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Friend devastated by her mother's death: advice please

(26 Posts)
MargotLedbetter Wed 04-May-22 10:41:30

My mum had a life-long friendship with a woman I'll call Pam. They met at school and were great, supportive friends up to my mum's death 14 years ago. The friend has a daughter, I'll call her Sophie, about 10 years younger than me, and we are friends. Sophie was always very close to her mum. Her father left them when Sophie was young and although Sophie moved out and lived independently in her 20s and 30s she and Pam were the kind of mother and daughter who were always on the phone to each other and spent weekends and holidays together. Although Sophie talked about marriage and children the right man never seemed to come along.

In 2016 they both sold their homes in London, pooled their resources and moved 300 miles to Devon, where they bought a beautiful house on a clifftop overlooking the sea. Sophie was able to work most of the time from home. In February 2021, in heavy lockdown, Pam died after several months of illness. There was very little support available because of Covid and it was a horrible experience. I went to help for a few weeks before and after her death. I was really concerned about Sophie who had no local contacts to support her in her grief. I have stayed in touch ever since, visiting when I can (it's a six hour journey to get there for me so not easy) and calling her a couple of times a week. She says I'm the sister she never had.

I know that grief takes time, and of course I'm sensitive to her situation: she has no family apart from a couple of cousins she sees very little of. I don't expect her to have moved on, but I'm seeing absolutely no signs of her shifting at all. She is often very down and talks of wanting to end it all, that she has nothing left to live for and so on. She goes for weeks at a time without leaving the house, not even for a walk. When I go and visit and take her out she is very passive and wants me to take control, decide where we're going to go out and what we're going to eat and drive her to places (she's a good driver but rarely goes out in it now).

I've talked to her about seeing her GP. A friend of mine who's an excellent counsellor/ psychotherapist used her contact network to find someone good in Sophie's area to whom she could talk. I've found a couple of bereavement support groups in her area where she may be able to meet people in a similar situation to her own. She hasn't reached out to any of these contacts. Instead, twice a week, she just tells me how awful she feels, what a mistake it was moving to such an isolated area, how lonely she is, how she hates leaving the house, how she hates herself for not taking better care of her mother... It's all getting too much for me.

Any thoughts?

MissAdventure Wed 04-May-22 11:11:45

Very difficult, and I expect moreso because of lockdown, but I would find it hard too, twice a week, to listen to someone whose sole focus is her mums death.

It seems mean to say it, but could you perhaps speak once a week instead of twice, for a start?

Maybe you could say that you feel a counsellor really would be the ideal person for her to vent to.

Oopsadaisy1 Wed 04-May-22 11:19:09

Unless you feel able to go and stay with her for a while and help to introduce her to various groups that she could continue to go to after you leave, I don’t think there is much more you can do.

She hasn’t taken any of your advice to see a GP or a counsellor, so I think her phone calls are just to vent not to get more advice, although the obvious thing to do is to get help as she sounds depressed.

It’s sad, you don’t say how old she is, but presumably she is still able to get out and socialise? so it’s really down to her now.

I suspect she will end up moving back to London where she lived before moving to Devon with her Mother, but that has to be her decision.

MargotLedbetter Wed 04-May-22 11:45:17

Thanks for your responses. She's in her late 40s and she has a lot of life ahead of her. She has a very good job and earns a decent salary and she's a nice woman: nice sense of humour (in normal circumstances) and an easy-going manner.

I have a weird feeling that she is expecting me to take on the role her mother used to occupy. She has asked me if I'll go on a cruise with her (it costs £8,000) and when I said I couldn't possibly afford that for a fortnight's holiday she suggested a couple of other holidays we could go on. The cheapest was £4000. She and her mum weren't the kind of people who ever made do with a week's self-catering somewhere! I don't have the money to go on those sort of holidays, but they're also not the kind of holidays I'd choose if I did. I like culture and travelling around. I think she likes 5* service and dressing up in the evenings. That's not me.

I've told her to call or message me when she's feeling particularly down, but she never contacts me. It's all a bit one-way, with me checking up on her and her hiding away in her big house by the sea. I think I have a fear she may do something stupid. She hasn't actually talked about that, but it hangs over us and makes me very cautious about reducing contact.

Thank you both for your input. I'm feeling increasingly exhausted and brought down by this but can't see a decent way out of it.

Blinko Wed 04-May-22 11:51:12

It seems to me that you have tried everything you reasonably can. If your friend is unable to motivate herself, despite your best efforts, I really don't see that it's up to you to do more. She is the one responsible for her own life and her outlook on things.

After all, we can only be responsible for things directly under our control.

MissAdventure Wed 04-May-22 11:56:33

The thing is that it is only she who can start to move on, bit by bit.
Bereavement is terrible, but its unfair to draw someone else into it.
There is a woman in the block where I live who is gradually alienating people with her unwillingness to help herself just a bit.
There is only so much other people can do, until it then becomes enabling them to stay frozen in time.

Shandy57 Wed 04-May-22 12:00:32

Poor woman, she still sounds as though she's numb and just going through the motions of life. I was in a terrible state for at least two years. I hope she feels able to ring the Samaritans when she is feeling very bad, I used to ring them regularly.

When my husband died I found this explanation of grief very useful. I hope your friend will find a time when she can reach out and make her life 'bigger'.

"Ball In A Jar

One day I saw a notice for a talk on helping children through bereavement by Barbara Monroe, the Chief Executive of St Christopher's Hospice in London. When I arrived, what I saw resembled a physics lesson. On the table before her was a very large glass jar. Beside were three balls: one large, one medium-sized, one small. Without a word, she began to stuff the large ball into the jar. With a great deal of effort, she wedged it in. There!' she said. 'That's how grieving feels at first. If grief is the ball and the jar is your world, you can see how the grief fills everything. There is no air to breathe, no space to move around. Every thought, every action reminds you of your loss.' Then she pulled the large ball out of the jar and put in the medium-sized ball. She held it up again, tipping it so the ball rolled around a bit. 'Maybe you think that's how it will feel after a time - say, after the first year. Grieving will no longer fill every bit of space in your life.' Then she rolled the ball out and plopped in the small ball.

'Now, say, by the second or third year, that's how grieving is supposed to feel. Like the ball, it has shrunk. So now you can think of grief as taking up a very small part of your world - it could almost be ignored if you wish to ignore it.'

For a moment, considering my own crammed jar, I thought of leaving. 'That's what everyone thinks grieving is like,' the voice continued. 'And it's all rubbish.' I settled back into my seat. Two other glass jars were produced from under the table: one larger, one very large. Now,' she said, imperiously. 'Regard.' Silently, she took the largest ball and squeezed it slowly into the least of the three jars. It would barely fit. Then she pulled the ball out and placed it in the next larger jar. There was room for it to roll around. Finally, she took it out and dropped it into the largest glass jar. 'There,' she said, in triumph. 'That's what grieving is really like. If your grieving is the ball, like the ball here it doesn't get any bigger or any smaller. It is always the same. But the jar is bigger. If your world is this glass jar, your task is to make your world bigger.' You see,' she continued, 'no-one wants their grief to shrink. It is all they have left of the person who died. But if your world gets larger, then you can keep your grief as it is, but work around it.' Then she turned to us. 'Older people coping with grief often try to keep their world the same. It is a mistake. If I have one thing to say to all of you it is this: make your world larger. Then there will be room in it for your grieving, but your grieving will not take up all the room. This way you can find space to make a new life for yourselves."

MargotLedbetter Wed 04-May-22 12:01:26

That's very wise and of course I agree with you. It's very hard watching this happen and I guess I'm labouring under the knowledge that Pam and my Mum would have wanted me to do what I could to help.

I'll remind her of the numbers and names I've previously suggested but as you say, it's up to her to follow them up.

Germanshepherdsmum Wed 04-May-22 12:03:41

I agree, it sounds as though she’s looking to replace her mother and isn’t going to do anything to help herself. Almost as if she has regressed to being a child reliant on Mum to order her life and take responsibility for everything However even if she is still mostly working from home she is interacting with other people to some extent and is clearly able to take responsibility except when it comes to herself. If she were behaving with work colleagues and clients as she does with you I suspect she wouldn’t still be in this good job. It almost sounds as though there is the capable professional person happy to splash large amounts on a holiday and the lost little girl you speak to. Two different personalities. If she never takes the initiative and calls you I would be inclined to gradually cut down your calls to her and then stop calling altogether. Don’t feel guilty. You have been more than patient and supportive and how she lives the rest of her life has to be her choice.

MissAdventure Wed 04-May-22 12:19:43

That's a good point.
Well, lots of them, but she is clearly able to consider holiday choices, which is quite a feat for someone who is so very down.

MargotLedbetter Wed 04-May-22 12:26:51

Yes, she does seem to have two personalities. I've heard her managing people and being very efficient and in control when I've stayed there with her. And then around me she seems helpless.

Not sure whether she's ever had what I'd think of as a social circle with friends who were there to support and socialise. Nor does she seem to have joined groups (I'm thinking of choirs or walking groups or hobby groups) that would have widened her network. She seemed to be studying endlessly when she was younger. Various degrees and professional qualifications and a part-time PhD a few years ago. Although it's all been good for her professionally I think she's ended up socially isolated.

Germanshepherdsmum Wed 04-May-22 12:37:38

It’s sad but that was her choice. She’s still a young woman and has plenty of opportunity to change her life if she wants and, by the sound of it, most definitely the ability to do so. Don’t let her drag you down. Not having the ability to have a good old wallow a couple of times a week may well do her good. And you too!

ExDancer Wed 04-May-22 12:53:33

Have you asked her if she wants to return to the neighbourhood of her last home? Do you think she's waiting for you to suggest that (then she can blame you if it doesn't work out?)

MargotLedbetter Wed 04-May-22 13:29:14

I wouldn't dream of suggesting moving to anyone who's been relatively recently bereaved. It's not a time for making major life decisions. I've seen too many people make huge mistakes and go a bit mad spending money and moving when they're bereaved.

Cabbie21 Wed 04-May-22 13:38:48

OP I think you have done all you can.
It worries me that too many people are too emotionally dependent on a parent, as an adult. I know my step- daughter will go to pieces when her father dies, but seriously, it is normal to expect to lose one’s parents at some point, especially as they get older. But it would be treading on eggshells to try to wean either side away from such close dependence. I don't mean to sound callous, but it is as if death comes as a surprise, whereas it is one of the few inevitabilities.

Hithere Wed 04-May-22 13:59:10

I agree she has to choose to get help

Was she the same way with her mother - the mother being the active decision maker for both of them?

Oopsadaisy1 Wed 04-May-22 14:08:43

But she works? Holds down a full time job?

Maybe she just wants a bit of sympathy? And you are the one she wants to offer it, it sounds as though she is leading her life and now is thinking of holidays.

I’m thinking that she isn’t as bad as she is making out.

Chestnut Wed 04-May-22 14:17:14

I agree that you should go down there (maybe a week) and arrange some kind of appointment or group meeting every day of that week. Go with her for support and push her in there! I think if you take control like this she may very well go along with it. Clearly it is no use allowing her to arrange these things herself, she won't do it. The meetings could be with a counsellor, social group, grief support group, whatever you can find in that area. As many as possible in that week. Discuss it with her afterwards, whether she got something from it etc.

The key here is to get her meeting other people in her area. Try and get these people to phone her, offer to pick her up to go to the group etc. Explain that she needs encouragement and probably won't go unless someone is pushing her. By doing this you are controlling things but from a distance. You are harnessing local people to do the supporting instead of you. Once you go home keep in touch with these contacts to find out if she's going along.

In other words, if the mountain won't go etc. They need to go to her.

paddyann54 Wed 04-May-22 14:24:12

If she's living in the same home with all the same things as she was with her mother ,then she's not getting a chance to come to terms with her loss.Maybe suggest decorating the sitting room ,maybe in astyle she likes but her mother would have found too bright or too modern and try to advise her to move some of her mums things into a spare room .
My SIL is still stuck in the grief that started when her mother died in December but shes knee deep in things she wont part with knee deep she cant walk round her sitting room for them .
Letting go of some of the belongings that were her mums will be a start if you can help her to do that ,there must be some stuff that is just "there" that can go and help her to move forward .As she moves them and then lets them go she will feel some relief ,just looking at these things every day must be dragging her mood down.Good luck with it it wont be easy ,I know from my own experience but little steps will get her there

MargotLedbetter Wed 04-May-22 15:19:37


But she works? Holds down a full time job?

Maybe she just wants a bit of sympathy? And you are the one she wants to offer it, it sounds as though she is leading her life and now is thinking of holidays.

I’m thinking that she isn’t as bad as she is making out.

I think the holiday suggestion was her following the old pattern she had with her mum. They used to go on two cruises a year, in May and September, so asking me to go on a cruise with her was like asking me to carry on where her mum left off.

I suggested other holidays that I might be able to afford and which are more my cup of tea. For example, I suggested an up-market trip to Southern Italy, staying in the Sorrento area and visiting Pompeii and Capri and so on. Nice hotels, private tours. She wasn't interested.

The two of them had shared the house for some years, so I have no idea what's Pam's stuff and what's Sophie's. It's a comfortable stylish house full of nice things and I think redecorating or getting rid of decent furniture because it was Pam's is a bit odd. When I was last there, shortly before Christmas, I encouraged Sophie to pack up her mum's clothing and personal items into boxes. We washed a lot of stuff and took to to charity shops. It was hard for her but she said she was glad she did it. I'm not aware of anything else being rehomed.

eazybee Wed 04-May-22 15:29:07

I think you have done all you can do, and more importantly, should do.
I thought after your first couple of posts, she wants you as a substitute mother, someone she has known for a long time and (sorry to say this) she doesn't need to make an effort with.
She chose to move in with her mother and lead a rather isolated life, and I don't feel she wants or needs new friends or a social circle.
You need to be careful otherwise she will use you as a mother substitute, to keep the world at bay. Don't even consider going on the holidays she suggests even if she offers to pay for you, which I actually think is highly unlikely. I think she has a strong sense of self-preservation and isn't prepared to face change. It is an odd lifestyle for a competent professional woman, and not a healthy one.
Don't break off contact but don't allow yourself to feel guilty for not agreeing with her suggestions. You have supported her very well; she has to take responsibility for herself now.

sodapop Wed 04-May-22 15:34:09

I agree entirely with eazybee's post. You have done all you can MargotLedbetter don't encourage your friend to be overly dependent on you.

TheodoraP Wed 04-May-22 15:39:20

You have been a very good friend to her and you now may be feeling a little overwhelmed by trying everything but it hasn't worked

If she were my friend the first thing I would advise her to do is put the house on the market so that she can move to an area that she would prefer to live

Bereavement can be all consuming especially if you are not distracting yourself, speaking from experience

She badly needs a distraction, something fresh to think about and concentrate on

Hopefully she will think that moving is a good idea and having that to focus on might joult her out of her present depression

When you were describing how she was feeling..I have felt all those things

CvD66 Wed 25-May-22 13:17:21

You are being an amazing friend. She obviously feels you are the person she can pour her grief out to, without realising how exhausting it is for you.
My brother and I experienced this with my sister, who seemed have a terrible life. She has sadly died suddenly, and we have discovered many people regarded her as accomplished, energetic, creative and very caring. However to me and my brother she showed the sad side - and we individually found it very exhausting!
A technique that worked is to start the conversation by asking: 'So what's going a bit better for you?' Don't suggest but wait and encourage. Whatever she comes up with, greet with a positive reaction and if possible, get her to tell you more about it. If you can help her recognise that each time you speak, you help her look forward and recognise small things are gradually changing, it could shift the dynamics and make it less exhausting for you!

Daisymae Wed 25-May-22 13:23:37

It does seem that she has never made a life for herself, preferring to stay under her mothers wing. The isolated house on the cliff was a retirement home but of course she's not retiring in her 40s. I agree that she would like you to be able to fill the void in her life. I think that you have no option but to withdraw and all her to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life.