Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I have made a terrible discovery about a person I dearly love and, up until a few weeks ago, greatly respected. I am shocked at how we can believe we know a person almost as well as we think we know ourselves and then, by some momentary fluke, discover we don’t know them at all!

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Five years ago I married the most wonderful man and was welcomed into his family with open arms, as though I was born into it. Since I had lost both my parents when I was twelve years old and then raised until my marriage by an elderly aunt and uncle, I instantly got attached to my mother-in-law, who was all the things to me I remembered my mother being. Since my mother-in-law had only sons, she reciprocated my feelings for her back to me and we became inseparable. We did almost everything together and my life was filled with the love and devotion I so longed for since I lost my mother and father.

When I had my first child, she moved in with us and did almost everything except nurse my baby. My friends envied my good fortune in having such a devoted and loving mother-in-law and couldn’t understand how I got so lucky. Their experiences with their in-laws ranged from absolute misery at worst and indifference at best. So I really felt blessed and fortunate to have come into this loving and giving environment after having lost the original model.

As I told you, my mother-in-law and I were the ‘Bobbsy Twins’ of this era. If you saw my mother-in-law, you knew I was only a few feet behind her and vice versa. Shopping together became a daily treat that seemed to turn into a daily routine. My mother-in-law would call me bright and early each morning and tell me she would pick me up and to get the baby ready, that they were having a great sale at one place or other and we just had to go ‘because everything was a steal.’ After a while, I just went to browse and look without buying anything. My mother-in-law always came home with shopping bags stuffed to the brim with ‘shmattes’ from the bargains she called ‘a steal.’ I often asked her when does she wear all this new stuff she bought and that her closets must be overflowing. She just smiled at me and cut in with placating conversation.

Over the course of these past five years, I seemed to have misplaced or lost a few valuable things, a ring gifted to me by my mother for my ninth birthday, that I had hoped to pass on to my daughter when she was older, a small pearl choker and a locket with two tiny photos of my mother and father on either side of the heart-shaped charm. My heart hurts each time I think about these cherished and precious items, but set it aside hoping I’d yet find them. Over time I’m sure other things went missing, but I didn’t pay too much mind as it wasn’t of importance. And time passed.

Some weeks ago my in-laws had to go out of town for a significant stretch of time and my mother-in-law asked me to look after her plants, four of which were in her bedroom, a room I had never entered. One day, I was distracted watering the plant on her nightstand and it overflowed. Catching the water as it trickled into the drawers, I opened them blotting most of the flow. What my eye caught sight of almost immediately. There amongst her many rings lay my little ring given to me by my mother on my ninth birthday. How was this possible? I had never been in this room nor have I worn the little ring because it was too small for my finger! I then did something I regret in the worst way and on many levels, I started going through her drawers and closets and what I found were clothes, cosmetics, jewelry and many items I have never seen or know her to use all with price tags still attached. Bags upon bags, boxes large and small, crammed into every inch of two bulging closets and eight dresser drawers. Scattered throughout the room and under her bed were shopping bags, garbage bags and mesh bags filled with stuff, all new and, it seems never used, worn, or paid for because some had the security tags still attached. And within this mess I found three baby gifts sent for my baby that I never got, my pearl choker, and pendent necklace with the gold locket still hiding the images of my beloved parents inside the gold heart and a number of other things I’m sure came from my house. I stood there stunned beyond words not able to think and absolutely destroyed. Here lived a sick and total stranger, one I thought I knew, loved and upon whom I transferred all the devotion and affection I had for my mother.

Mrs. Bluth, my in-laws will be returning home in less than a week. I don’t know how to look at my mother-in-law without rage and disgust. Please advise as to what I can do and how I should go about doing it.

 

Dear Friend,

This is a particularly sad situation because what’s lost here will be hard to erase from both heart and mind. But put your own feelings aside for a moment and listen closely and try to understand past the words. Your mother-in-law is not a bad person with evil intent. She is a sick person who is suffering from yet unknown disturbances and traumas that have caused her to react in this manner. She desperately needs help before her misguided efforts at self-worth and self-gratification gets her arrested for shoplifting or petty theft or worse.

Kleptomania is a real and irresistible impulse to steal stemming from emotional disturbance rather than an actual need that absolutely needs to be addressed by immediate psychological or psychiatric attention. Not soon….. Now! Your mother-in-law has moments when she sees that what she’s doing is wrong, but the need to justify this action overrides her ability to do something about it. The momentary thrill she gets from stealing something is greater than she can fight on her own, because it fills the holes in her psyche that are causing her to seek the respite and sadness that are causing it to exist.

Don’t pity her! Pity is not compassion and understanding and unconditional love, which is what she really needs from you and those nearest and dearest to her. In the deepest recesses of her mind and heart she is suffering from the fear of being found out and exposed. Please don’t make it hard because she genuinely loves you as much as you did her before all this hit the fan. Encourage her to seek help and be a source of comfort, support and cheer so that she will have the want to seek help and get better. Don’t give up on your good friend and devoted mother-in-law, she’s still in there, she just needs help and support to get her out.

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