Should I move back to Wisconsin because my mother has cancer?

I moved to Colorado but could move back if I had to.

Published February 6, 2008 11:05AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I live in Colorado but am originally from Wisconsin, where both my family and my husband's family still reside. My husband and I moved after college, wanting to experience something different than the Midwest we had both grown up in, and we have fallen in love with everything about the state. While my husband is happy with the geographic distance between him and his family, I am very close to my two sisters and my parents (mom and stepdad) and have always wondered if I would be even happier living closer to them, especially now that my older sister and I are starting families. This never turned into a huge issue, however, because my family was always willing to travel multiple times per year to see me, and vice versa.

At any rate, my mom was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer last summer when I was six months pregnant. She had a very successful surgery and finished chemo, which effectively put her into remission. After the diagnosis, we immediately considered moving back to be closer to my mom, but because I was pregnant, and because she seemed to be doing well, we decided (with my mom's insistence) to wait until after the baby was born to make a final decision. Our son is now 5 months old and my mom has just been told that she's already had a recurrence. We know we have limited time with my mom, but I cannot help feeling a giant sense of dread about moving back to a state that we left years ago for very specific reasons (weather, culture, etc.). My husband is being wonderfully supportive and is ready to pick up and leave the city/state he loves, but I worry that in the long run he'll be depressed and resentful. I also feel that once we're settled back in Wisconsin, moving again will not be an option for us. I moved a lot as a kid and want to spare my kids that experience, not to mention the fact that I still find moving to be pretty traumatic.

In my state of shock, anger, sadness and confusion, I feel like I'm not thinking creatively about ways to maximize the time we have left with my mom without making a permanent move and winding up forever unhappy in our decision. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Dear Megan,

I would not move back there now. If you want to move back there, you can do so later. Instead, right now, I suggest you maintain your own household and be ready to travel on short notice and to make extended stays.

So maintain your stable home in Colorado, and visit as often as you can. Be there. But don't move there. You will be glad, over the months and possibly years ahead, that you can return to your Colorado home for respite. The near future will be hard enough as it is.

If you move back there now, not only might you feel trapped, but it also might not be the best thing for your family. They are under great stress. So if you relocate to Wisconsin in the midst of this stress and difficulty, you may find yourself struggling with your sisters over things none of you really understand, buffeted by powerful and unexplained emotions driven by deep, unacknowledged motives -- to save your mother, to reunite the family, to recapture a happier time when your father was there, to overcome guilt about leaving for Colorado. And those struggles might divert everyone from what is really going on. This is about your mother. Your mother is gravely ill and will probably die soon. That is the thing you must face.

We are powerless over those we love. That is the bottom line. Those we love pass out of this world. They pass. They pass and we are powerless. We are powerless over their passing. We dream. We dream of protecting. But we are powerless. That is how it is.

So you must be strong and have faith that you moved to Colorado for good reason and you fell in love with the state for good reason. Places that draw us do not always draw us consciously; there is some other entity in play here, what we refer to loosely as the soul, the sum of the unknown but deeply felt forces that guide us and push us without our fully understanding how and why. So you must trust that you are in Colorado for good reason, and do what you can from there.

I note with interest that it is ovarian cancer that your mom has, and that you have just had a baby, and that your mother's children are three women. Three sisters. Three sisters whose mother has ovarian cancer. The father figure is a stepfather. This is a profoundly female universe. Your mother, you might say, did good work with her ovaries; she left many more functioning ovaries in the world. And now she is passing out of that world. I don't know exactly what that means for you and your sisters. But I suspect that in the language of the psyche it all means a great deal.

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