Roles and relationships change over time, usually slowly, but sometimes suddenly.
After Dad passed away, the relationship between my Mom and I definitely shifted. Mom decided to move from Ontario to Alberta so she would have family (me) close by in case she had any health issue or needed help. I supported that decision thinking that she would make friends and join in in the community. She had mentioned being lonely after Dad passed away and living out in the country at quiet a distance from friends. Here she’s living in town with Seniors Groups, a community center, walking groups, and neighbours close by.
I assumed my biggest adjustment would be stopping by for weekly visits and heading out for the occasional shopping trip. Prior to Mom’s move, I had lived at least an 8-hour drive or more from my parents for the last 18 years. Our relationship had consisted of regular phone calls and time actually spent together was limited to some long weekend visits.
What I had not anticipated was the loneliness of having lost a spouse that my Mom is still struggling with. For the first 60 years of her life she had never lived on her own. First as part of a large family with 6 siblings, then with her spouse. Not having someone around the house has been tough, especially since it has taken her a long time to make connections in the community and among her neighbours. Turns out Mom is a bit shy and awkward.
Somewhere along the way it became clear that Mom’s expectation had been that I would step up and fill the emptiness. There may have been the occasional hint that she would be happy if we (my partner and I) bought a house with a little in-law suite for her. Our life plan has always been to live in a condo. Telling your Mom that you do not want her living with you is an awkward conversation of “I love you, but…”. Followed by some serious guilt. Especially when I see friends and colleagues who do have those close relationships with their mothers.
My Mom is not the only one in our extended family who has lost a spouse and struggles with being alone. A couple of my aunts talk about being lonely as well, despite living in the same houses as their children and grandchildren. My cousins, much like myself, have jobs and friends and hobbies, plus they have children. They may be in the same house, but they are not spending their day with their Mom. So I know I cannot fill the emptiness, nor can I be the full time companion that my Mom is looking for, even if she did move in with us.
While Mom struggles with being alone, I struggle with the pressure on the relationship knowing that what I want out of it is not enough for her. I also have no idea of how to really help her, beyond spending some more time with her. My hope is that as she makes more friends in her community she might pick up a few more activities to keep her busy and involved. But will that be enough?
by Ines Quandel