraint.  I don’t know her prognosis, but it is vital that if you are unsure about how you want to relate with her going forward, you take the time to figure it out now, rather than wait.

Take time to process this, and you will figure out what is best for you, rather than listening to the advice from others about what they think is the best thing.  Only you can weigh up the importance of your relationship with your mother, and it is only you that will have to be at peace with whatever you decide, when the day comes that she is no longer here.