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So Worried About My Retired Mother
Old 08-12-2011, 11:38 PM   #1
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So Worried About My Retired Mother

Hi, I am new here and came for advice.

I am almost 37, married, and I work from home as a freelance book editor. I came to the States in 2007 to be with my American husband, who was born in the USA but raised in the UK from age 9 and hated it with a passion, and always wanted to return home to the US, so we did. So all my family is in the UK. It's a better life here; England is falling apart at the seams, although the US does have some serious problems, as we know.

I am posting here because neither my dad nor I know how to help my mother. I am looking for insights and any shared experiences, and I suppose any comfort someone can offer, because I don't think anyone can help her, and I'm so sad about it.

My mum loved her job at her local council and did not want to retire at all. But my dad made her retire as she was 65 and he was 68 at that time, and he wanted to travel the world with her. They now go on frequent lovely holidays and long cruises.

My mother is now 68. Since retiring over three years ago, my mother refuses to take up any interests, see her precious life-long friends who live 400 miles away in her hometown, do any exercise, take any courses - she has zero interest in living a healthy, positive life. She eats rubbish and is significantly overweight now - more so than I have ever seen her. Her utter disregard for her health is even more crazy because she is a breast cancer survivor - she had it 13 years ago.

I don't think she is exactly depressed, because she laughs and jokes and is generally her old self. But my parents are visiting America at the moment and today she couldn't even climb two flights of stairs in a store. Dad says she is getting old, she can't walk so far, she won't do anything without him, she gets breathless, and he's worried about her. She couldn't reach up to get something off a high shelf today either, something I could reach without too much difficulty and I'm not too much taller than her.

It's difficult to convey in a post just how mulish and stubborn she is. She is perfectly pleasant and happy until you mention anything about her attitude to her life and health. Then, she gets more defensive more quickly than you could ever imagine. So I despair of helping her.

Tonight I remarked that when I was swimming with my sister's toddler twins a few months ago, I noticed that one of them was much much heavier in my arms than the other, even though they're the same age and height. And my mum said, "And being heavy isn't BAD!" Well actually, yes it is Mum, it's seriously bad for your health. And when I lost some weight, she got super-defensive and made a couple of uncalled-for remarks - and I was talking about my own weight, not hers! She seems to have serious issues about her weight - she knows how big she is, but seems doggedly determined not to do anything about it. I am worried for her health, especially with her cancer of 13 years ago. She belongs to a beautiful health club but rarely goes because she wants Dad to go with her, but it's not his thing and he has lots of other interests. I think she really doesn't like to spend any time alone as she's an extrovert.

I have bought her books about retirement and sent her a brochure for some lovely local courses on arts and crafts and painting. She is talented at drawing, used to make beautiful sugared-rose wedding cakes, and take French classes. But all those things went by the wayside many, many years ago and she has been retired for three years now, and has not shown any interest whatsoever.

When she retired, my sister told me she said "I'm just waiting to die." My dad said he thought, "thanks very much." He's a super-organised Type A who planned his retirement for five years beforehand and is having a great time, so no worries there. But Mum's state worries him, and when they came last year it was just the same and nothing has changed in a year, except mum is deteriorating physically.

For whatever reason, she refuses to have friends, interests or to take any heed whatsoever of her health. She seems happy enough and enjoys her holidays so I don't think she has proper depression, exactly. I wonder if her attitude is resentment at being made to retire. I get the feeling she would have her old job back in a microsecond if she could, and I bet she'd seem five years younger instantly if that happened. But there's no way back, and Dad has worked hard for fifty years and now wants to enjoy his golden years with his spouse. Can hardly blame him.

But here's the real thing: I am finding it so hard to step back and watch herself do everything possible to hasten deterioration, or so it seems. She is killing herself softly and will brook no interference, no help, nothing. What on earth do I do?

The other thing is, I feel angry at her because she has treated her body with utter abandon all these years - never taking a shred of exercise and eating all the wrong things. She just doesn't seem to give a flying fig about her health and never has.

She has three grandchildren but my sister isn't very nice and goes months without seeing my parents. They live a three-hour drive away from each other in England. My mother is over-invested in the idea of me having a baby, even though I am far from ready for that. All she wants to do is spend time with her children and grandchildren, but my sister is very busy with her three and I live 3,500 miles away.

Big question: Do I confront my mother and give her a kick up the backside? I am actually very scared to do so, as the extent of her defensiveness is quite hideous. Or do I see that as Dad's job? He is not a gentle or understanding person. If she goes downhill so much that she dies in the next 3 years, which I can see happening, will I regret not having tried? Or do I accept that she is just impossible about all this, and avoid damaging my relationship with her?

My mother is the sweetest, loveliest person who was a storybook mummy and always used to love helping others. She has made a point, her whole life, never to speak ill of others. It is terrible to see my lovely mother like this.

Sorry for the long email. I just don't really know who to turn to, and my capable, intelligent, fix-anything dad is at a complete loss as well.

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Old 08-12-2011, 11:42 PM   #2
Confused about dryer sheets
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I have no idea why my post says something about dyer sheets on the left. Did I post it in a thread about dryer sheets?? Sorry, if so.

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Old 08-12-2011, 11:51 PM   #3
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Welcome Smith1974,

You can read about the dryer sheet reference here:
"What's the deal with the dryer sheets?!?"

It's merely an insider joke, nothing to worry about.
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Old 08-12-2011, 11:51 PM   #4
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Welcome to the Early-Reitirement Forums. I can answer the last post with a link to the 'Dryer Sheet thing" "What's the deal with the dryer sheets?!?" . Others I'm sure with advise on your problems.
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Old 08-13-2011, 01:52 AM   #5
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Interesting that your mother retired around the time you moved to the US. So is this a failure to adjust to retirement or a failure to adjust to your departure? My daughter moved to Europe permanently 2 years ago and it was very traumatic for me. I fully supported her decision, I am an emigrant myself so I understood her motivation for the move, but it was still very distressing and I grieved for months ( but never let her know how I was feeling- not going to rain on her parade)Once she was established there and happy I felt a lot better but you have nailed it with the mention of one parent being left alone. I shudder at the thought of being here alone sometime in the future but I would never expect my daughter to factor this in to her future, it is not her problem. Your mother has faced the double whammy of facing retirement, which has a way of making you face your own mortality plus facing growing old without the proximity of a loving daughter.
My advice would be to not beat yourself up about it. We all must follow our own path in life and your first responsibility is to live your life with your husband - you and he are no.1. You owe your parents gratitude for raising you well but nothing more. I suspect that your mother may be doing a lot better than you think and that there is some emotional blackmail going on here. It sounds like you feel guilty for leaving and if this is coming across in your conversations with her you are setting yourself up for a stream of negativity. Two suggestions that you might try, one, cut back on how often you call home and two, when you do call talk about the good things happening in your life and avoid asking questions that will lead to a moaning session. Cut off any attempt at negativity by either ending the call or quickly changing the subject. It will take time and it won't be easy but eventually she will get the message that you are not going to carry a burden of guilt for her.
Finally, please put aside thoughts of the future.... breaking your heart now over something that may never be an issue (the surviving parent may remarry or die within weeks or months of the other) is counterproductive and is making you feel miserable. This is your moment to be happy and excited about your future so enjoy.
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Old 08-13-2011, 03:21 AM   #6
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Hello Smith1974 - do you have siblings in the UK ? What do they think about your mother's situation ? Are they willing to help her ?
Very conservative with investments. Not ER'd yet, 48 years old. Please do not take anything I write or imply as legal, financial or medical advice directed to you. Contact your own financial advisor, healthcare provider, or attorney for financial, medical and legal advice.
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Old 08-13-2011, 04:19 AM   #7
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I think your Dad should go to the health club with your Mum.
Greg (retired in 2010 at age 68, state pension)
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Old 08-13-2011, 04:51 AM   #8
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It sounds like she's going through delayed "empty nest symdrome" after retiring. Does she like dogs? This might be a good way to get her to excercize and invested in life again. I bet there's a rescue group in the UK that would let her foster one before making the commitment to adopt.
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Old 08-13-2011, 07:14 AM   #9
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Welcome aboard. I'm so sorry to hear about your mum. You've certainly no easy task; based on my observation of my mother and my aunt, elderly English women may be the most stubborn creatures God ever put on this earth.

I think Greg Lee's suggestion is a good one. If your dad wants to keep the old girl around for awhile, he probably should accompany her to ensure she gets some exercise, even if it's not "his thing". As you are well aware, having followed your husband to the States, sometimes we need to make accommodations for those we love.

My own suggestion would be to find some nice illustrated cookbooks while they are visiting and try making the recipes together, especially those using the currently abundant fresh fruits and veggies. Not only will it be a good social activity, you also may help show her how to cook healthy and nutritious meals. I would avoid trying to lecture her, however. In my own case, sometimes my mother has been inspired to change by something I have said or done, as long as she doesn't detect the faintest whiff of my trying to tell her how to do things.
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Old 08-13-2011, 09:39 AM   #10
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I have seen this before. I doubt that anything that you can do will work. Some people react this way to retirement.

I think you should kick your dad in the butt. Get him to go with her to the health club. It really is up to him now.

I can see that this is very hard on you. Understand that there is little that you can do, even if you were to move back in with them.
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Old 08-13-2011, 09:54 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Smith1974 View Post
My mother is the sweetest, loveliest person who was a storybook mummy and always used to love helping others.
You are "wealthy" beyond just money.

Can I adopt her as my "mum"?

Good luck to you, in your quest...
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Old 08-13-2011, 10:27 AM   #12
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One thing seems very clear from your post: Your mom is very defensive about her weight, and any confrontation to get her to lose weight and eat healthy will end up in tears all around. It also seems obvious to me that this is not about weight and health, but about her feeling of not contributing to society any more. Her weight is a cry for help.

I would suggest this approach: avoid speaking at all about healthy eating and weight - that will come naturally after you get to the root of the problem. Instead of tough love and confronting her, sit down and in the saddest voice possible tell her how much you love her, what a great mother she has always been, and how you want her to be around for the time when you have grandchildren. Remind her that the grandchildren will be living in the US and that she will need to to travel and go on trips to Disneyland with you all etc. Now tell her you are sick with worry since she retired; you are very concerned that she seems unhappy with life (nothing about weight). (Break down in tears if you can, show lots of love, and do not raise your voice!) Then ask her why this is so, and what it would take to make her happy/have an interest in life etc. Maybe she could start her own business, or go back to work part time? If she likes kids so much, maybe there is a way to volunteer to help read to disadvantaged kids at a local library. A dog or cat might also be a good idea. How can she better plan trips to see your sister, etc.

No one seems to be asking her what she wants. She probably doesn't need a full time job, but something part time or on a volunteer basis would be enough to get her out of the house and have her own life again. My sister in the UK is retired, loves it, plays golf and bridge etc., and spends one day a week as she says "giving back by volunteering at the local thrift store".

Her husband told her to retire, and being of a certain generation she probably felt pressured to do so. But it seems that it doesn't matter to him whether she's around or not every day - as you say he has his own interests. If he is so concerned about her, the least he could do is want to go to the health club with her. Does she have another friend that might go if not?

While your mom is with you, and she's away from her normal routine, is the time to sit down and have a good chat over a nice cup of tea and a chocolate digestive... Good luck.
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Your dad forced her to retire.
Old 08-13-2011, 11:26 AM   #13
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Your dad forced her to retire.

In that statement lies a lot of unstated information. You say that your dad is an A type personality which to me means he controls every aspect of his existence and expects others to conform to what he wants. Perhaps your mother could only be true to her own values when she was at HER JOB, doing things that were of VALUE TO HER, respected FOR HER CONTRIBUTION. I am taking your mothers side here because I think I am very much like her. We find it difficult to be assertive to TYPE A personalities and would much rather go along to get along. This time though her loss of her job was the loss of her personality. Without knowing her I cannot be certain but she is CERTAINLY DEPRESSED. She does not find it easy to change and change was forced upon her. She asks your dad to go with her and he does not? Why? Certainly he can help ease her into retirement by being positive and doing something for HER and not just for himself. Just my two cents worth. I know you love your mother and father but someone needs to speak up for your mom because she cannot do so for herself yet. Good luck
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Old 08-13-2011, 11:29 AM   #14
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I was working on a response, and then PaddyMac posted almost the same things I would have said, only Paddy said them better.

I truly believe the key to opening your beloved Mum's door to happiness is finding something she is good at, which other people need. She is too young to be "waiting to die."

I know what it is to have someone you love, be utterly stubborn about their own declining health. It hurts so much to see them hurting and neglecting themselves, and not letting anyone say a word about it. Plus, it is not illegal to kill oneself slowly through overeating, not exercising, or refusing to see the doctor (these are things I am dealing with right now, with loved ones) so relatives and friends can't even stage an "intervention." I haven't figured out the answer, so all I can offer is empathy.

According to a book I like, "How to Make Peace with Anyone," the basis of all human conflict is people's fear of lost control. This goes for internal conflict as well - the harm we cause ourselves.

You say she married someone very smart and capable, but also "not very gentle or understanding" and "a Type A." That marriage worked well while she was raising children and doing her job, but with the kids and job gone, she seems to be in an unequal partnership. He, not she, decides where they go, what they do. Again, that may not have bothered her while her sphere of activity was full. Now, no one depends on her.

Your Dad's talents lie toward independence, and I would not suggest making him be someone he is not. But since he is a problem-solver, could you phrase the "Mum needs to be needed" question to him, as a problem you need his help to solve?

I hope our thoughts have been some help to you in your frustration,

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Old 08-13-2011, 11:57 AM   #15
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I understand your concern Smith. Some people are likely not meant to retire, and it sounds as if your mother may be one of these.

I would say that your Mother might try to find another job, or see if she can get back on her old job, even part time. It's really not one of her duties to accompany her husband so that he won't be lonesome traveling. Or one of his duties to be her gym buddy.

Autonomy is very important to many of us, and we will assert that autonomy either in healthy ways, or in destructive ways. In any case, status quo isn't working, and change may introduce processes that neither of them, or you for that matter have considered, but change is going to come one way or another. She (and your Dad) may as well try to get in front of it.

I know a couple where the woman retired a few years ago, and the man about 4 years later, last summer. His retirement clearly destabilized their relationship, in part I believe because it became apparent to her that it was not his job that limited the time he spent with her, but his desire to do so. They fell into an existence where they each went pretty much their separate ways (not as far as I know with other romantic partners). He continued to bike downtown almost every day to lunch with his former workmates.

Between this couple there were no overt angry outbursts, and what appeared to be at least a limited mutual respect, but very little apparent affection or attempt to please one another. What could be called medium bad vibes.

Then suddenly after about 6 months of retirement he came home one day and announced that he was joining the Peace Corps, and that he was not inviting her to apply.

She had to sign an affadavit that this was OK with her, but inwardly she was devastated. She had hoped that he would spend his last month or so at home with her doing pleasant things for the two of them, but instead he traveled arund the country visiting his friends.

Many middle aged people are really no longer that crazy about one another!

So really, if your Mom needs a gym companion, she should get one, or hire a personal trainer or do something. If your Dad needs a travel companion, if all else fails there is always Craig's list. Having to get along with someone he has not dominated for years may improve his personality too.

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Old 08-13-2011, 12:58 PM   #16
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...My mum loved her job at her local council and did not want to retire at all. But my dad made her retire as she was 65 and he was 68 at that time....[/QUOTE]

Even if she is laughing and seems happy, your mum definitely could be depressed. She stopped doing something she loved, not by her own choice apparently, and whatever needs that council job filled are likely not being met for the last three years.

Good luck to both of you and she is lucky to have such a loving caring daughter. I think I would say what you feel you should say just once and then let it go and just love her the way she is.
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Old 08-13-2011, 01:42 PM   #17
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On the other hand, maybe she is perfectly happy and enjoying retirement, even though she isn't working on weight loss.

Obesity presents a very difficult battle, that many can't seem to win. The last thing they want to hear is one of their children scolding them, I would think.

This is why I agree with GregLee. If your father takes her to the gym, she will work out and she may get more interested in cutting back on fattening foods. Then perhaps you will have the opportunity to encourage her by complimenting her on her weight loss, the next time you see her.
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Old 08-13-2011, 02:13 PM   #18
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Sorry to hear about your Mom .She seems to be lost in retirement . Maybe she really needs a part time job . I would also encourage her to go to the gym but join a class . She would soon find lots of new friends and maybe a new purpose .
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Old 08-15-2011, 12:43 AM   #19
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Thank you so, so much everybody. I can't sleep tonight for thinking about Mum, and your suggestions and kind words have given me an enormous amount of comfort. You have all given such good suggestions, things I would never have thought of. I really do appreciate this so much.
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Old 08-15-2011, 01:03 AM   #20
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Nobulife: you have offered a really interesting perspective that I had not considered. Maybe she even thinks that we might move back if she worries us enough?? I think you could be right about trauma suffered on her part with me moving away. When my then-boyfriend said he was moving to the States (we had only known each other a few weeks when he got a job offer here, so after that we did long-distance) -well, my cousin told me that she overheard a conversation between our mothers where hers suggested that I might follow the boyfriend to the US and apparently my mum confidently said "Oh no, she would never do that." So it was a bit of a shock for her, to say the least. Thank you SO much for your insight with that, as a mother whose daughter moved.

OBGYN65: Thanks for replying. I have a sister who lives a 3-hr drive from my parents. She is married with three young children. Unfortunately she isn't very nice, and thinks nothing of keeping my parents away from the grandchildren for three months, sometimes four. She is very much all about herself, and she will do what she wants, and what is convenient for her, and she doesn't care about anyone else's feelings. She's hard that way.

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