During the 4 months before my mom came to Australia on her healing trip, I was very busy. I travelled the world with my work and only thought about my mom’s visit during gaps in the busyness. When I did spend time thinking about it, I mostly had doubt.
I had seen her the year before on my solo visit to be with my youngest sister during the birth of her son, and my mom was “not all there”. I didn’t know if I could do what my siblings said I should. For 4 months, I even doubted my parents would come.
Every time I talked to my parents, my mom was sick and in pain. She was taking a strong painkiller in a patch that lasted for 2 days had to get the prescription signed every two days. I didn’t know if my healing plan could work within a five-week visit. I imagined her here spending all her days in hospitals and I felt scared.
In the back of my mind was something else she had done 3 years before that haunted me. My older sister lives in the USA and my parents planned to visit her, see their grandkids and meet their great-grandchildren for the first time. They had already bought plane tickets and organized visas and everyone was very excited about their trip.
A month before the trip, I came to visit them, and my mom told me that she was in enormous pain because of a biopsy taken from her breast. She had bandages that covered half of her chest. It looked serious. Underneath the huge bandages was the place where the biopsy was taken. I was the sign of a pin prick.
There was a small red mark, the size if of the tiniest coin you can imagine. I could understand it was painful. She had been doing breast screens every year. For 3 years, she’d had a tiny lump that had not changed at all. On her medical reports, every year, the doctors recommended following up and not touching the lump.
For three years, she said to us, “You don’t believe me, but you’ll see that I have ‘the disease'” (my mom thought you should never, ever use the word “cancer”). So, whenever someone was sick, she used to say, “He has ‘the disease’ – the one you should never say out loud”.
Sure enough, her lump was cancerous, and she told the doctors she wanted it out immediately! No one could say anything, because she kept saying to us, “You see, I’ve proven to you that I have ‘the disease'”.
We tried to convince her that since the lump had been there for 3 years, waiting another month to return from my sister wouldn’t make a difference, but she kept telling us, “It spreads, and I want it out right away”.
So, everyone started talking to her about going after the surgery, but then the doctor said that she could, if she wanted, do some radiation therapy, she immediately said she wanted radiation and the trip was off.
Her own sister had cancer several times with chemotherapy and radiation and her cancer kept coming back. Everyone, including her sister, told my mom to reconsider the radiation, but she refused to listen. She said we didn’t understand, she was in pain (the breast cancer didn’t cause her pain), it might spread, and she was doing what the doctors told her to do.
Although radiation hadn’t helped her sister and the cancer had come back, she said, “The doctors know what they are doing, otherwise they wouldn’t give anyone chemotherapy or radiation”. The trip was cancelled. My sister was devastated. I was devastated for her. You are probably wondering why I felt devastated.
Like my sister, I had made the choice to live far away from our families. The only reason that decision was hard and painful was raising our children far away from the greater family’s care, attention and love. Skype is great, but it can never replace face to face contact.
So, family visits were like air to us. Every visit was an opportunity to love and be loved. My parents’ previous visit to the USA (and Australia) was 10 years before, so the anticipation of that visit to my sister was high, and so was the devastation. I felt for my sister so much that when there was the option they would come to me, there was doubt in the air for a long time. The common question in our conversations was, “Will she do to me what she did to my sister?”
When control and attention are missing
Alfred Adler claimed in his theory that all the things we do in life are meant to fulfil our needs for significance and belonging. The 2 basic behaviors bounce between controlling and seeking attention. In other words, we do things to gain control and get attention.
It is interesting to examine my mom’s behavior based on Adler’s theory. My mother never had any significance. She grew up as a girl among 6 boys, and, along with her sister, was considered inferior. When my grandmother died, my uncles told my mom and her younger sister not to attend the meetings about the will, because they were women.
My mom never finished primary school. She was not educated and probably felt very insignificant when her 3 younger daughters got university degrees (my youngest sister has 3 of them).
Her only strength was in the kitchen. She was a cook, but was never paid well, because she could not pass a written test due to her limited schooling. Since cooking was her only ability, she even competed with us, her daughters, to prove she was better than us. Some of us played the game, but others didn’t.
When she worked (in a hospital kitchen), she probably felt better about herself, but since she retired, things got really bad. While my dad became very busy and active in his retirement, she lost purpose. My mom’s significance was zero.
She also suffered a serious lack of control. She never read books, loved to travel, pursued a hobby, met people (new or familiar), had friends or did anything to stimulate herself. She was using her illness to control us and to get our attention, and we sure gave it to her.
She was miserable, and we played the game of caring and giving her the attention she needed. The problem was that this attention-seeking strategy was like a bucket with a hole. The more we gave her, the more she wanted, and if the sickness last year was not enough, then things had to get worse this year.
I was very surprised when my dad said he had bought the plane tickets. Still, no one believed they would come. At some point, I wrote, “If she comes, great. If she doesn’t come, also great. I’ll have 5 weeks to do my own thing”. The whole time, I was trying to manage my own doubts and anxiety. I kept myself busy with work straight after coming from an overseas work trip until my dad called and said the visa had arrived, the health insurance had arrived, and they were coming the following week.
A week later, my parents landed in Australia.
Next week, I share with you the 5-week healing retreat we opened in our house.
Until then, may you be healthy and happy!
This post is part of the series From Sickness to Health:
- From Sickness to Health: Doubt Before Healing
- From Sickness to Health: The Story of Our Life
- From Sickness to Health: Working Together on a Shared Goal
- From Sickness to Health: Doctors are Not Gods