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Mum didn’t tell me about her major heart surgery

This week’s storyteller is Clare Tanner.

When your aunt mentions that your mum’s having surgery and you had no idea – what do you do? Clare shares her experience of her parents’ preference for privacy and desire to not worry her by not telling her about it!

Mum is 70 in October and I’ve been planning a party for her with my aunt (mum’s sister). As we discuss various options over email my aunt replies to say that she doesn’t want to book anything because of mum’s impending operation and recovery period…

I am shocked. I knew nothing about the surgery whatsoever until my aunt let slip. Immediately I’m concerned for mum and to be honest a bit hurt that she hadn’t let me know first. My aunt goes on to tell me that mum has been unwell since before Christmas last year.

Mum and dad live in Surrey 3.5 hours away from my home in Devon. I’ve been up to visit at least 6 times since Christmas and I ring them almost every week for a chat and mum never mentioned her surgery once. As far as I knew both my parents were still fit and healthy, they go to the gym 3 times a week and live active lives.

After finding out about mum’s surgery I called my parents to invite them to stay with me in Devon for a while and my mum accepted without a word of her op. I have to hear from my aunt that mum is waiting for a catheter ablation to see if scarring her heart in the malfunctioning parts will regulate her heartbeat. Mum has already had a failed operation on her atrial fibrillation and according to my aunt my dad hasn’t been coping well with mum being ill, as she has always been healthy.

My aunt goes on to tell me that my mum had attended an important appointment alone on the bus instead of going with my dad. I can only imagine the worry that all of this is causing both of them.

My parents are, and have always been, the type to keep a stiff upper lip and their tendency to deal with personal affairs privately has meant that they’ve managed to hide mum’s surgery from me. I’m sure that mum’s well intentioned reasons for not telling me, stem from that age old line that parents seem to say when they’re older “I didn’t want to worry you”, “I know you’re really busy” etc.

It makes me worry that they’ll be at death’s door and not bat an eyelid in order to avoid concern from their children. I’m sure this must be a common issue for those of us with ageing parents.

I recognise that I have no control over my mum’s illness but I can’t stop that niggling thought “If I’d known sooner I could’ve done something to help”. I can’t fix her atrial fibrillation by worrying and so in not telling me maybe my mum was right, she had my best interests at heart.

The only control I do have in this situation is my communication with my parents and my ability to support them both remotely. Our routine of weekly calls is instigated by me – my parents never call me, I always call them, because they don’t want to intrude and think I am busy.

Surrey is a fair old drive from Devon and if my parents needed me urgently I wouldn’t be able to get there as quickly as we’d both like. Caring for my parents’ emotional wellbeing over the phone is no easy feat but by regularly keeping in touch I hope I’ll be a source of relief even if they don’t share important details with me.

With time hopefully they’ll realise they can open up to me although I suspect a habit of a life time “keeping schtumm” won’t be easy to break.

My aunt has told mum that I now know about her upcoming op and I’m visiting this weekend. Fingers crossed it’ll all be ok.

Clare is a leadership coach with 20 years’ experience in helping those facing major challenges and those who need to think differently about where they are and what they do next. If you’d like advice from Clare please call 079 8921 7565 or visit PeoplePot for more information.

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