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Monday 17 June 2019

Dear Mary: 'I feel guilty over two things my mother accused me of before she died'

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File photo
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Mary O’Conor

I lived with my mother for the last three years of her life. She passed away, rather unexpectedly, last summer. She was in her mid-nineties and was admitted into hospital with what they said was a mild heart attack, but she developed pneumonia and became increasingly confused. She did not speak at all before passing away two weeks after her admittance. I visited every day but was never able to have a proper conversation with my mother again after she was admitted.

Before this, she had been extremely hard to live with, getting very angry every time I went out, although I never left her for very long and always left lunch for her if I was meeting one of my daughters. But she could not bear me doing anything with any of my daughters unless we included her. I know it was hard for her as she was very hard of hearing, and she had to use a walking stick because her back was bad.

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But I did the best I could, although I got impatient at times when she shouted at me and accused me of leaving her all day - this was never the case.

I am finding now that I cannot stop feeling remorseful and wish that I could believe she has forgiven me for two things that she accused me of before she went into hospital. These two things were making her feel that I hated her and making her feel that she was in the way. These accusations were said to make me feel guilty, but it worked as I cannot stop thinking about them and I never got a chance to put things right.

Mary's reply: I AM so sorry that your last memories of your mother are such distressing ones and I can only hope that you had many good times with her before those final three years.

We all do and say things that we regret, and no doubt if your mother were able to talk to you she might say that she regretted giving you such a difficult time towards the end of her life. But she cannot, and your dilemma is that you also cannot say things to her to let her see that you did, indeed, love her - because your love for her shows through your writing of this letter to me.

We hear and read a lot about the unconditional love of mothers, and what must be upsetting for you is that you didn't see this from her in the years that she lived with you. You couldn't do anything right and were made to feel that it was because you didn't love her and because she was in the way.

It would be very helpful for you to take 30 minutes to write to your mother, explaining how you feel, just as you did to me. You can explain how wrong she was in thinking that you hated her, give her examples of how you showed your love.

You will find it extraordinarily therapeutic, even though you know she will never get to read it… or perhaps she will, depending on your beliefs. Then put the letter aside for a week and read it again. If you have anything further to add then do so, otherwise it will have served its purpose and you can destroy it. You will probably shed some tears but that is good.

Keep telling yourself that you did everything in your power to be a good enough daughter, even though she found you lacking in some ways.

In a radio discussion on Today with Sean O'Rourke recently, Dr Harry Barry made the point that frustration is a very big part of mental health issues, and it is never really discussed. You were obviously very frustrated by your mother's attitude towards you, while she in turn was frustrated by her body's ailments and being dependant on you.

But don't dwell on all of this too much, because there is nothing you can do about it. Instead, concentrate on your relationship with your own daughters.

I am sure that you will do everything in your power to ensure that your relationship with them will thrive and you will, in time, grow old gracefully enjoying their friendship.

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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