Compassion for Difficult Family Members?

Last night my mom left a voicemail to call her back. Assuming that a voicemail like that was bad news, I called back pretty immediately. And she proceeded to say:

“Your Uncle Matt is currently in the hospital. He lost his voice last week, and they went in for a checkup and turns out he has a really large tumor in his neck. And two tumors at the base of his skull. And so they’re operating on the one in his throat, first, because it’s the biggest. They’re not sure if it’s cancerous, but it’s probably a side effect from the radiation he had as a kid for that tumor in his face.”

I tried to muster some compassion. This is my mother’s youngest sibling, twelve years her junior, and she was calling to ‘keep [you] in the loop so you don’t hear from the grapevine.’ But honestly…honestly? I couldn’t muster compassion. I tried to imagine my mother’s perspective, caring for her younger brother, especially since she was a mother figure to him growing up, but I just couldn’t do it. I thanked her for letting me know, and got off the phone quickly to head into my yoga class.

And before you start labeling me a horrible human, for taking this news so lightly, I must explain:

My uncle is an asshole.

I mean, not your average run-of-the-mill asshole, but like a certified ASSHOLE of asshole extremes.

It’s hard to put all the stories into one blog post. But he’s 50 years old (ish?) and lives next door to my parents…in the upstairs part of my grandparents house. He hasn’t worked a job in 30ish years, and spends his days sleeping and his nights playing pool tournaments. He is the angriest person I have ever met, and has done shitty things like strangling my parent’s pitbull (not to death, but still), calling and cussing out my family on their voicemail, dispatching the sheriff to the school my mom works at to complain about ‘noise’ (aka the dog barking…note, my parents live in the countryside), disowning his daughter because she married a black man, screaming obscenities at his 3 year old nephew for not shutting the door quick enough, etc. etc. etc.

These incidents have been happening since I was a child. He is angry, probably mentally ill, and has caused HUGE tensions in the family. The most difficult part is seeing my grandparents enable his bad behavior, and justify it, though now as a mom I wonder if I should be less hard on my grandma, specifically. And while his ASSHOLE behavior is no reason to wish cancer, or tumors, on him, I am still having a difficult time mustering up any compassion for his condition.

I am wondering what to do about this feeling. Not going to lie, there have been times in the past that I wished ill upon him because of how awful he has treated members of the family. But lately I have mostly felt neutral. Like, if I don’t have to think about him, or experience him in any way (can you believe it, after 8 years of being together, Boof has still never met him?) then I am much happier. At the end of the day, though, he is my mother’s brother, and she is worried about his health.


Thoughts? How do you have compassion or empathy for assholes difficult family members?

(adoptive) Mother Anxiety?


I would say that, for the most part, my adoptive mother and I have a really good relationship…as long as we keep things in the logical, from the head place, rather than sharing from the more vulnerable heart space. Which means that I can, and do, share about really difficult parts of my life, but am able to distance myself and talk more about logistics than feelings like ¬†sadness, or being overwhelmed with anxiety. So, I figured that this visit would be no different than any other, but boy was I wrong, and I’m still not quite sure what to do with my experiences…

The first, was my offhanded comment about therapy, and explaining how anxiety might be contributing to her asthma. Her response was “I didn’t realize you had anxiety, sweetheart, how long have you had that?” Um…since I was a kid? I tried to not go into a fury, and feel completely mistunderstood and alone, because of that automatic thought “mothers should understand their kids,” and explained to her what diagnosed anxiety was (her follow up was “what are you anxious about?”….um….everything and nothing all at once?). ¬†It’s hard to explain anxiety to someone, but it’s especially weird to try and explain anxiety to someone who is clearly having a BUNCH of anxiety symptoms, ya know?

But the situation that really upset and confused me, was this conversation out of left field while heading to get frozen yogurt. We were listening to the radio and suddenly she says, “I hope you enjoyed growing up in our family.”

Um. What?

I responded with, “wow, where is that question coming from?” Her response was, “well, I just know it’s hard for some adopted kids and they wish they weren’t adopted, I hope you don’t feel that way.”

Wow. Talk about a leading question that backs me into a corner. In my heart I think she was trying, in an awkward way, to connect and open up a conversation, but it didn’t feel safe, especially with how it was worded. My response was “something can be hard and still be what it is, or even the better option, but it can still be hard.” It wasn’t quite my angry adoptee response that I think about, but rarely ever let leak out in real life. I feel proud that I didn’t just give in to her anxiety and say “no no, everything was aaaamazing,” because it wasn’t…it was hard. I’m sure that her question was triggered by the random assortment of adoption-related books that Potamus throws off the shelf when he’s bored.

In processing with Boof, we came back around to the belief, that in adoption the ‘what ifs’ are some of the hardest. I’ve experienced his mother’s anxiety and worry that she wasn’t a “good enough” mother, but there was no other option…she was their mother. So this fear that my mother has, could be founded in reality. I could have had a different life, and while I know that it could have both been better, or worse, it would probably would have just been…different. In some good ways, maybe, and some bad ways, maybe. But this lingering ghost of another life, in another dimension, is clearly causing all of us angst.

I want to believe that she was trying to connect, but a question like that doesn’t leave much room for my actual vulnerability. And it makes me wonder, do I even want there to be that point of connection, or am I okay with the way things are right now? If I do want to move into the more vulnerable region, would she even be capable of holding my emotions and not reacting out of her own anxiety? Could I trust her with my emotions?

Does your mom have anxiety? How do you deal with it? How do you deal with people asking leading questions?