End of life care for a parent is a Goliath task. When an elder parent falls ill with a life-ending diagnosis, there is a palpable obligation felt by the children to provide care themselves, or at least arrange it. The matter of choice feels nonexistent.
But the waters grow muddier for less connected relatives, like a daughter-in-law. And muddier still if the dying party launched insults at her for decades.
A story posted to the "Am I The A**hole" (AITA) subReddit offers a firsthand account of a daughter-in-law whose decades-long terrible relationship with her mother-in-law now collides with the inarguable need to care for the cancer-stricken old woman.
Her account highlights how quickly a terminal illness lays new ethical groundwork. Before end-of-life care was a reality, anger and distance felt like a right. But cancer has a knack for moving the goal posts.
She begins with some exposition, identifying the stress points in she and her mother-in-law's relationship.
"My mother-in-law and I have had a tense relationship for nearly 20 years."
"She made it clear from the start that she was unhappy with her son (first kid and eldest male in a large and relatively prosperous Asian family) marrying someone she perceived as low-class white trash."
In the narrator's assessment, judgment came from class and racial sources.
But judgment, over the years, gave way to repeated and escalating effrontery. She provides a short list of examples.
"For years I put up with her digs. She would buy me diet books for my birthday and greet me with 'How's your weight?' instead of 'How are you?'"
"One year she made a big production of giving me a lovely wool coat for Christmas, several sizes too small, telling me in front of a very large gathering to diet myself into it."
"I've been omitted from the holiday exchange, ignored when making introductions, and talked to in a tone usually used with toddlers, by her and several of her other kids."
"I learned last Christmas that she and one of her sons were going around the city telling people that I'm a gold-digging whore."
There is no place like home for the holidays.
Those climbing infractions culminated with a real bombshell.
"The final straw was when another son got engaged and his fiancé was given a big welcome party; they broke out the champagne and said how happy they were that this time someone with class was joining the family."
So far, this is a story that beckons pure and one-dimensional emotions: this daughter is peeved, and only peeved.
But the landscape changed with mother-in-law's dwindling health.
"We learned last month that she has an aggressive and terminal cancer, and she's been declining fast."
"I told my husband (with whom I also have issues going back to the start of his family's mistreatment) that while I will not keep him from being with his relatives, I did not want to go myself. I said further that I would not provide any relief care for her without being paid for it."
The new variable clearly complicated the simpler, one-shaded anger that characterized most of the relationship.
The narrator closes with her rationale for her refusal to care.
"I figure that if I'm too low-class to be welcome in the family, then I'm therefore not really part of the family at all, and it becomes just business."
"Besides, the last thing they need right now is my angry aura in the room."
There was plenty for Reddit to comment in the story: empathetic anger towards mother-in-laws, experiences with fraught end-of-life care, cold declarations of justice, and assessments of that ultimate rationale.
First off, the pure and indifferent justice arguments.
"Sow sh*t seeds, reap tough sh*t." -- Dszquphsbnt
"This is exactly why you treat people the way you want to be treated." -- HiddenTurtles
"She can't decide you're too fat and classless to even matter for 20 years and suddenly change her mind because she is sick." -- tritoeat
"I honestly wouldn't bother myself with anything concerning her. She went out of her way to make you miserable so she can stew in that." -- periwinkle_cupcake
"I would help her and hiss into her ear, 'this is what you deserve' but I'm also evil so..." -- Boydle
Many supported the narrator in her decision not to provide care, but outlined alternate, or even additional, reasons for that choice.
"If your MIL really dislikes you that much I doubt she really cares whether you're there."
"Attend the funeral to support your husband, and be there for him while he grieves. That's the only person you need to focus on in this situation." -- MoreDinosaursPlease
"She doesn't see you as part of the family, so why help out a random person? It's not like you're family or good friends." -- TheSecondArK
"I would be open to visiting her with your husband, just so you can show you are the bigger person."
"Under no circumstances should you care for her - your husband can go to her house and provide whatever help might be needed." -- MoFun06
And MANY Redditors set their sights on the narrator's husband, and called into question his loyalty over the course of that multi-decade abuse.
"I hope your husband stepped up occasionally to defend you?? If not that makes me sad." -- errkajune
"I would go to marriage therapy to see if you marriage can be saved. Your spouse never should have allowed this behavior. And you should have stopped going to family events after they disrespected you." -- iluvcats17
"You might be a clown for staying with someone who doesn't defend you against this." -- tnmcd006
"Please leave this awful person and family." -- CatoNineLives
There is no certainty the protagonist of this story will adhere to the guidance of Reddit comments.
But if she does follow the Reddit compass it's very clear where landscape of advice points: she will not be involved in the final chapter of her mother-in-law's life.