Sunday 18 August 2019

Dear Mary: I have just beaten cancer but all I get from my aunt is criticism

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Mary O’Conor

I really don't know what to do. A short while ago I moved back to Ireland for a change of pace, and bought a lovely house not far from my family's birthplace. I still have loads of relatives in the area. I thought life would be perfect.

I stayed with an aunt for a few months prior to moving into my new house. At the best of times she is a bit of a control freak but I knew that from many years ago and so was able to ignore it and get on with things. I did loads for her - picking up scripts from the chemist, taking her to the hospital and invariably DIY and gardening.

She had a habit of telling me what I should or should not be doing but I let that go.

Unfortunately, after changing my life for what I thought was the better, I developed cancer. The prognosis was not good and the doctors said I had a year to live. Shock horror!

Well, I am now clear. It was a traumatic experience with all the hospital visits and the dreadful side effects of the chemo and not being able to eat properly. Thankfully I am through all that now and living a normal life.

The thing is my aunt is now constantly criticising me because I've told her I'm not able to do certain things for her. This is affecting me so badly to the point I will not go round to visit as I used to. I feel guilty about it but all I came back for was a peaceful life.

How do I deal with these emotions? I have compassion for this woman but it's driving me mad. Her daughters run round her like demented hens - cleaning, cooking and phoning her every day. It's their choice, not mine. Can you advise me what I should do.

Mary replies: It is absolutely wonderful that you have been given the all-clear. We don't hear enough of these good news stories with regard to cancer sufferers.

Your aunt appears to have been curmudgeonly all her life and she isn't going to change now. She has daughters who are doing the best they can to help her although it sounds like they too will go unrewarded by her.

So you must not feel guilty because you are unable to do things for her that you were able to do before your illness. Stress is the very last thing that you need in your life and so you must make every effort to avoid any form of it. If you feel guilty about not calling to see her then suggest that as you haven't been all that well perhaps she would get one of her daughters to bring her to see you. She will most likely not feel that she can criticise you as much when she is out of the confines of her own home. If she does, however, complain, smile sweetly at her - that in itself can be totally disarming, especially if she is trying to bully you into submission - and tell her that you consider yourself very lucky to be alive.

Explain that the reason you can't do heavy work for her like you used to is because your body is telling you that you cannot and that things are quite different for you now.

If things don't improve then remind yourself that your peace of mind is of paramount importance to you now, far more important than making your aunt happy.

You spent as long as you could trying to please her - and not succeeding - so now is the time to please yourself.

May your good health continue - as you now realise wellness is the most important aspect of all our lives.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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