A Not Uncommon Dilemma

By Margo Howard

March 9, 2012 4 min read

Dear Margo: I am the only child of a 92-year-old mother. She's growing increasingly feeble, mentally and physically, and wants me to promise I'll never put her in a nursing home. I told her I would do everything humanly possible to keep her out of one, but I could not promise "never" because I don't know what will happen in the next few years. Mom came unglued. She told me I was a horrible daughter, selfish, ungrateful — you get the picture.

I still take care of her in her own home, but our relationship is now tense. What am I supposed to do? I am 50 and twice divorced with no children. I have to work to support myself, and I worry about having enough money for retirement. It's hard juggling everything as it is. I basically have no life outside of her and my job. I don't know how I would care for her 24 hours a day and still maintain my own physical and mental health.

I know what brought this on. Her 85-year-old brother recently developed full-blown Alzheimer's and was put in a nursing home. He's going downhill fast, and Mom attributes it to being in the home — not his age, not the Alzheimer's. She has decided they could have cared for him at home if they'd wanted to. Should I ignore my principles and promise Mom I will never put her in a home, and then renege if it's necessary? — Ramona

Dear Ram: My feelings about situations like this are that an aged person with the mental flag at half-mast is not in a position to extract promises of this nature. (I am also in favor of ignoring requests of the dying that the spouse never marry again, or that a daughter never sell the family home, etc.) I think when you're gone, you don't get a vote.

In your mother's situation, while I am sympathetic to the wish to remain at home, her thinking is not what you'd call clear, and her wishes should not be granted at the expense of your well-being. You have no sibs to help, limited resources and half of your life ahead of you. You sound heroic as it is. I would tell her what she wants to hear to keep her calm, but hope you do not sacrifice your life at the altar of a woman who has already lived longer than most people. — Margo, protectively

Expressions of Sympathy

Dear Margo: I recently suffered a miscarriage and am finding it difficult to deal with the "support" from family and friends who call and text. I hear things like "It happened for the best" or "It's nature's way of saying the baby wasn't healthy" or "This must be like when I had a pill-induced abortion." And this really got my goat: "My arthritis feels much worse than your cramping." Some of these things I know are true, and yet hearing them doesn't make me feel better, because they just want me to be over it, and I'm not. All parties want the best for me, and I am probably overly sensitive now. I do know that my family and friends are not being malicious, but I could live without some of these comments. — Trying To Recover

Dear Try: It is a truism that people often say dumb things with the best of intentions. It is difficult to know what to say sometimes. Try to cut them some slack, and tell yourself they want to be sympathetic but are just incapable of knowing how to pull it off. (As for the self-involved arthritis sufferer, well, solipsists are hopeless — because everything is all about them — so let that one go.) Make an effort to filter out the non-helpful remarks, and tell yourself that everyone calling is wishing you well, if clumsily. — Margo, comprehendingly

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers' daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at www.creators.com/dearmargo. Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.

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