Would you do me a favour?

My phone went off early this morning at 6.30 and I leapt out of bed in a panic thinking immediately of the worst, that something had happened to my mother.

Only once I reached the phone, answered it and it had stopped ringing did I realise I had set the alarm the night before and my mother was most likely okay, but even then I could not return to sleep.

I am living in a strange time, this hovering on the edge between life and death, my mother’s life and death, and wondering when it might happen. My husband is away and I am holding the fort or so it seems, which adds to the surreal tensions that envelope me everyday.

A few days ago I received a letter from an old friend, a woman whom I shall name Cate, who now lives in country Victoria. I did not recognise her name on the envelope at first because Cate now travels under the name of her third husband. But as I began to read her letter pennies began to drop into place.

She is sorry, Cate writes, to have lost contact with us, with my husband and me, but she had imagined at the time of her separation from her second husband that we were ‘on his side’.

How strange I thought reading this and remembering back to that time. I did not enjoy Cate’s second husband at all, and I was not so much sad as surprised when they separated.

I have a soft spot for Cate. It was she who in a sense brought my husband and me together all those years ago.

I once worked alongside Cate in the days when I was a newly graduated social worker. One Saturday evening Cate held a dinner party – dinner parties were fashionable in those days – and through a long and complicated series of manoeuvres, my husband and I wound up together at the dinner table.

In a sense we have not been apart since. Though do not imagine it has always been a honeymoon but a productive union nevertheless, and Cate believes she was responsible for beginning it, as indeed in some ways she was.

I have not seen Cate now for some fifteen or maybe more years. We ran into her, shopping in Safeway, one Saturday afternoon. She seemed distant at the time and I remember wondering at her coyness in introducing us to her new man, J, whom she eventually married.

J, Cate writes, died two years ago, but not before she had nursed him for six years. She refers to him in her letter as ‘beloved J’, so presumably this third marriage was a successful one.

Cate needs our help, she writes in her letter. Could we do her a favour? She turns seventy soon and although she does not imagine she will die in the next little while, anything is possible. For long and complicated reasons, which she does not go into, Cate has lost touch with her children, all three of them, two daughters and a son, children who must by now be aged in their mid to late forties.

Could we please help? Cate asks. Could we ‘discreetly’ and ‘sensitively’ make contact with her children and let them know that she loves them and would like at least to have an address for them.

Cate’s solicitor has told her there is no point in listing her children in her will if she has no contact address for any of them.

Cate would love to see her children, she writes, if they are willing, but she does not expect them to come running. She wants only to know how they are going and would hate for them to be left full regret after her death.

I rang a friend who might have known a contact address for at least one of these children but she too has lost touch and suggested I ring the first ex husband, a distant and mutual friend, who lives in Melbourne.

It gets sticky and tricky here. I am fearful of how Cate’s ex husband might respond were I to ring out of the blue and put in a request to him for a phone number for his children in order to enable them to resume contact with their estranged mother if they should wish.

‘I have not always been the best of mothers,’ Cate writes.

Which one of us has? I think.

This other friend who has also lost contact with Cate’s children and advises me to ask the first ex husband, warns me that Cate is ‘manipulative’.

I know the word well. It is a feature I have detected in myself. I inherited it from my mother, a state of mind that says you dare not ask for something directly, you can only safely work your way around to getting someone to give you something or do something for you, by stealth.

I try not to get into manipulations these days. To me the tendency to manipulate is the tendency of a weak person who lacks in confidence sufficient to cope with the consequences of a direct question, whether positive or negative.

I suspect women of my mother’s generation were more heavily into manipulation than today because before the advent of feminism and the beginnings of a deeper awareness of the rights of women, at least in western culture, they could only get what they wanted by stealth or feminine guile.

It would not have done for a woman of my mother’s generation to be to open with her desires. She would have needed to obscure them, perhaps even from herself.

38 thoughts on “Would you do me a favour?”

  1. 'It would not have done for a woman of my mother’s generation to be to open with her desires. She would have needed to obscure them, perhaps even from herself.'

    Almost certainly from herself.

    Good luck with the problems that Cate's request poses.

  2. I don't think you should assist in this way. If she wishes to make peace she should do it herself. Any half decent detective could find them pretty easily.

    As to the will she can simply list their names and direct the executor to search for for them dutifully.

  3. Respectful decline Cates request as it could get real messy and ugly. You could get stuck right in the middle of a family dispute, believe it's not a nice place to be :-).

  4. So far there are no problems with Cate's request, though it's early days, Elephant's Child. On the other hand, as you suggest, self deception can be dangerous. Thanks.

  5. Glenn above is on-the-button: Facebook of course.
    And I agree with Antares above as well. this whole thing smells.
    Cate needs to at least MENTION her children, each by name, in her Will.
    A person who is mentioned in a Will, cannot contest it, as the mention indicates they were properly in the thoughts of the author.

  6. You're not the first to suggest I should not help out here, Laoch, though I feel inclined to at least let it be known that this mother is trying to contact her children. Beyond that I'll do nothing.

    Thanks, Laoch.

  7. We all manipulate. We manipulate with reason as much as we do with emotion but the emotional manipulators usually get the most flack. I would suspect that, of the two, it is the most common as not everyone is capable of intellectual reasoning to that level but I don’t think one is worse than another; it all depends on intent. Either way it’s easy to see people who try and get us to do things we would rather not do as aggressors.

    My daughter says of me, “You do good guilt,” by which she means I know exactly what buttons to press with her. And I do. Like me she has a natural propensity to feel guilt and so it take no great skill and very little effort to make her feel guilty; it’s bubbling under the lid anyway. And so I have to tread carefully. She expects to get an Upper Second Class Honours for her Psychology Degree and I’m proud of her because she’ll have done that whilst holding down a fulltime job. A 2:1 is good, but it’s not a First. And she knows it. So I don’t know if my eyes gave me away or what – you can do so little about body language – but I did my best to be genuinely pleased. And I am. I think I am. I don’t know what I am.

    Although I “do good guilt” I’m not sure that I abuse that power. If I want people to do things I’m more likely to reason with them. I manipulate with logic but I don’t feel so bad about that. I trust reason; reason is honest. Emotions an notoriously unreliable. I’ve seen some very dirty fighters though and it does tend to be women but I guess that’s because they lack physical power or feel they don’t have a position of equal authority in the family and so they resort to “underhanded” methods. My mother most certainly did, or tried to do. But of course a manipulator is only effective if they know their target’s triggers. My mother would send me to Coventry (give me the silent treatment) for days and it had no effect on me whatsoever. It should have had but I knew I could last longer than she could. The same happened at work once. For some reason I crossed a picket line (not like me to be so principled) and my group ostracised me. Several weeks later my boss approached me on their behalf wanting to put an end to all hostilities. I’d worn them down, not the other way round.

    This doesn’t mean that I’m not susceptible to being manipulated because for years I allowed my father to do exactly that. He used religion as his implement of choice. Most bullies have their gangs just in case they’re not intimidating on their own and most thugs will have a heavy standing at their shoulder. And they don’t get heavier that God Almighty. He didn’t need to scream, rant or rave or hold his breath until he turned blue. All he had to say was, “Well, God says…” and I didn’t have a leg to stand on.

    I think most of the time though the kind of person you’re talking about in your post rely on people’s good natures. We judge ourselves if we turn them away. It’s very clever, isn’t it? We become our own bully. Of course helping someone else makes us feel good about ourselves even (or maybe especially) if they don’t deserve our help so as long as we’re getting something out of the deal then go for it but once they begin to become a drain, that’s the time to call a halt. And be firm.

  8. I'm not sure of the likelihood that Cate would be on Face Book, Glenn. Maybe we're a bit behind here in Australia but many of the folks I know aged over forty won't have a bar of it, but it's otherwise a good idea.

    Thanks Glenn.

  9. I don't fancy getting stuck in the middle of an ugly family dispute, Windsmoke, especially when it's not my own family, but somehow I think that's unlikely to happen.

    Thanks for the suggestion though.

  10. So many folks advising me to take care here, Antares. you too.

    Thanks for the warning but I don't think it's as dire as I perhaps made it sound.

  11. The will I suspect is subterfuge, AnnODyne.

    I think Cate wants to make contact with her children. I can understand that.

    I can also understand that something's gone wrong along the way and those kids might elect to continue to avoid her, but it might help for them to know that they are still in their mother's thoughts, whatever that might mean.

  12. Has she tried the obvious things like the phone book or just googling their names?

    I suspect those kids don't want to be contacted as they are old enough to have made the move themselves if they wanted to. However, that is beside the point. I think as long as you don't get drawn into the family drama, then go ahead and make that first contact. Perhaps the olive branch she offers might be accepted – and that would be something good to hold on to.

  13. elisabeth i might be swimming upstream on this one but my own intuitive response is that if the children know you or remember you then be available should they ever wish to contact their mother. what you're being asked to do places you at the fulcrum of a family and several branches with corollary vested interests and my own sense is that you will end up in the discard pile of everyone's connection to you. steven

  14. Once upon a time I would have called the ex and asked for contact details. Now I would pass the ex's number on to cate. If she really wants to know, she will call him. He might even welcome the call after such a long 'cooling off' period!

  15. A lawyer (I'm assuming that what a soliciter is. If not, please correct me) advising Cate to leave her kids out of the will because she doesn't know their address just doesn't ring true to me. I think she made the story up and is just afraid that if she contacts the children herself, she'll be rejected. I personally would stay out of it, but that's probably due to a flaw in my own character. If you're confident this isn't all going to blow up in your face, and you still have fond feelings for Cate, then, by all means, go ahead.

  16. Hello, Elisabeth:
    If I were you, I would suggest to 'Cate' that she ask her lawyer to find the children. Most lawyers and law firms use investigators who do just this kind of thing. It usually takes a day or two. Once done, she can get in touch. There are also specialists who can advise her about making contact, etc.
    It's her responsibility, right? You can support her efforts but not do what she should do for herself.

  17. I don't know how to suggest this delicately, and I hope you will understand what I am saying. Could you be more apt to go to Cate's rescue (she's asked you to do more than just contact them — she wants you to smooth things over) as a way to avoid dealing with what must be very difficult feelings & thoughts about your mother dying? I think the situation with Cate could be potentially very draining and therefore harmful to you at a time when you might need to conserve your energies for your own things. It sounds like the kind of situation that could snowball into something much bigger very quickly. You're a kind, generous person. Be so to yourself, too. And take care.

  18. This out of my realm to offer any good solutions. Go with your guts Elisabeth on what you think is best and what you would like to do for Cate. I know she could and should have done this herself but even if you want to try to help, it is not really wrong.

  19. I tried to Google the next of kin, Christine and it wasn't easy. The family name is commonplace and the two daughters are likely to have changed theirs while the son lives overseas and is out of touch with both parents.

    It would take something more I suspect to track down these children, who may yet not want to be located.

    Thanks, Christine.

  20. I assume Cate's tried those things, Marie, though as I said to Christine earlier I tried, too, without success.

    It's most likely that the kids don't want to be contacted but I think an olive branch or two might help and if not, so be it.

    Thanks, Marie

  21. I hope I don't end up in the 'discard pile', Steven, but my contact with these people in recent years is very limited and it will not be too upsetting if no one wants to make contact with me anymore, though I can't see why they would dish me.

    I am merely the messenger and I'm offering a brief and indirect message and then bowing out.

    Thanks, Steven.

  22. I almost lost track of your wonderful comment, Jim, but found it again just now.

    I know all about doing a guilt trip on my children, I do it from time to time and always try to drag myself and them back out of the morass of such awful pressurizing.

    My mother did it to me, too.
    'I didn't think "you'd" be like that,' she'd say. 'The others yes, but not you.' In others words: my little girl is a good girl, she'd never do anything like that, namely anything I would not expect of her.

    As for reason being more reliable and trustworthy than emotions, Jim, here's one area in which I disagree. Reason is the untrustworthy one, that is reason without due consideration of the emotional

    Our emotions guide us into deciding how best to react, if we can exoerience first and then think about them.

    Without emotions we are in trouble. There are countless examples of psychopaths and sociopaths who are fantastic at reasoning, and all their arguments might make sense at the level of logic but they are devoid of feeling and are therefore dangerous.

    Emotions distinguish us from the robotic, or to some extent from animals, though my hunch is that animals can feel more than we often recognise.

    Thanks, Jim.

  23. I'd agree, Stafford, but I suspect Cate knows her ex's number but is too fearful to call him, even with time there's still all that water under the bridge.

    I have since spoken to the Cate's ex and he has assured me he will pass on the message to his children, the two with whom he still has contact and presumably he suggests they will want to talk to me. We shall see. If they don't make contact, I'll leave it there.

    Thanks Stafford.

  24. Lawyers and solicitors are one and the same here, Kirk and yes, I agree I think the lawyer story might be not entirely accurate, but it may have been a trigger to resume contact.

    Something has happened to cause Cate to write such a long letter after all this time. I doubt that it's malicious.

    I hope that's not too Pollyana-ish of me.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  25. Maybe this happens a lot in your part of the world, Mim. I'm not sure, but here as far as i know lawyers tend to expect more of their clients.

    A private investigator might do the job for a price but people here, as far as I know are reluctant to appoint detectives. They'll go through friends first.

    Thanks, Mim.

  26. Please don't worry too much about me, Lynn. I'm not planing on getting myself embroiled in other people's messes. You're right i have enough of my own.

    A phone call is about the extent of it. In fact I've made the call and if the children don't get back to me as a consequence, I'll leave it there. I'll write Cate a latter and tell her there's nothing more I can do.

    Thanks, Lynn.

  27. I have gone with my guts Fazlisa and so far nothing dreadful has happened nor do I expect it will.

    It'd be good if something good could come out of it but I'm not counting my chickens, as the saying goes.

    Thanks Fazlisa.

  28. It has felt an awkward position, Mami and it is very very sad, but as everyone here suggests, it's not for me to intervene beyond a minimal response if necessary. The sadness is for this other estranged family.

    Thanks Mami.

  29. I'm not so sure that it will be much of an inheritance, RH, at least not literally, though there might be other, and to my way of thinking better rewards out of resuming contact, but not if people feel too hurt and bitter or if they are too damaged.

    Thanks RH.

  30. In your terms I probably live on Mars RH, and here I can't but quote from Oscar Wilde who wrote words to the effect that 'the cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'.

    There are things worth more than money.

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