There are quite a few books and web sites now that help people deal with a loved one who has a terminal illness. Many offer practical suggestions and deal with issues around grief and preparing for the likelihood that your family member may die in the near future. What I can contribute are some things to consider from a psychological and relational point of view as you relate to her in the last few months or years of her life.
Most family relationships are complicated. Even the most emotionally healthy parent-child relationships can have not-so-pretty histories, ragged edges, and quirky elements alongside a great deal of love. You are probably in the same boat as most adult children with a terminally ill parent. Most of the adults I talk to in this situation primarily want two things: 1) to help their parent die in peace, feeling loved and cared about by their family, and 2) to be at peace themselves about the relationship at the time of her or his parent’s death, both at the time of the death and in the very long future they will live without their parent.
There is no perfect way to go about helping a loved one die but there are more and less graceful ways to go about it. You and your mother have come a long way in your relationship and have healed a lot, but are not extremely close. Here are a few suggestions:
1) While you may wish to do more healing work with your mother and try to become closer to her before she dies, as the illness progresses, there is a time to stop trying and just do your best to be with her as a loving and accepting presence in her life;
2) Mutual acceptance, kindness of spirit and small loving actions convey love and create healing in ways that verbal communication may no longer be able to do;
3) This is the time to let go of resentments. No matter how justified they may seem to you, they are irrelevant to what is happening in the ill person’s life and irrelevant to healing your relationship with that person. Let them go and you will be more at peace after she passes away.
4) If you can create new, positive memories with you Mom even during this period of deterioration in her condition, you will have those memories the rest of your life. Such memories may include organizing an album of family photos together, asking her to share stories about her life and the life of the family she grew up in, or just sharing a cup of tea in front of the television. Simple things count the most.
There are parents, adult children, sometimes younger children, and sometimes even grandparents involved in the situation of the ill family member. There may be spouses or ex-spouses. Each person will have their own unique relationship with their ill family member. While you can gently encourage estranged family members to work on healing their relationships with your mother, you have absolutely no power over whether they do so. This is a time to focus on your own relationship with your mother and allow others to do, or not do, whatever they choose in regard to their own relationship with her. I wish the two of you peace and further emotional healing in the last days, weeks or months of your togetherness.