This isn’t going to be a popular opinion. I’m not here to get you angry. If you don’t want to read about carees who are emotionally abusive, skip this post.

Why is it somehow acceptable for people who need caregivers to be emotionally abusive?

Some care recipients have had strokes, dementia, or TBIs alter their behavior. Inappropriate behavior with a medical cause is not what I’m talking about.

Some people are just assholes.

My mother wasn’t the best parent, but she took care of me. Not like some other parents. I had a good childhood.

We were never close when I was young and we weren’t close once I was an adult. It was clear she favored my brother, but so many parents do. We did the obligatory parent/child things. Spent the holidays together.

I avoiding spending much time with her, because I found her to be a toxic person in my life. I didn’t need her criticisms of my weight, my choice of life partners, how I raise my own children. I have a happy marriage and children who are doing well and love me, but she was never happy with us. She made her disapproval known, not only to me, but to anyone within ear shot.

If she wasn’t pointing out my faults and failures, she was boasting about my brother. It always struck me as curious, since he’s usually in-between jobs, struggling with his drinking, and breaking up with his latest girlfriend. But this was just something I needed to accept and I did my best.

My brother calls me when he needs money. Or every year or two for bail money. But mostly he and I are both fine to live our very different lives. I wonder what our relationship would be like if she hadn’t coddled him while belittling me, but I do my best not to waste time thinking about it. It’s just a way to understand and accept why my brother and I were never close. He grew up being told I was a failure, how could he feel any differently?

My husband and friends all seemed to understand that while I didn’t want to cut my mother out of my life, I needed to keep my distance. Rather than being a source of support and wisdom, like some mom in a Hallmark card, she was a source of stress and self-loathing.

Few of us have Hallmark card families. I’m certainly not the only one with a strained relationship with a parent. It made me sad sometimes, but it was just one thing in a very full, complex life. I’d learned to accept it, as much as I felt I ever could.

And then my mom got cancer.

I’d worried about what would happen when she got old. I kind of knew it’d fall on me, but I’d planned for this by saving for both of our retirements. I anticipated writing cheques and managing paperwork when the time came. I had a good decade — or three — before I’d need to hire home health aides and companions and whoever else. Plenty of time to save. Plus, she has savings of her own.

Getting cancer at 50 was not part of this plan.

I guess it’s just as well, since she refuses to accept help from anyone but me. Why? Because she says it’s my responsibility.

She tells her friends, her pastor, anyone who asks that she’s just fine. She doesn’t need any help. She tells my brother not to worry about her.

She demands I move in with her. I agreed to stay with her while we was recovering from surgery and going through chemo. I wouldn’t have wanted to go through that alone.

Oh, if only I’d thought about what I was getting into! She turned into an evil princess. She demanded I wait on her hand and food, around the clock.

I knew I would need to do all the paperwork, run all the errands, do all the cleaning, and cook all the meals. I’d signed on for that. I didn’t expect to do them while she screeched bloody murder in the background. She wants these things done, demands that they’re done, but then resents any moment I’m not at her feet, waiting for her next command.

Her doctors said it would be good for her to get out of bed, get some exercise, get back to doing things on her own. She’s not supposed to be bedridden. But the bed is her throne. She’ll only get up on her own if I take that goddamned bell away from her.

It’d be one thing if she were simply demanding. But she’s also mean.

The names she calls me! She’s spent my whole life making it clear that she thinks I’m not pretty enough, not smart enough, not thin enough. They used to come as snide comments and backhanded compliments. Now she just yells at me for being a fat big, an ugly stupid lazy bitch, a useless good for nothing unappreciative child who ruined her life. Because her tea is too hot or not hot enough. Because she wanted the vanilla ice cream with the flecks of vanilla in it. Because I was busy folding her laundry and didn’t rush to her immediately when she wanted me to change the channel.

She gets up out of bed to wake me up to tell me to get her something that was on her nightstand.

All the yelling must take so much energy.

It took me energy to not just walk away. And then I saw her at the cancer center, walking around, laughing, getting up to get things for herself.

Why was I forcing myself to stay and take care of this horrid woman when she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself?

Yes, as someone going through chemo, she could use some support. But will she die if I’m not there? No. She’ll simply save herself some yelling.

And so I left. Two months of her constant yelling, not letting me sleep, and telling me how worthless I am was enough for me.

My whole life, people have heard stories of my mother — or been lucky enough to meet her — and have reassured me that I was right to keep my distance. She is the classic toxic person all those women’s magazines warn you about.

But now that she has cancer, these same people are giving me a hard time about not staying to take her abuse.

Having cancer doesn’t make it okay to be an asshole. You can get frustrated, be upset, snap at someone in exhausted frustration and fear. But you can’t be mean to people for the rest of your life.

I read somewhere that in Cinderella it was originally the mother who was evil, but they changed it to an evil stepmother later on when the idea of motherhood became sacred. It was no longer acceptable to believe that a mother could treat a child that way.

I’ve spent my life not being good enough for her. I guess this is just one more thing to add to the list: abandoning her to die of cancer.

Giselle O.

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