While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On greeting a fait accompli:
My beloved mother, who was the best source of advice for me, passed along a wonderful nugget that has come in handy many times: When someone presents you with an irreversible decision — They have sold the house and are moving to the North Pole! They have gotten full-body tattoos! They are having another baby! — the only appropriate response is, “How wonderful for you.” Not “Are you sure???” or “What made you decide to do THAT?” or “Oh you should change your mind.”
It will save a lot of ill will.
On warning others they’ll regret an estrangement from family:
My mother was a somewhat functioning alcoholic, meaning she survived through the codependency of her partners. She never worked outside the home and her job of taking care of me and my two siblings was slipshod at best.
My husband, on the other hand, came from a family so close-knit they were practically dysfunctional. Each week, there would be long phone calls to his sisters and mother, and frequent visits to his father. My communication with my mother was minimal at this point.
Years later when my mother got sick, I was “gently prompted” to attempt to salvage a relationship with my mother “before it was too late.” And so I did.
What a mistake. She suddenly became clingy (where she had no interest in me before), she would tell wonderful stories about being the loving mother (when, in fact, I was constantly berated for everything), and she would get me on the phone for hours at a time, spinning amazing tales of how great she was.
I endured through it all, trying to be the good daughter. Toward the end it got bad. In my last conversation with her, she suddenly, physically attacked me and told me, “If I had known I could have had an abortion in 1960, you would have never been born.” She passed two months later. Even though it was a relief, I still hear those words ringing in my head years later.
There are some instances where trying to develop a broken relationship is just not best for all involved.
Been There, Shouldn’t Have Done That
I “divorced” my mother when I was 40. When she died, 16 years later, I was filled with regret — regret that I hadn’t “divorced” her 20 years earlier than I did. Why had I let myself be saddled for so much of my life with efforts to stay connected to someone poisonous to my mental well-being?
When my mother died, lots of sympathy came to my brother and to me, but we were just grateful that it was over — that we would no longer suffer from her cruelty. We kept our gratitude to ourselves, having already experienced lots of advice on later regret. If you could see inside my heart, you’d see scar tissue with her name on it that will never go away. No one but my brother understands because no one but my brother lived through it as I did. It’d be nice if someone — anyone — just took my word for it.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.