So far from my former home

Jan 18 2011 Published by under Life, Uncategorized

[I had hoped to get the first post in my promised Beer 501 series by now, but life intervened. Hopefully later this week...]

One of, if not the hardest part of having settled in a country the opposite side of the globe from the land of my origin, is being so far from family and friends. This becomes particularly difficult when it comes to life events. Last year I couldn't attend the christening of my nephew. That sucked. Illness and deaths are the worst. I had to miss the funeral of an uncle of whom I was particularly fond. And now my mother's health is deteriorating.

I feel guilty for not being there.

As far as anyone can tell she's not about to kick the bucket. On the contrary, being the paranoid cantankerous old battle-axe that she is, I suspect she's made it her life's goal to hang around as long as possible to a) find out who is to blame for everything* and b) make the lives of her caregivers as miserable as possible. And that's the rub. The caregiver's right now are primarily my sister and her husband.** It's that they are taking the brunt of all this that makes me feel most guilty. One of my brothers also lives in the US, and our other brother lives about 260 miles from my mother. My sister lives but a few blocks from her...

My mother is a difficult woman. I'm not close to her. I used to try, but in the end I got tired of being pushed away. In many ways this is "pushing away" is a form of abuse.*** After a couple of months in this country I came to realize I needed to be far away from her. Not really the kind of epiphany you want to have about a parent.

If there's one thing she's really, really good at it's this pushing people away. Unfortunately this is a skill that she chooses to practice most when she really needs help. Yes, yes, I know it's a cry for help. I feel guilty about that too. But my mother has raised pushing people away to an art form. How do you help someone who refuses to be helped?

Her health has deteriorated to the point that soon she will need to be moved into some kind of assisted living facility. She has made it clear that that will only happen over her dead body. Oh joy.

* Did I mention her paranoia?
** According to my mother they're currently the ones to blame. For everything.
*** I know I'm not giving sufficient detail for you to decide whether or not this is the case, but trust me, it is.

10 responses so far

  • Goose says:


  • pika says:

    I totally get this. My father developed Alzheimer's since I have moved away in pursuit of my PhD and subsequently academic position. My (also aging) mother and sister are his caretakers while I sit in my cushy academic chair half a continent away.

    I wrote about this on my blog several times, but I haven't found a way out of these feelings, unfortunately, so if you figure out how to make the guilt go away, let me know...

  • Gerty-Z says:

    That really sucks, dude. I have nothing useful to say, but I hope that you (and your brother) find a way to come to terms with this.

  • My parents aren't quite at this point (yet) but their health is declining. Scares the hell out of me, particularly being so far away and knowing that (1) I would not be able to get home in less than about 36 hours and (2) ongoing care will either have to be managed by my sibling or my moving halfway around the world.

    I also missed the funerals of an uncle, grandmother and two of my friends' parents. That sucked.

  • Distance can be one of the crappy things about scientific life. Even being a couple to several states away when there is illness or death is difficult, and the guilt seems to remain even when rationally you know this is how it is. Sorry to hear about this tough time 🙁

  • M says:

    You have no idea how alone you are not.

    Cherish the distance. You could live in the same house as your mother, wait on her hand and foot and be the most helpful child and it wouldn't be enough. She would treat you as she would if you were living half a globe away. Having been pushed away and pulled back all my life like a now-broken yoyo, I know what this is emotionally like on a child.

    I feel guilty and cry a lot over this. And, in the end, nothing changes, except that I am more miserable. So the only thing I can control is how I feel towards the situation. I'm not completely there, but for the most part, I've decided on letting other people own their feelings and demands. This is not the absence of love; instead, it grows love for yourself and keeps you from perpetrating the cycle on the next generation. It also sends the message to certain folks that their behavior and emotional abuse will not be tolerated, while their physical pain is understood and cared for. Guilt is poison.

    Like I said, by no means am I completely there yet. But, I know I have to, before the role of victim consumes me and the people around me.

  • BrooksPhD says:

    I feel your pain bro. I am modestly close to my family, but I understand the pros and cons of being far, far from home. Right now my finances preclude me from travelling even, if I needed to ,and that scares the crap out of me. My dad is very healthy, but 78 yers old. He's on the wrong side of the bell curve now and it's frightening. Plus uncle has cancer, and I've already missed my aunt's funeral a couple of years ago.

  • Odyssey says:

    Thanks guys. I know I'm not the only one and that there are many in far worse positions than mine.

  • JollyRoger says:

    Well worded bro......I notice she is still pushing the 'guilt' button in you as well!

  • mouthfulofpancake says:

    I like your thinking M.
    She has certainly got the pushing away thing down pat! Distance can be a good thing. It makes you take in the whole picture for what it is. You shouldn't feel guilty. Even if you live around the corner it doesn't mean that you can be there for everything that happens. And if you live your life thinking that you can be then you aren't living much of a life. It was really good catching up with the three of you the other night. It really made a big difference to me.