Mind Matters -- June 2003
Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine

Following Your Heart

    Dear Dr. Ron:

      My mother saved your column "Resolving Regrets" and gave it to me. Our family is in a similar situation, except that mom is still alive. Our youngest sister has been estranged from the family for the past ten years and I'm the only one who's had any contact with her. Mom would like to contact her, but all her attempts have been refused. I feel the need to let my sister know that mom is ailing and if my sister has any interest in reconciling or just communicating, now is the time, before mom dies. However, I feel that just bringing this up with my sister may destroy the relationship I have with her. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated. Signed: Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Shoreline

    Dear Caught Between:

      Thank you for writing! The answer to your question may lie more in your heart than in your mind. For that reason, maybe this month's column should be called "Heart Matters." Your situation is a difficult one. No one, including me, can give you the answer that is absolutely correct for you.

      I can imagine some of the questions that you may be asking yourself. "What is the point of raising a fuss if it hurts my sister? Can I live with my sister being upset with me? Would she think I am on my mom's side just because I ask her to think about mom? What is of higher value at this point -- to try to bring loved ones together, or to continue a relationship with my sister?" If you feel that your sister is too emotionally fragile to handle even the suggestion of reconciliation, then your choices are even more challenging.

      "Integrity" is often thought of as being the steadfast adherence to a strict ethical code, but in my psychological world I think of integrity as having something more to do with being "whole or undivided." Integrity is more about following what is in your heart, and not necessarily trying to rationally argue the good and bad points of a particular action and calculate the result.

      In my experience, most people in our society feel that granting the wishes of a very ill person, even if that person deeply hurt us in the past, is important. If you value your mother's hope to have some communication with her daughter before she dies more than your sister's desire to be left alone and more than your potential loss of your sister's friendship, then you need to let your sister know that her mother is seriously ill. To do otherwise would be to set yourself up for a long period of feeling guilty and, possibly, hollow.

      There are many definitions for the term "existential crisis." One of my favorites is "You are experiencing an existential crisis if you have to choose between guilt or a possible tragedy." In my experience, when it comes to choosing between guilt or tragedy, my head and impulses don't help me very much. I generally have had to consult my heart. I think we need to ask ourselves which option confronting us gives us more of a sense of fulfillment and peace, and choose the option that does.

      We cannot fix all things. We can only do our best to live up to our own value system and stand up for what we think is important in life. I hope that helps. Best wishes. -- Dr. Ron.

        Author Bio:

        Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. Read our Disclaimer.

        Thank You for Stopping By!

      Have a great day!

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