Thursday, March 20, 2008

Acceptance and Love

Tuesday was a really long day. I didn't sleep well Monday night for worrying about different things going on in my life, then that morning, I got turned down for some financial help that would have been really, well, helpful. My son's vision teacher came Tuesday as well. She is definitely what I still sometimes think might be a blessing (don't you love the convolutions we agnostics go through?). We each have our issues with the church's doctrines/cultures. She remains active, I don't. But anyway, I was discussing a dilemma I have with her, and she was sharing some of the stuff that she's dealing with now. We were both crying by the time we finished our visit (not because we were angry at each other, but because we were hurting together). So here's my dilemma and maybe later some thoughts about where I am right now spiritually.

My mom is a faithful Mormon in what most of us would consider a very traditional, by the book sense. My father is agnostic, maybe even atheistic (he's actually reluctant to define it, which is his prerogative). Growing up, my sister and I heard my mom lament his inactivity and talk about how she didn't understand why he deprived her of the blessing of a righteous priesthood holder in our home. At times, she even considered leaving my dad in order to find someone else whom she could rely on for eternity. When C (my sister, I don't know if she'd appreciate me using her name assuming she knew about my blog) and I left for college, we picked a university that was half way across the country. We still hear from our mom about how much pain it causes her that we don't live closer so that we could shop together, hang out together, etc. Fast forward to now--my mom has breast cancer.

While she was here in Idaho last, she expressed to me that she thought maybe God was giving her this cancer so that she could die and not have to live with the pain that my dad's agnosticism and our long distance gave her. On the other hand, she also believes that she has received a revelation that she will be cured. So. As it turns out, she really is responding incredibly well to treatment. It really does look like she'll be in remission very soon. My dilemma is whether to tell her about my own agnosticism. I worry that if I actually tell her, she'll give up her mostly positive attitude and let the cancer overtake her. However, I've also been blatantly lying to her when she asks how church is going etc. (it's been almost a year since I quit going). I know that that will hurt my mom immensely. Especially considering what Kathryn (my son's vision teacher) and another older friend have told me regarding their adult children keeping things like this from them. Basically what it boils down to in their opinion is that my mom already knows something is up, but just isn't willing to ask what it is. So if that's the case, we're stuck in this passive-aggressive battle just waiting for the other one to break the ice and really get things out in the open.

The other thing making this difficult is the pressure I feel to be the perfect daughter that I used to be (okay, not perfect, but definitely compliant). That's another reason I haven't said anything to her. However, it's also killing me to lie to my mom (and other assorted family members I guess). My integrity is one of my most . . . cultivated (?) values. It's killing me to lie to her. I AM NOT A LIAR. At least, not most of the time. But now I am lying and it's killing me. It's also killing me to act out a person I no longer am. I have dreams where I tell my mom the truth and it's such a huge relief. It sucks waking up and realizing that I'm still dealing with that emotional burden.

Lastly, my folks are coming this summer for about a week. In most circumstances, I would say a face to face revealing would be better, but since my dad will be gone for most of the week (he's camping with a seldom seen friend), it would be just me and my mom for the majority of her visit. I don't want to have to explain everything to her and then spend the rest of the week dealing with all our drama. I'd rather tell her before she gets here so that we can at least begin the healing process before she gets to my house. That way, my box of Earl Grey tea, my striped underwear, my tank tops, aren't going to be a shock for her. I may not partake of anything but the underwear while she's here, but still, she'll see them around and I don't want those to be a surprise to her.

Anyway, thoughts? Ideas? HELP?


shukr said...

First, lots of hugs to you, LOTS.

I can see it from your mum's perspective, and also from yours.
I was the one in your position having been a devoted daughter who passed most stuff through my mum's eyes. She even said to me (once I'd told her I was now praying as a Muslim etc)
'but you didn't ask me'!
It was almost comical, because I was 18 by that time and she doesn't have a faith teaching to say I should be living in any particular way I couldn't understand why she felt so betrayed, but I gradually saw and heard that she felt I had rejected her and her culture. Which is not the case, but anyhow....

All to say it *was* a relief to tell her and be open, but it has never gone away that I'm a disappointment. We are still working things out and having flare ups of her pain even now. I try to work with it and affirm my love for her. Just recently we've had a big shift where she said we're not enough in her life, and I was shocked because I thought she doesn't want us to be. LOL. so explained that I would love to do more together etc etc and we're seeing how that pans out now.

All that! to say that people generally soften and get over things, but the first shock is always hardest I guess, for any of us.

Sorry, I'm rambling on in a way that might be useless to you. I would agree with you that it will be hard for her to be confronted with your changes whilst she is visiting. That seems mean - to let her land in it, so to speak, and not have anywhere private to grieve or run away to.

Regarding the cancer, have you read the book by Caroline Myss:

Anatomy of the Spirit? Not for your Mum necessarily, as it is a diverse faith perspective, but for you to understand what psychological stuff might have contributed to her illness. That way you can think about how to approach your discussions with her from the angle of her illness.

Also, see here:

It's part of my blogging obssession ,)
My friend's mum had breast cancer but sadly has not used any alternatives. She now has lung cancer and complications and it is painful to watch her resorting to just radiotherapy when there is not much chance of that being helpful. Your mum sounds like she is still in a place where she can explore alternatives...


G said...

oh lessie... I understand.

first of all... that is fabulous news about your mother's progress. good for her!

on the other hand...
IMO you mother has been a bit unfair to place the burden of her happiness (and health?) on you.

as you say, your dishonesty is killing you, but you do it out of fear that honesty will kill her. sucks that someone has to die one way or the other.

I am all for honesty... but I'm also a bit of a hypocrite by saying that. when my mom came over to babysit a while back, I ran around hiding all the incriminating evidence, (boxes of tea, bottles of liquor, etc...). and I thought I don't wear garments, I always wear 'garment appropriate' clothes when I see my folks.

but they don't come stay at my house; we live in the same town, yet far enough a way that they don't just 'drop in' either. it's rather ideal.

however, my in-laws are coming next month, and that will be interesting. I don't have the same level of anxiety about them knowing about the 'state of my faith' as my own folks. I think my in-laws would be quite accepting. yet I am going to put away the tea, the coffee, not buy any beer, keep hiding the vodka (I swear, that bottle will last forever!), won't wear tank tops... but I won't start putting on garments just to keep up the facade (which is what I did last year). If certain topics come up, I will simply not comment... but if specific questions are asked, I will answer honestly. that is my game plan so far. But in-laws are a different creature from your own parents. a whole different level of emotional baggage.

so, after all that, bottom line: I think you should stop killing yourself by lying. but don't have any good advice. if I think of something, I'll let you know.

p.s. shukr... I love caroline myss! I have only read little bits of her here and there, but what a vision! what a person to have in the health care field.

shukr said...

"That seems mean - to let her land in it, so to speak, and not have anywhere private to grieve or run away to".

I hope you don't take the above as advice from me/ condemnation of whatever choice you make. I was just putting myself in her shoes and thinking we all appreciate a bit of space to work through things where no one is watching or waiting for our response.

I re read it and it sounds harsh, but I didn't mean for that. I was thinking of the opposite attribute, compassion.

I also agree with G that you can end up making yourself sick, and that's not helpful for anyone.


Lessie said...

shukr, not at all. I wasn't offended--I understood what you meant, but thanks for clarifying anyway.

You guys have also struck at a couple roots to the problem--one, I love my mom and don't want to hurt her. Two, I'm hurting a lot by lying. Three, she does seem incredibly dependent on other people's . . . faith, ideas, what would one call it? She doesn't realize (at least fully) that she depends so much on my sister and I for her happiness. It really is sad how much she still depends on us for her fulfillment.

You know shukr, we've talked about volunteering, etc. The only volunteering my mom did was for our school. She never had any outside interests. I just don't know how she did it (I mean, she read books, but not informative ones, she cross stitched, but really only did it with her sister--she hardly ever got out).

But now it's just sad that she can't seem to get a life all her own (and kind of annoying for my sister and I who regularly hear how much pain we cause her by living so far away).

shukr said...

yeah, that is sad.(
but still not your responsibility. empty nest syndrome is part of life these days. weep. ( whenever i think of mine growing so big i could cry!!!) keeping in touch is important to most people, but living through someone else is not healthy for her, or anyone, is it.

can your dad do anything to encourage her to get involved with something local to her, do you think?
maybe a community book club to find other women friends?
Does she not have a kind of 'sisterhood' through church?
(this is where my lack of knowledge shows again, i'm sorry).

maybe she could even get involved in a woman's cancer support group?
it's very needed
- and she's obviously got some inner strength about her btw.
i can tell that from the way you speak about her and that she has responded well to her treatment.

someone once said to me that some people choose the victim role. it feels comfortable to them. maybe they grew up that way. it doesn't mean they don't have it within them to fight and love and grow new wings when they need to.

that was about the most libertating thing i ever heard in terms of working with people needing support! (that, and how *not* to listen to someone.LOL. sometimes you need to be able to not listen and create space between you and they who want to offload! )

just be kind, and if you get the inclination, pray for the right words!! or ask Out There for it to be easy on you both. or just do it however is your way right now. i know that your way will be gentle.

you'll be fine - and so will she.

mr. pink's mom said...


you already know some of my thoughts on this subject.

what is the worst possible outcome? and be honest? is your mother going to stop loving you? I doubt it.

(note: i realize that i have no room to talk on this issue, i'm coming at this from the mom pov. also, i'm a problem solver and it seems like lying/covering up/pretending isn't going to fix anything but have the opposite effect.)

so, i'm off. I hope you figure out some sort of solution, one that doesn't cause to much pain.

keep us updated!

mr. pink's mom said...

I think my in-laws would be quite accepting. yet I am going to put away the tea, the coffee, not buy any beer, keep hiding the vodka (I swear, that bottle will last forever!)

why do i feel responsible for this comment, g?

G said...


(chandelle) said...

lessie - this is such a hard issue and i basically second everything g said, along with the caveat that i have no advice whatsoever. :( "coming out" to his parents taught jeremy that his mother's love was conditional. if he wasn't a member of the church she seemed to decide that it was too painful, or embarrassing, or sinful, or whatever, for her to stay invested in the relationship. it's been over a year, we keep waiting for it to get better, and putting ourselves out there, and it hasn't improved. if it hasn't improved by the time we move away, i think there's a very real chance of complete estrangement. i know this is the sort of worst-case-scenario that you fear the most. what seems obvious to me is that while your mother is undoubtedly a wonderful and loving person, she has made herself dependent upon other people for her happiness, and that happiness is contingent upon those people submitting themselves to her desires and needs, and she's not above guilt-tripping to try to get what she wants. that complicates this issue enormously.

you know what's really sad? when i read, first, that your mom has breast cancer, i had my answer all formulated in my head from the get-go. i was going to say: just wait it out. just wait it out, don't burden her with this terrible information while she's dying, just wait it out and after she passes away you can be open and stop faking it and just live a normal life. but, your mother seems to be getting better, and while that is of course WONDERFUL!, it also means that you may have many, many years ahead of you of faking it, lying, conniving, going along to get along, and denying your essential self to the people who are supposed to love you the most. to me, that's a kind of psychological suicide. if i were you, i'd wait for a little lull, and then i'd lay it on her. but i'm not you, and i don't know your mother. all i know is that it's obvious this is killing you, and sometimes we have to be selfish in our desire for self-preservation. hugs to you.

Lessie said...

Okay, so update. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond. It turns out that my mom has actually been talking to my dad and knows that I "doubts". It also turns out (my dad told me on the phone the other day) that when she prays at meals, she prays that Dad and I will have our testimonies restored (as if God can do anything about this--or if he could, wouldn't he have done it before now?). Also, she caught me right before we hung up the other day and said, "I've never lied to you about the gospel, promise me you'll work out your testimony." Anyway, so now I know that she knows after all and that I can write "the letter" and get all this out in the open for real. My next dilemma is that I'm still rather angry at my mom for a dozen different reasons. I'm having a hard time framing a letter in my head. Every time I start a letter out (in my mind--haven't started writing yet) it goes something like this, "Mom, I have no faith in the gospel, and I'm not sure whether I believe in God or not, but if you pray in my presence for my testimony to be restored, and in my home no less, I will ask you to stop because that is the most presumptuous, passive aggressive thing I've ever heard of in my life. My relationship to whatever deity may be out there is none of your business and I won't have you make a mockery out of what has been a very difficult struggle for me."

Sigh. That's not very gentle at all. I love my mom, I want to be gentle with her, but I realize every time I sit down to write that I'm still pretty upset with the way she's been depending on everyone else for her fulfillment.

Also, shukr, if you're still reading this, could you elaborate on this victim thing? Because you're right, my mom is a strong woman. She's overcome a lot of hardships in her life, but she still loves playing the victim. Any insight you could give me would be great.

G said...

actually, lessie, I thought this part was very well put:

"if you pray in my presence for my testimony to be restored, and in my home no less, I will ask you to stop because that is the most presumptuous, passive aggressive thing I've ever heard of in my life. My relationship to whatever deity may be out there is none of your business and I won't have you make a mockery out of what has been a very difficult struggle for me."

in that statement you recognize that she obviously will be praying for your testimony, but make her aware that to do it in front of you is inapropriate and manipulative.
also, it implies that you are not in objection to having her pray in your presence, that you are open and respectful of the ways she communicates with god.

btw... you probably already know this, but I would say write a letter (or several) that will never be sent to get all the rage and hurt out on paper. then write one for them to read and burn the others.

hmmm... that sounds all nice saying it, but I haven't even gotten through the first couple of sentences of my 'burn' letters. I get too angry. so maybe it is not such a good idea.

whatever works best for you.