"I didn’t think you were close to your mom."
"From what you‘ve told me about your dad, I would think you would be glad he’s dead."
Have you ever heard those words spoken to someone whose abusive parent died? Have you used them yourself?
It’s natural for an outsider to think those thoughts when they hear an abusive parent died. Yet for the child of an abuser, regardless of their age, there is still grief. Albeit, a different kind of grief. For the average person, the loss of a parent is a loss of memories. For the victim of abuse, it is the loss of hope. For the loving family, there is a desire and expectation of making even more happy memories in the future with that loved one who is now gone. For the survivor, the death of their abuser is a final loss of hope that there will ever be the creation of happy memories. Simply stated, normal families miss what they had with the deceased. Abusive families miss what they never had.
For many people, the death of their abusive parent creates an external dilemma. Should I go to the funeral? What will people think of me if I don’t? If I do go, I’ll be forced to be phony, to pretend they were a good person when I know they weren’t. Attending their funeral is just another way they have of controlling me. All these thoughts may run through your mind when your parent dies. It’s a private decision only you can make.
Remember that funerals are for the living, not for the dead. You have to find your own personal closure but that does not necessarily mean you have to attend the funeral. Yes, some will think you are the bad guy; that you dishonored your parent by not even attending their funeral. But there may be others who understand and support your decision. Regardless, this is an opportunity for you to protect yourself emotionally and continue recovery.
Abusive families, by their very nature, do not acknowledge the feelings of its victims. Don’t expect the narcissistic, gossiping members of a family to care what the mistreated members feel or think.
You need closure? Make arrangements with the funeral home to view the body before or after regular visiting hours so you avoid family and have a few private moments to speak your mind to the deceased. Or visit the grave a few days later.
Are you wondering what God expects from you? There is no record of Jesus ever attending a funeral. He attended weddings and feasts and he raised people from the dead but he did not attend a funeral.
We are told to honor our fathers and mothers but that simply means to live your life in such a way that it would bring honor to them if they were deserving of honor. It does not mean to obey them or to allow them to control you even after they are dead and gone.
Proverbs 11:10 NIV says, When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy… If you are feeling relief at your parent’s passing, God gets that!
The greater dilemma is the internal one. The one no one sees; the one that isn’t open to scrutiny; the one where you struggle to let go of the pain of longing for your mother’s or father’s love. The inherent birthright of every child is to have parents who love and value them, who support and encourage them. To not have that is a bitter loss that cannot be replaced by anyone else. There is an invisible umbilical cord that connects us to the ones who gave us life that is never completely severed.
You may have gut-wrenching sobs over your parent dying and still be glad they are gone. You aren’t crying for them or their return. You grieve for the loss of never having what you should have had in that relationship.
You are left unable to mourn properly. Gone forever is the chance to confront, to resolve arguments, to declare your love to them. There is unfinished business, questions unanswered, words unspoken or words that can’t be taken back. How would you want it finished? You get to create, if only in your mind, a beautiful ending. Write it down and write your own ending. Write a poem or find a song that expresses your thoughts. Paint a picture or design a scrapbook. Create a collage or a small memorial space in your home or yard. You know the reality all too well, but you can dream of how it could or should have been without being delusional!
There are three basic feelings toward an abuser who has passed: Love, hate, or conflicted feelings. I suggest you think over your history with this parent who is gone and think of it as panning for gold. You dig up all the past memories and sift through them. As in searching for gold nuggets, you pick out what bits are worth keeping and let the filth and soot of your life with them be released back into the creek bed and flow away from you. It is okay to hang onto good memories or lessons learned from them and still hate the injustice done to you or others by that person.
My father was an alcoholic, very physically abusive to my brothers and mother and sexually abusive to all his children. Below is an excerpt from my book Blind Trust: A Child’s Legacy, written under the pen name of Karen Austin. It reflects my reaction to my own father’s death.
… I stepped into the branch manager’s office. She looked me in the face and said, I’m sorry to tell you this, Karen, but I received a phone call just a few minutes ago. Your father died this morning.” She added kindly, “You can use my office if you would like to be alone for a few minutes.”
No! No, I… I… just thought you were going to say something else, I answered. I was breathing heavily, not quite knowing how to adjust to this absolutely wonderful news. I knew she took my reaction as grief, and I knew to keep pretending. It was hard to do since I wanted to dance around the room.
I had not told anyone Daddy had been in a coma now for nine days, and that he was only forty-nine years old. I had not told anyone he was sick, for that matter. I had been expecting him to die, but nothing prepared me for the exultation I felt. He would never be a threat to my little daughter! I felt as though I had been given a new lease on life. I went to his funeral, out of respect for my mother. Personally, I considered it an interruption to my life, and I rejoiced that it would be the last time he could summon me to his side.
Regardless of your reaction, know that there is no wrong way to respond. You may want to seek out a grief counselor to help you through this time. Don’t depend on friends or family members to understand or have the knowledge to help.
There is a book you may find helpful called Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief by Jennifer Elison and Chris McGonigle.
Dr. Karen McDonald
Dr. Karen McDonald is the author of Racheal’s Rest’s BLOGS. These BLOGS are thoughts, tools and experiences that Karen wanted to share with you and are in no way “counseling”. If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of sexual abuse, sex trafficking and/or domestic violence issues, contact us today to get more information about Racheal’s Rest private counseling, workshops and retreats to begin your journey to emotional health.