Dear Miss U,
I recently lost my dad in the summer and went through a divorce. I met this man who was the most amazing man ever but he lives 1,800 miles away. We have been having a long distance relationship and every time I leave I feel so sad. How long should we wait before thinking about the future? I currently live with my mother but I don’t know if he’s willing to relocate. I feel guilty about leaving my mother and not sure what to do, but losing my dad the way I did made me realize how short life is and I want to be happy. Do I take a risk or live a life of loneliness to keep the peace at home?
My heart goes out to you, it is so very hard to lose a parent no matter how or when it happens and I commend you for standing by your mum when so many adult children don’t even call home regularly. It feels to me like your family values align closely with my own, so I would like to share my story with you.
My family were all small town people, with parents being born and living until death in that tiny town. My mother hated it. She always talked about moving away. Somewhere warmer where maybe her depression wouldn’t have such a hold on her and damp wouldn’t over-run the house nine months of the year. Somewhere with better employment rates, better opportunities for us kids. My sibling and I also yearned to move. At first, Mum couldn’t move because her mum (Nan) was sick. We helped Pop care for Nan for many years, in and out of the hospital. When she died talk of moving away came up again, but Mum couldn’t abandon her dad. He might have moved too, having rediscovered his own love for travel, but then his heart started failing him. So we stayed and we cared for him until he died.
There was nothing holding Mum back then. She’d gone and gotten a better education to open up her job prospects. Things were looking up and then she too became ill. One day at work she was rushing between wards and got a stitch. When she pressed her hand to the cramp to ease it as she ran she discovered a sausage (as she described it to us). The sausage turned out to be cancer. Determined not to follow her parents into death so soon, Mum fought hard. There was chemo and surgery and more chemo. Things looked great. We rejoiced. It was a hard road, but we were winning!
Mum couldn’t quite leave town yet, she needed to stay by her doctor, but my sibling was of age to move and before mum opened the long-awaited supposed-to-be-final results from her doctor she made her child swear to move to the big city of her dreams. My sib promised and moved immediately.
Two weeks after she moved, on my mum’s birthday, the results we’d been waiting for arrived. But they weren’t the birthday gift we’d all been hoping to see. Mum had 15 new tumours in what was left of her liver, and she was going to die. My sibling was angry and felt tricked. We would never leave mum’s side when she needed us! But it was what mum wanted. She didn’t want us to make the mistake that she had, living only for other people and being unfulfilled in our own lives.
And that’s how I remember my mother. She was swallowed by depression and seeking refuge in her cheap cask wine, always putting off her dreams – her career she stalled so she could raise us kids, her move she stalled so she could support her parents – living only to please other people yet if she had nurtured herself first she’d have had so much more to give to others too.
Because of this I firmly believe that to do our best service to our families and communities we need to care for ourselves first. We don’t know when we are going to die! My mum was only 50. I think she thought she would have plenty of time for herself later. Time to work and earn retirement money, time to travel, time to find a partner who didn’t treat her like garbage. But she didn’t, she spent my whole life (until the point of her death) waiting to start living. And that’s crushing.
As a mum myself now, I can’t imagine wanting my kids to dedicate their lives to me. That’s not how it’s supposed to work! I want them to grow up with all the opportunities I didn’t have (and the ones I did), to have ambitions and chase after their dreams. I look forward to them having their own ideas, even though some of them will likely horrify me. I gave them life so that they could live and be happy and make the world a brighter place, not so they could keep me company.
Yes, if I outlive their dad I would like them to support me as I get back on my feet. And if I’m ever in need of care I’d hope that they’d work together to make sure my needs were met, particularly if I can’t advocate for myself, but never would I want to hold them back from enjoying the life I gave them, and I assume a good deal of mothers feel the same way, perhaps even your mother too.
You won’t know where she wants to go in life from this point unless you talk to her. Find out what she wants and share with her your dreams. Perhaps you can find a middle ground to stay together, or maybe she’s content and able to strike out on her own. I know one widow in her early eighties now who travels the world with her two best friends, so I try not to underestimate people just because their age is advancing. You love each other and want what is best for each other; remember that if your mum responds at first with fear or anger. Emotionally you’re both still raw. Be kind, and go slow, but do keep going.
As for romance and how soon you should think about the future, you’re obviously thinking about it now! Personally for me four or five months isn’t long enough for me to feel like I know someone well enough to make a lifetime commitment or anything, but moving closer would bring more opportunities to test the waters and see where this could go. Whether or not he is your forever person, if he gets you moving in the direction of your dreams and helps you through this difficult transition in your life then I’d consider this relationship successful and worth the effort.
Kim, when the aeroplane is crashing down you put your own mask on first. Apply this to other areas of your life too. You can’t give of yourself to others if you are all emptied out.