I have often shared stories and wisdoms regarding how important it is to have healthy boundaries in relationships. I have also shared stories and wisdoms regarding the differences between obligations and responsibilities. There is nothing that I have written in any of those blogs that I do not still hold as true. Sometimes, however, one is asked to expand a bit upon concepts that folks have read. So consider this a bit of an expansion exercise, one that will hopefully help to clarify and solidify some concepts.
My mother died back in the ‘90’s. We had a three year old and one on the way when she became very ill with cancer. There were a number of expectations that were placed upon me at that time:
1. Heal her. Now I must say that not every member of the family expected this of me. But a few certainly did and made it very clear how disappointed they would be if I did not accomplish this task. Here is the thing. By the time she found out that it was cancer that was causing her bodily distress, it was already very advanced. And by the time I found out anything about this she was already on her death bed in palliative care. So this expectation for me to wave a magic wand and suddenly she would be completely healed was unrealistic at best. People were very upset when I called a meeting with her doctor and the family so that I could get ALL the information, but anyone who could attended the meeting. This was a wake up call for those who were still in denial. I also, during this meeting, asked the doctor if it would be alright for me to have a transition ceremony for her in her room. When he found out I was a shaman he was elated. He had trained in South Africa and part of his training had to do with studying with local shamans. The only stipulation was that I not burn a candle or anything else as she was on oxygen and, needless to say, he did not want the entire ward going up in one big bang of flames.
2. Be here when she asks to see you. Now, I lived over 3 hours away and my wife, who was around 8 months pregnant, was dealing with having the flu and taking care of our three-year-old, who also had the flu, while I was away. Needless to say, I could only come on weekends because I was working through the week and trying to help them through the flu etc. There came a time when my wife became resentful of my need to go and see my dying mother. That was not a good day. Once I saw my mother, I went for coffee with my brother-in-law in the hospital cafeteria (and by the way, DON’T have the coffee there…it is HORRIBLE!). I expressed that I was feeling torn in every direction. True to his nature, he smiled and said, “You just do whatever it is you need to do. Everyone else will just have to deal with it.” So I did.
3. Stay home and help with the kid and home. The pressure was on to not go back to see my mother. I knew I had to, but also knew that things at home were pretty horrible. In addition to this, I needed to get a haircut (I know…that was back when I actually HAD hair) and get a new dress shirt for the impending funeral. That was a funeral that I never did get to go to because I contracted the flu from my wife and child and got sicker than a dog. I continued to try to balance work, home and the inconvenience of death.
4. Trust that she will recover. I kept hearing this from my youngest sister. I knew that our mother was not walking out of that hospital. But the expectation was that she would and everything would be fine. Dealing with the denial of the reality and the circumstance that was present heaped the stress onto me. No wonder I finally succumbed to the flu that was going through my home! I kept letting people know that she was declining, and then she went into her morphine coma. She was in agony and the nurses would not administer more pain killer, “Because it is a regulated and highly addictive substance.” My response was, “What difference does this make when she is on her deathbed? Who cares if she is stoned as hell when she arrives at the pearly gates? Right here and right now she is in pain. Do something about that.”
5. Call your ex-girlfriend to let her know she died. When my mother died my father asked if I would contact my ex-girlfriend to let her know. I had not been with this person in well over 15 years, and, frankly, I felt that the fact that my mother had stayed “close” to her was both insulting as well as none of my business. So the answer was a hard NO. Someone else could do that job if it was so important, but I had burned that bridge long ago when she cheated on me.
6. Keep your oldest sister away from the funeral. This was a command that came from my youngest sister who fancied herself to be the family matriarch. I would have nothing to do with that either. Whatever their beef with one another was, as far as I was concerned they could both be mature enough to know that this was not about them at all, and they could just be polite at the very least for the funeral. And they would have been, had I been able to attend. But I was not able to attend because I was so ill. As a result, my oldest sister was treated like trash when she was having a heart attack at the end of the service. Rage does not even begin to express what I felt when I learned of this.
When a person is running up against such rigid beliefs and expectations and denial systems, it is extremely difficult to keep your cool. You do what you can, but there is no sense in bending over backwards to try to please everyone because the fact of the matter is that you NEVER WILL PLEASE EVERYONE. It is more important that you take care of your own mental and emotional health and well-being. And hopefully you won’t end up extremely ill as I had become during that horrible time in my life. It is important to know how to say “no” when the demand is not congruent with who you are or what you can handle in that moment. And if anyone has a problem with that, then that is on them, not you. Nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, is more important than your well-being. People may have great expectations of you and what you will do to make their lives easier for them, but you are not obligated in any way to fulfill those expectations. Your job is to take care of yourself. As my brother-in-law said, “You just do what you need to do. Everyone else will just have to deal with it.”