Care and Feeding

I Can’t Stand Spending Time With My Grieving Mother

I want to support her, but it’s so tiring being this on edge.

Two people sit together with their heads hung.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

My dad died recently after a long serious illness. He was young, and my mom was his full-time caretaker for almost two years. It was especially hard for her because he was in cognitive decline for most of that time. Now he’s gone, she’s alone and grieving. I want to help and support her, but I’m finding that hard because she’s gotten mean. She talks about how friends who call and text are annoying and harassing her, but friends who don’t call or text are cruel and uncaring. If people do visit, she often tries to picks fights with them, or waits until they leave so she can say nasty stuff about them. I even overheard her badmouthing my husband, who has done literally hours of work on the death paperwork so she doesn’t have to, by implying he only did it because he wants to get his hands on my inheritance.

I want to support her because she really is torn apart by grief right now, and I can see she’s finding it hard to cope. But it’s so tiring being on edge for whatever mean thing she’ll say next, and I’m also wondering what she says about me when I’m not around.  What can I do to make this better?

— Also Grieving

Dear Also Grieving, 

It sounds like being your father’s in-home primary caretaker took a significant toll on your mother. She’s likely been mourning the version of him that was healthy and familiar to her for the entirety of his illness, and there’s no way of knowing how that has affected how she perceives and engages with the other people in her life.

Rather than trying to tackle what sounds like a very complex grief response while you’re also navigating the loss of your dad, try finding a few new therapeutic activities for your mother to try. If you’re financially able, plan a trip for her or enroll her in a senior arts or exercise class. Try to provide her opportunities to be near people who don’t remind her—for better or worse—of the life she shared with her husband. Though you can’t control what she’ll say or do to friends and family, you can encourage her to spend more time with herself, trying to figure out how to be more at peace within.

—Stacia

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