Dear 100 Hour Board,
My mom is having some problems. She has always been very emotionally unstable but recently my family moved across the country. My dad tells me that she never gets out of bed and is either depressed or angry. I don't know what to do. I'm the only one of my siblings out of the house so I feel like there isn't much I can do since I'm not at home. I called her today to check up on her and she got very angry at me. I tried suggesting therapy (I'm in it so I know what that entails) and she said some choice words to me and hung up the phone. It really hurts me to see my mom this way because I know that everyone else in my family is suffering because of her attitude. She needs help but I don't know how to give it to her. What do I do? I don't want to see my family torn apart.
First, I must apologize for holding this question for so long. I initially grabbed it because I've gone through a similar experience and thought I could impart some learned wisdom. However, though things have significantly improved, I don't know if I ever...resolved my issues. I think I just blocked them out, which means I don't really have learned wisdom. Additionally, the topic hit a little close to home and has made this more difficult to write than I thought.
With that said, I do have some (hopefully) helpful thoughts. From my perspective, it seems it would be most helpful to build trust with your mom. She's acting defensively and probably hurting a lot, and perhaps doesn't feel she can bring anyone into her laundry room. If she can't share her pain, it could make her her struggle much harder. Building trust would not only ease her burden, but allow you to understand, and therefore help, her better.
I attended an Education Week class about trust in which the instructor repeatedly emphasized that trust is built through frequent, positive, personal, low-risk interactions. You can see this being carried out in activities like Family Home Evening; it happens every week (frequent), should be fun and uplifting (positive), give a chance for each family member to get to know each other (personal), and not over step the level of trust the family has built (low-risk).
When trust is low and in the beginning phases of construction, it's a sort of taboo to talk of things such as critical feedback, lasting change/reform, open blind spots of a person, eternal love, etc. These are all important and wonderful parts of relationships, but bringing them up before the trust is sufficiently built will probably do more harm than good. Until then, it's best to keep interactions frequent, positive, personal, and low-risk.
The application of these four qualities may be more difficult in your circumstance because of the distance, but certainly not impossible. You could try calling her every week, sending emails, texts messages, etc. Let her know you're there, and whenever you have the chance to interact with her, be sure to be there and be a compassionate listener. Until she asks or feels comfortable enough, I would avoid nudging her towards therapy or other suggested ways to improve. This eliminates the low-risk aspect of your interactions because she'll feel pressured, pushed, or something similar. Before you can help her improve, she must understand your love. Joseph Fielding Smith illustrates this concept wonderfully in the following quote:
"To win one's respect and confidence, approach him mildly and kindly. No friendship was ever gained by attack upon principle or upon man, but by calm reason and the lowly spirit of truth. ...If you have built for a man a better house than his own, and he is willing to accept yours and forsake his, then, and not till then, should you proceed to tear down the old structure. Rotten though it may be, it will require some time for it to lose all its charms and fond memories...therefore let him, not you, proceed to tear it away."
You want a house for her that is beautiful! But she can't move in until she wants to. Do I mean to say that you're attacking your mom by trying to help her? Absolutely not. But it's much the same as when a parent comes into a room and tells a son* to turn down their music, noting that it's not really music, just noise. The son may know that the music is not that great, but they feel a kinship to it. He will be even more devoted because he feels misunderstood and scrutinized. People will not want to be changed if they feel they are being "fixed," but they may change if they have a friend to help them when they're ready to do so themselves.
I know a great quote but haven't been able to find it so I'll just have to summarize with this: Loving as Christ loved will do far more than we could ever do trying to fix someone. Again, I don't mean that to come off harshly or as a criticism towards you; I think we are all learning how to love more purely, myself included.
Finally, know that this will be hard. Your mom might now respond as you hope, especially at first. Know you are in good company if you are rejected, and you can look to the ultimate example of compassion and magnanimity for strength. God knows what our families need. He will guide us to healing if we ask and then do.
*This could also be a daughter, I just chose son for simplicity's sake.