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May 25, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Hard Knocks

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Final touches

Question:

My mom has suffered with alcoholism for most of her life. She has been in the best detox & treatment centers and the worst. However she never got sober. She has tried to kill herself several times. She has been diagnosed with cancer and was given 6 months to live on 10/5/2000.

She is having radiation on her leg for pain, which doesn't seem to be helping. Hospice has been called in. She is getting worse daily. Her feet now look like they are full of fluid. Medication helps, but she says she feels like a zombie and doesn't want to take more.

I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters all grown. We will do anything to make this easier. She said tonight she'd love a beer. I said ok. At this point I figure why not. Then she said she'd better not with all the pain medication she is on. This is heartbreaking. She is afraid to live and scared to die and in so much pain.

Is she punishing herself more than she already has? I've done a lot of research on how to offer comfort in the final stages. Touch, they say, is wonderful. We've never had a touchy feely relationship. However lately I've tried just to touch her, which seems to be comforting. Today I was rubbing her back. She asked me to stop as she hates when people touch her. Why does she dislike touch so much?

shugie (46 year-old woman)

Answer:

Dear shugie,

I am sorry to hear about your mother. People react extremely different to their own death. It brings out the best in some, worse with others, and often a person will just stay the same. It is important to remember that this is about her and her feelings about how her life has been and how she has treated others. "Afraid to live and scared to die" certainly seems to fit how she has run her life and is still running it. I want to get close and don't want to get close might also fit.

I agree with you that as bad as addictions are, if someone is dying of cancer comfort is what is important and I no longer care about what she is addicted to. This sounds like a woman who has never really made peace with her or life and she might well go out of life the same way. The most you can do is follow her lead and try to provide what she needs at this time. This might well change from day to day as ambivalence is the order of the day when someone is dying. One moment they might be full of hope and the next depressed and angry with everyone. Do your best not to take it personally and know how quickly it can change.

From what you have told me it sounds like she has always had problems trusting and getting close to people. I can only wonder about what kind of pain or abuse she experienced in her early life. I would imagine that she has never really loved or accepted herself and that besides the physical basis of alcoholism this has probably contributed to her drinking. Often people who do not like themselves and/or had abuse in their lives do not like to be touched. We have body memory that can get triggered off by even a remotely similar touch. If we hate ourselves we also might react to someone treating us in a loving way as if we have been seared with fire. People often do not feel they deserve it and if she has ever treated you poorly this reaction would be more likely.

There are also other reasons for her difficulty with touch. When someone is dying they eventually need to pull in to themselves and say goodbye to the living. When someone is touching them that connects him or her to life again. This would be extremely difficult. Expect that this behavior might also come and go throughout the course of the disease. This is also very hard on the survivors and they might find themselves doing exactly the same thing. This is also normal and I wouldn't damn you for it. It is just as hard to lose someone we love, as it is to leave those we love by dying. Just do the best you can. All the relatives will deal with the stress in very different ways and all of them are understandable in this situation.

There is also a very simple and present issue that might make touching difficult. When someone is sick and in pain touching can feel wonderful. It makes us feel close and releases chemicals into the body that fight pain. However, it also at times feels horrible and is uncomfortable to even be touched lightly. Even with minor illnesses this can be the case and cancer can be an incredibly painful process. Again, follow her lead and try and give her what she needs at the moment and assume that this will change hour to hour. It is not personal. It is about the person and the illness.

Good luck,

Jef Gazley

This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.

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