How Can I Not Be Dragged Down by My Old Mother’s Suffering?

Feb 3, 2020


Dear Ven Robina,

I hope that you are well. I attended two retreats you led at Tushita in Dharamsala in 2017 and another one this year near home.

I am in need of advice as I am greatly struggling with my present situation. I have been a nurse for twenty-five years, and decided about eighteen months ago to resign from my job in a hospice to look after my mother when she was discharged from hospital. She is 80 years old, very frail, and suffering with pain, especially at night. But the more distressing aspect is that she has suffered with mental health problems throughout her life, and now that she has so many physical problems, her mental health has crashed down to a very low state.

I look after her at home, with the help of carers who come in to give me respite. I have an older sister but she is very unsupportive. Therefore I feel all the time overwhelmed and isolated. In the past when Mum has been very ill with her mental health, the treatment she received by the psychiatric team was really barbaric. She was drugged up on so many medications, and then she was given electric shock therapy, which I personally still struggle to think about. I felt that I failed her, that I was unable to keep her safe.

I can’t describe the pain I feel for her, not to mention the constant worries. Because she can be difficult to care for, there have been times, especially in hospital, where I have seen her badly treated and neglected, which makes me even more determined to keep her at home and to look after her there.

I first came into contact with Buddhism about 22 years ago (I was introduced by a nurse friend) and I have considered Buddhism to be my personal philosophy for a number of years, although I have not managed to settle down into any community where I feel it is right for me.

I feel very strongly deep down that it is my duty to look after my mum. The Buddhist approach, and also the way the Asians and Tibetans generally look after their parents within the family, is such a precious thing to me that I really feel and know that I should do this. But I feel so overwhelmed by Mum’s mental suffering that I am feeling like I will break down myself. This has happened in the past, and both times it caused added problems to her, which make me feel under so much pressure. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that it becomes unbearable.

I am so frightened that I won’t cope and that my mother will end up being taken into care, which I promised her that I would never allow to happen as she is terrified of going into care.

I remembered having a short talk with you about my situation last year and I should have e-mailed you sooner to ask for advice. I have been reading a lot on the internet about the Filial Piety Sutra and of how difficult it is to repay the kindness of our parents, especially our mothers. This brings me to tears, and I feel such a fear that I am going to fail. It seems that out society here doesn’t support or value caring for one’s parents, therefore there is not enough help and support. I did attend some carers support sessions at my local Buddhist center, but I still feel extremely isolated as it feels that people don’t understand the importance of this duty to care.

I know that you are an extremely wise and compassionate human being Robina, and I would really value any words of advice you might have to offer.

With love,




Dearest L,

I’m very glad to hear from you. Thank you so much for telling me what’s happening.

First, yes, I totally agree: it’s just perfect that you take care of your dearest mother: she is so so fortunate to have you. It is your very best practice, that’s a certainty.

But you must stay strong, for both your sakes.

Clearly you have so much compassion for her, and that your worries drag you down. I know it’s easy to say words, but it’s so important you try to not be worried or anxious. Old age and death and suffering are just part of life. Keep remembering how fortunate she is to have you. You make her safe and secure, your presence is so powerful for her. You are her lifeline.

The main thing to think about, too, is that when she does die — we will all die, L! — she will be calm and steady. That’ll help a virtuous karmic seed be triggered at the time of death that will guarantee a peaceful death and a good rebirth. This is the most precious gift you can give her.

I’m sending you here a PDF version of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice about how to help our loved ones. There’s lots of helpful information in there.

One thing that will be such a blessing for her would be to play mantras very quietly in the background. It doesn’t matter that she’s not a Buddhist. The sound is so peaceful, it will calm her and bless her. And it’ll help you, too!

Here’s one, for example. Lama Zopa Rinpoche singing the Medicine Buddha mantra. 

You really are doing such an amazing job. You need to remember this. Forget your sister! Let her be. You are doing the very best thing. Try to get some satisfaction from that. You should feel joyful, in fact!

You can’t make your mother’s pain go away, but you can know that your presence is so beneficial for you.

If you reflect your worries and fears back to her, that can’t help at all.

Try to relax, be content. There is nothing more you can do. And you are doing everything you can!

Are we communicating, dear L?

Much love,




Dear Robina,

Thank-you so much for your reply. You have given such wonderful advice. It is so true that the main things are to keep strong, to try not to worry and especially since my own worry will be reflected back to my mum and this will not help either of us.

You make things so simple and clear, Robina, it is such a help to have this clarity of advice when the situation feels so complex and overwhelming.

I will try harder to develop my own self, to be calmer and stronger in myself, rather than trying to change the reality of Mum’s suffering. This is a comforting thought for me. Thank-you.

We are certainly communicating Robina!

Can I send you an e-mail from time to time for advice?

And thank-you for Lama Zopa’s advice, which will also give me guidance.

Love and light,




Yes, for sure, dearest L, stay in touch, please. I would like that.

Much love,






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