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I'm new to the forum and I want to let you know what's happening with me:

In January 2005, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. After 4.5 years, the cancer had spread to her liver, vertebrae, and finally to her brain. She died on June 23, 2009.

Our family was given a gift from an organization called Libby's Legacy, a group that gives free Alaska cruises to families of women with stage 4 breast cancer. We took our cruise May 31-June 6, 2009. While we were gone, my paternal grandmother died. After we returned from the cruise, my father went to New York for the burial. At the same time, my mother received news that she has lesions on her brain and would have to have full-brain radiation. After receiving that news my mother began to decline physically and mentally. I had to return to Kansas, where I live now. My mother's childhood friend came to take care of her while my father was away. During that period, my mother entered the hospital. She died two days later and just six hours before my father returned home. Her childhood friend was in the room with her.

I went home as soon as I got the news and was able to stay for two and half weeks but again I had to return to my job in Kansas. Part of what is difficult is that my father and sister, who is 20, are very emotionally closed-off. My 13 year-old brother, however, was very close with my mother and is much more emotional and outwardly loving than they are. When I was home for the cruise, my mom asked me if I would move home to take care of my brother because she was worried that he wouldn't get the nurturing care he needs. I never answered her, but I didn't say no, either. I understand her concern because I also had/have the same worry. I just can't bear the thought of returning to my hometown, living with my family, and working an unfulfilling job or being unemployed. I'm 23 and just beginning on a career path I'm passionate about, and my mother realized this and supported me, but she explicitly said, "I know this will mean putting your life on hold for a while, but will you..." She also was careful to note that I was under no obligation to say yes.

I try to keep in touch with my family. It's only been 2 weeks since I came back here, and I haven't really spoken to my sister and father, but I have talked to my brother a few times. I don't know what to say to them. It's like there aren't any words in my mind to share with them.

This is the first time I've told anyone what my mom asked me to do. I was holding it in because people (like my maternal grandmother) have said things like, "I know your mom would have wanted to you stay in Kansas." But I know this is the exact opposite of what she wanted!

So I guess my question is, can I in good faith honor my mother's wishes? I really want to take care of my brother, but I really don't want to give up my life here. Can I ignore the request of my dying mother because it doesn't correspond to my own desires?

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I don't know whether I am going to be able to make it any better for you. I think that if you believe your mom honestly you could do it, take care of your brother with you. It would be easier here for you to take care of him , than from afar. He would be able to grow up with some more guidance from you. If your brother is responsible and understanding then he will help you with your decision. However I am not sure if you are under any obligation to do as your mom says. But be assured she wants you to take care of him, far or near , you can make him feel stronger and grounded. You should also see if you can handle the responsibility. If you are responsible in yourself then go for it otherwise take some time to bring him over.



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My dear friend,

I’m so sorry your mother has died, and please know that you and your family have my deepest sympathy. I’m sorry, too, that you find yourself in such a difficult position, in the wake of your mother’s death.

If I may say so, it seems to me that, as a young woman of 23 “just beginning a career path,” your first obligation is to yourself, and that includes continuing to grow into responsible adulthood and continuing to support yourself. In today’s economy, you are fortunate to have a job at all – much less a job that you feel passionate about!

I’m not at all sure what your mother meant by her request that you “take care of” your brother because he “wouldn’t get the nurturing he needs.” Do you think she expected that it was up to you to assume the mother role in your brother’s life, or was she merely asking that whenever you’re with him (in person or on the phone, or via other electronic means such as e-mail) you attend to his emotional state, give him a good listening ear, and continue to be a good and loving sister to him?

You are not your brother’s mother, after all -- you are his sibling -- and the responsibility to continue to raise and to support your brother belongs to your father now. Have you considered how your father might feel about the way you may be interpreting your mother’s request? Would he be willing simply to turn his parental authority and responsibility for his son over to you, his daughter? And how would your brother feel about your assuming the parental role in his life? Consider for a moment how your brother might feel if you tried to take your mother’s place, and began telling him from time to time what he “should” or “should not” do. He is a teenager, after all, with several more years of adolescence ahead of him. Is it realistic to think that you are prepared to “take care of” him during and throughout this phase of his life?

I suggest that you think very carefully about the request of your dying mother – not only what she may have meant by what she said, but also in how you choose to interpret what she said to you. There are many meaningful ways that you can “take care of” and continue to give your brother “the nurturing he needs,” simply by continuing to play an important role in his life as his good and loving older sister. Can you think of what some of those ways might be?

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