Mother’s challenges taking a toll
Ramon and Marla came for family counseling. They had spoken with their family physician a week earlier. Marla presented a frightful story about her mother, Cicily, who resided with them. I barely explained privacy laws when Maria burst out crying. Ramon held her tight in his arms. He whispered words of tenderness and encouragement to her. I didn’t want to engage them in history information ordinarily following HIPPA Laws. After several minutes, Marla began to gather herself and loosened from Ramon’s grip. Marla, I asked, what is getting you so upset?
Marla looked at me, tears flowing down her cheeks, obstructing her makeup. She placed her hands in front of her face and fanned them back and forth. “I’m so sorry, I need to blow my nose.” Ramon handed her a tissue and Marla did her business. She acknowledged Ramon for his kindness. We waited patiently. Ramon chimed in.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Sir, she’s been like this for days. You see, Cicily is a twin. She lives with us. Her twin sister lives in Queens, N.Y. with her family. They called us and said that Nina, Cicily’s sister, is in a hospital and gravely ill with the coronavirus. You see, maybe you’ve heard, no one can visit her. Hospitals won’t allow visitors. Cicily is so upset. She doesn’t eat, sleep, or even go out. All she does is cry and pray to Jesus. We are Christian. We can’t even go to church.” Marla took a deep breath.
“This is my mother’s sister. We all lived for years in Queens. We left two years ago when both Ramon and I found better jobs. We’ve always been a tight family. We were neighbors in Queens. We faced a loss of jobs in Queens. Ramon’s friend, Esteban, lives in Chautauqua County. Ramon and I relocated with our three children and my mother. She had never been separated from Nina for more than several miles in their lives. We left with lots of tears. Nina lives with her son, Pedro, his wife and their children. They have good jobs. We had to leave.” Marla cups her hands in her face. “Oh, my God, what can we do?”
What have you been able to do for your mother, Marla? Since you can’t go to church, has your priest or minister been able to safely attend to your mother? Is that something that she wants? Sounds like she’s devoid of nourishment on many levels. Has your mother spoken with her sister’s family?
“They called a week ago and gave us the news. My mother cried bitterly at the news. She could barely speak and I took the phone from her. We talked for over an hour. They’ve called us every morning and every night since. My mother won’t eat, talk, or sleep. She sits in her rocking chair and prays with her eyes closed. Because of the situation, we were told not to drive to Queens. No one can see Nina and the virus they say is taking lives. We were self-quarantining until I called mom’s doctor. He had no ideas that were helpful. Then before he hung up, he suggested family counseling. We are a strong family who support each other near or far. We’ve never needed any counseling before. Church and prayer have gotten us through life’s problems. This problem, the doctor told us, might need something more. Can you help us?”
I don’t want to assume to know what you need. With all that you’ve described, I wonder what you might like me to do. I’m able to listen, provide guidance and direction, and if possible, try to aid your mom. Do you think she’d talk to me, a stranger? And how are your children dealing with this? What do you feel your mother needs to get her through this crisis Marla and Ramon? Are you looking for immediate answers.
Ramon looked at Marla. Do you think this man can help us and help your mother? We might have to accept help. It’s bad enough that your mother is not doing well. We are family, Maria, like I told you before. This is now.” Maria sat quietly, tears flowing freely. “I don’t want Nina or mama to die. If we don’t find help, what will happen to our family here and in Queens? Yes, sir, we want your help.”
All right, Ramon and Marla. This is surely a crisis. Your mother, Maria, needs to restore some resemblance of daily basic functioning. She requires food and sleep. Somehow, you’ve got to convince her to be strong for the uncertainty of her sister’s health. While many elders have passed from this horrific virus, many are surviving. How horrible to consider this possibility of Nina living and Cicily passing. Who has any impact upon her? Will she listen to either or both of you? How about her priest? Any family from Queens in condition to offer Cicily whatever she requires? If she’s not functioning, she needs help now! This is a difficult internal battle. I wonder, too, if Cicily might talk about her sister, Nina. I’d like a chance to meet her. What’s her age? “83.”
“My first thought, sir, is please don’t be offended. Mama won’t come here with or without us.” Please excuse my interruption. I am not offended. Do you suppose Cicily might allow me to visit at your house? “Wow, we will give that some thought.” What do you think, folks? You see, from my perspective, we can try to attend to what we can control. You have no control over Nina’s fate for now. And for now, we can collectively inject your mom, Maria, with hope. She needs to be rerouted towards restoring her faith in herself, in God, and in family. Those multitudes of sick people need strength from support. Your prayers, communication with family in Queens, and faith in the medical staff might be all you can do for now. Your mom needs rest. A doctor’s assessment of her current state might introduce a temporary sleep aid and help with some anxiety she might possess.
What a helpless state of events unfolding. Tough decisions will hopefully improve Cicily’s health. Lastly, I want to make room to assess her for any self-destructive thoughts. I’m not saying she’s suicidal. I want to assess and evaluate her for now. Powerful forceps of grief are upon her. “We’ll call you later, sir.”
Marshall Greenstein holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor.. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown.
484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email email@example.com.