Mourning the death of a beloved parent is normal and even considered healthy. However, what happens when the parent we lost was someone who hurt us?
The death of an abusive parent can evoke a myriad of emotions. In fact, one might say that the deaths of people we had complicated relationships with often evoke more emotions than those of people we were friendly with. This is because aside the grief we experience when these people die, other emotions we feel, such as regret, anger, or even relief, can throw us in a state of confusion.
Depending on the type and severity of the abuse we suffered at their hands, these feelings can compound and become overwhelming. When most people hear the word “abuse,” their first thoughts are usually physical abuse or sexual abuse. However, abuse can come in many different forms.
There are various forms of abuse. However, in this article, we will be talking about the 4 major types of abuse. Every form of abuse is traumatizing, and even more so if the abuser is someone who should be our haven. As such, having abusive parents is detrimental to us and will affect virtually all areas of our lives.
This is because our parents are supposed to be a safe space for us; they are supposed to be people we can trust. However, when our parents abuse us, we feel more betrayed than we would feel if we were being abused by strangers.
This is the most common type of domestic abuse. Physical abuse is any action that inflicts physical harm or injury on another person.
Physical abuse can occur in the following ways:
Basically, physical abuse is the different ways someone can be made physically unsafe. Some physically abusive parents might not have gone to the extremes listed above, but that doesn't make their actions any less of an abuse. For instance, a parent that throws things at you when angered is also a physically abusive parent.
This can also be called psychological or mental abuse, and it usually involves words. Emotional abuse occurs when the victim is subjected to mental and emotional manipulations that negatively affect their mental state. Emotional abuse form scars that usually take longer to heal.
Furthermore, unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse isn't easy to notice, and the victims might not even know that they are being abused.
Emotional abuse can come in the following forms:
Emotionally abusive parents criticize their children over every little thing; they impose their will on their children, threaten them, and even go as far as manipulating them. One way they manipulate their children is by guilt-tripping them or reminding their children that they couldn't survive without them or their support.
Sexual abuse isn't limited to just sexual intercourse; it also has to do with lording one's power and control over the victim sexually, and it usually involves both physical and emotional abuse.
Sexual abuse can come in various forms:
Child abuse is another form of domestic abuse, which occurs when a child is maltreated by an adult. It is all-encompassing in that it can involve physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
No matter what kind of abuse one has suffered or is suffering, dealing with it is never a pleasant experience. What's more, it's hard to heal from the trauma.
Scars from abuse inflicted by parents tend to run deeper and longer than scars inflicted by ordinary people. And if care is not taken, these scars might never heal but continue to fester into deep hurt, anger, and pain, which might make the victims lash out and become like their abusers. However, despite all the ill feelings we might have had toward parents who abused us, their deaths are bound to evoke some feelings. Below are some feelings one might experience when an abusive parent passes away.
The death of an abusive or toxic parent can make us angry for several reasons. For instance, you might be angry at yourself for grieving their death. Or you might be angry because their death didn't bring you the relief you expected it to. You might also be angry because they died before you could give them a piece of your mind.
Whatever the case, the death of an abusive parent usually leaves the victim with so many unsaid words. Thus, they might get angry at the unfairness of it all.
During this period, it can be easy for your anger to morph into rage, which can make it difficult to find closure. In the end, many things can cause anger to set in our hearts. However, it is important to find healthy ways to let go of this anger, as it can hinder our healing process.
This is one of the most expected emotions one can feel after the death of an abusive parent. After our abusive parents die, we feel safe and relieved that they are no longer alive to hurt us. However, this feeling is usually accompanied by other feelings, such as guilt, numbness, and confusion.
Our guilt can result from certain complicated emotions we might be feeling. For instance, you might feel guilty about being relieved at the death of a fellow human being. Similarly, you might feel empty when you realize you do not have anyone to direct your anger or hurt at anymore.
If your parents abused you when you were a child or an adult, you might have felt rage and hatred toward them for a long time. However, with their death, you will have no place to direct such feelings, so they might end up dissipating and leave you feeling empty.
Other complexities of your toxic relationship with your parents may also emerge, and you may experience various emotions, which may frustrate you. So while the death of your abusive parent might cause you to feel some form of relief, you should expect other turbulent emotions to follow.
Losing an abusive parent will evoke a barrage of emotions. Some of them will be clear to you; others might not be. This indescribable mix of emotions can leave you floundered and confused.
You will likely experience several intense feelings at once, from relief that they can no longer hurt you, to guilt for feeling good about their death, to rage or anger over all the unsaid words and unresolved emotions.
Experiencing all these feelings at once can be overwhelming and confusing. However, it would be best if you did not beat yourself over any of the emotions you feel. After all, they are all valid. All you need to do is take your time to sort them out and start your journey to healing.
Categorizing the feelings one experiences after the death of an abusive parent can be difficult. In fact, you might need to sit down to properly sort them out. If you do so, one emotion you might discover during your self-examination is pity.
After an abusive parent dies, it's possible to feel pity for yourself and also for them. This pity usually stems from the idea of what could have been but hadn't. Even though your relationship with your parent was toxic, a part of you would still yearn for the beautiful parent-child relationship you never had with them.
The deaths of the abusive parent brings an air of finality to our yearnings. This can make us pity ourselves for never getting the chance to experience everything we could have had with them, like the beautiful relationship they never had with us.
Another feeling that one might experience after the death of a toxic parent is regret. You may feel regret because of certain words and feelings that you never got the chance to express to them. You may also feel regret because you wanted to clear the air before their death but couldn't bring yourself to forgive them and seek closure.
However, you should not feel too bad. You probably were not ready for that part of the healing process yet. What's important is that you let go of your regrets and heal.
People are often surprised when they feel grief over the death of an abuser. However, this is normal.
You, too, can feel grief over the death of an abusive parent due to several reasons, like the happy childhood you never had, the memories you never made, and a future with a supportive parent, which you will not get to experience again.
Attending the funeral of someone who abused you is not an easy feat. It will subject you to various emotions that you might not be ready for. Nevertheless, there is no wrong or right answer to this question.
Deciding to attend your abuser's funeral is a choice you should make only if you are comfortable doing so. You may choose to attend the funeral to find closure. But if you are not ready to experience the whiplash of emotions that might come with it, then it's okay to not attend the funeral. If you still want to see them later, you can visit their graves.
It is also important to consider other factors. If you decide not to attend the funeral, some people who know about the relationship between the both of you might understand your absence. Others who don't might not understand. Regardless, you're the one who knows what you've been through; therefore, you are in the best place to make the right decision for yourself, and no one should make you feel guilty over any choice you might make.
Even if you choose not to attend the funeral to avoid having to answer difficult questions, certain people will still want to offer you their condolences. It is simply unavoidable.
When someone offers you their condolences, it might be tempting to blurt out some harsh truth about how your parent really treated you; however, you should resist the urge to do so because this would only lead to more complications and questions, which will not help your healing process.
Still, you should still give answers that you're comfortable sharing. You could decide not to say anything and nod your head while appreciating the people offering their condolences.
It is also possible to answer truthfully without revealing much. To do this, you could reply with vague sentences like “Thank you. They were such a presence in my life,” “Life will feel so different without them,” or “Their absence will be noticed.”
Do not feel pressured to give replies that you are not comfortable with all in the name of saving face. Do whatever feels right to you without revealing too much. And, frankly speaking, no one has the right to know your story if you're not willing to share.
If you had a toxic relationship with your parents before they passed away, you most likely didn't respect them when they were alive. While others might have respected them thinking they were good people, you knew better than to share the same sentiments.
Showing respect to your abusive parents is a choice only you can make. You're the only one who knows what you had to go through, so it would not be fair to impose expectations on you.
People often think showing respect for a dead relative means going to their funeral, bawling your eyes out, and all that. However, it goes deeper than that. While there are various ways to respect your dead parents who abused you, one of the best ways to do this is by choosing to remember only their good parts.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but not only is it an excellent way to respect the memory of your parents; it is also a significant step in your healing journey. This doesn't mean you shouldn't remember the hurtful parts, it is to say that you choose to let go of the hurts and pains and instead remember the joy and happiness.
Should you choose to show respect for them, you could carry out some introspection and figure out what works best for you and would mean the most to you. Likewise, should you choose not to want to show your respects, that is okay, too. As we said, it is a personal choice.
It is possible that only one of your parents abused you. This can make the barrage of emotions more complicated, as you might have mixed feelings.
Depending on your relationship with your surviving parent, you might have different things to say to them. If you are on good terms with them, you could be there for them while they mourn this other person, or if that's too much for you to handle, you could always communicate with them via text or chat.
You could also support and look out for them while still looking out for yourself. Getting them condolence gifts such as personalized memorial items, cremation urns, remembrance items, or keepsakes can also help. Here are some helpful tips for picking the perfect condolence gift.
If your relationship with the other parent isn't too cordial, you could treat them how you would treat a fairly distant relative. Offer them your condolences and support them in any way that is not detrimental to you.
The grief of losing a loved one is different from the grief we experience after the death of an abusive parent, though there might be some similarities.
One major difference is that it is easy to honor and cherish the memories of a loved one by visiting their favorite places, opening a foundation in their name, and so on. But how do you honor the memories of an abusive parent?
One of the most effective ways you can do this is by breaking the cycle of abuse. Make an intentional decision to do your best not to treat others the way you were treated. People who suffered at the hands of abusers know firsthand how hurtful it is. So honor your abusive parent by ensuring you never treat others the way they treated you.
This includes everyone, especially your children if you choose to have any. Shower them with the love and acceptance you didn't have the opportunity to enjoy. Doing this will honor your parent, validate your experiences, and help you progress in your healing journey.
Losing a loved one will remind you of how much you loved them and resurface all the good memories you shared with them. However, it can also remind you of what you've lost.
On the other hand, losing an abusive parent will likely inspire contradicting emotions that might be hard to place. You may be angry due to several reasons, like failure to adequately express yourself and say all the things you had wanted to say when they were alive; you may be so angry at yourself for feeling sad. But at the same time, you may feel a contradicting feeling of relief that they are no longer around to hurt you.
When an abusive parent dies, one emotion you will likely feel is unfulfillment. This could be due to any reason, like remorse for the wonderful childhood you never had or the lost opportunity to get closure from them while they were still alive.
Losing a loved one is also painful, but there will hardly be any feelings of resentment, and if there are, they might come from a mild feeling of betrayal that the deceased abandoned you. Though after some introspection, this feeling might go away.
Feeling peace when a loved one dies doesn't mean we are glad they died, but, rather, we are grateful for the beautiful lives they led, and we are convinced that they are in a better place. This is another difference between grieving a beloved parent and grieving an abusive one.
Another difference between losing a loved parent and losing an abusive one is how we want our immediate surroundings to be. We will either prefer to stay alone or stay with other people who knew them. When processing the death of a loved one, many people would want to be around others who knew the deceased well enough to tell positive stories about them.
However, losing a parent who abused you might make you want some time alone to sort out your feelings, especially because hearing others say nice things about them can be painful.
So far, from everything we've discussed, it is glaring that grieving the death of an abusive parent is a complicated phase. So how then can you help yourself get through it?
Listed below are some helpful tips to help get you through the death of an abusive parent.
It might be tempting to deny your feelings and try to ignore them, but don't do this. Recognizing and accepting your feelings is one of the first steps to healing.
Understand that all of your feelings are valid and that in this kind of situation, there is no right or wrong feeling. Also, recognize that you are not alone in this; other people are likely going through something similar. Knowing this can help your healing journey, but we'll talk about that later in the article.
It is also important to understand that you aren't responsible for how your parents treated you. No excuse is justifiable, so try not to come up with excuses like “I was probably a difficult child,” “It was a difficult time for them, too,” etc.
No matter how stubborn a person is, or what the other person is going through, nothing ever justifies abuse. Absolutely nothing.
When you finally recognize, understand, and accept these feelings, you can move on to the next step.
You might be confused about the grief you feel for this person and might want to bury it, saying they don't deserve it, but, please, don't do this. Refusing to accept and feel your grief is unhealthy. Instead of denying your grief, make an effort to acknowledge it and consider why you are feeling it.
This will help you further process their death and help you move on and achieve closure. One effective way to acknowledge your grief is by journaling it or writing a letter to document your grieving process. You don't need to show these journals to anyone else, so feel free to pour your heart out.
Therapy is an effective way to heal from this kind of grief. Having someone you can talk freely with will significantly help you. You can find therapists who specialize in this kind of grief or find a support system for people in this exact situation.
We mentioned earlier that one of the ways to deal with your feelings is by acknowledging them and knowing that you are not alone. Finding a support group and hearing other people's stories will help you realize that you are not alone and also give you some insight you can learn from.
Your spiritual beliefs can also help your healing process. Most religions practice forgiveness and letting go, which is essential in your healing journey.
Talking to your spiritual leader will further give you a sense of calmness, clear any misgivings about your feelings, and help you let go and heal.
You need all the help and support you can get at this point in your life. If you have close friends or relatives who understand what you've gone through, have a chat with them to express your thoughts and listen to theirs.
They will be there to give you the support you need and lend a listening ear whenever you need to talk. Having friends and relatives with whom you can be free can be healing and refreshing.
Dealing with the death of an abusive parent can be physically, emotionally, and mentally tasking. So you must try to release any tension that might have accumulated. You can do this by engaging in activities that help you, like going for a walk, treating yourself to dinner, watching a movie, etc. In essence, engage in activities that can help you unwind.
You can also leave your environment for a less toxic one. This will allow you to grieve, heal, and sort out your feelings at your own pace without fear of judgment or inclination.
It is easy to become depressed during the grieving process, but you should take conscious steps to avoid this. Make self-care a priority and take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health during this period.
You can take care of your physical health by eating and following a healthy diet, exercising, driking water regularly and not skipping meals. Try yoga or go out for walks. To take care of your mental and emotional health, banish negative thoughts, think positively, engage in healthy conversations or join a support group.
It is also essential to know when to ask for help. You do not have to go through this complicated process alone. When it becomes overwhelming, seek the services of a professional therapist who specializes in situations like this. You could also talk to other people who understand and are willing to lend a listening ear.
Forgiving the people who hurt us might be one of the hardest things we might ever do, however, it is an incredibly helpful step in your healing journey. You should however also note that this step isn't mandatory. Forgiveness doesn't come easy and there are some things we can't just bring ourselves to forgive. Deciding whether to forgive or not forgive the parent that abused you will give you some form of solace and further help you get through your confusion.
Even though the memories of your abusive parent will mostly be painful, there might still be some good memories that you can hold on to. Perhaps they are no longer vivid in your mind's eyes, but you might still vaguely remember them.
For instance, it could be a birthday party you had when you were little. There might be photos of you and them smiling hard at the camera.
You could preserve this memory by having a making photo engraved items with the photo. You could also make memorial portraits from the picture so that the memories are always preserved. Fingerprint keepsakes are another creative way to preserve these happy memories.
Attending the funeral of the person who abused you is your choice to make, and so there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Your choice to attend the funeral will depend on you and your emotional state at that period. However, you should ensure you're making the best choice for yourself. For some people, attending the funeral is a way to reach closure and leave all the painful memories behind them. Others might discover that attending the funeral can resurface many painful memories that they would rather not deal with. In the end, only you can decide whether you should attend the funeral of your abusive parent.
Condolence messages are a vital part of funeral ceremonies and cannot be avoided. To reply to condolence messages like this, you could choose not to reply and smile while thanking them for coming.
If you feel the need to say something or share your opinions, it might be better to do so without giving away anything.
Using sentences like “Thank you. Their absence will definitely be felt,” or “Thank you. They were such a presence in my life” is an excellent way to reply without giving out information that you might not be willing to share.
Complicated questions relating to grief do not have straightforward answers. Only the victim is capable of giving the best answer. However, here are our tips for answering such questions.
It is up to you to decide whether to show them respect or not. Should you choose to show respect, there are various ways you can do this. One of the most effective ways is by breaking the chain of abuse. However, if you choose not to show respect or do anything, that is also okay.
This answer to this question depends on the type of relationship you have with them. If you are somewhat close to them, you can offer them your condolences and try to be there for them in the any way you can. However, if it is hard for you to be with them physically, you could always share your condolences via handwritten letters, calls, or texts. Remember that you also have to prioritize your mental health too. It wouldn't be fair to you and your other parent if you suffered while trying to help.
If your relationship with them isn't so deep, you may respectfully offer your condolences as you would do if they were a distant relative.
Dealing with the death of an abusive parent is never easy. There will always be a deluge of confusing emotions and feelings to deal with. However, you must remember to prioritize yourself so as not to set back your healing process.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with the death of an abusive parent:
Showing remorse after the death of an abusive parent is a personal choice. However, you should be true to your feelings. If you feel remorse, then it's okay to show it and vice versa. Staying true to your feelings will help prevent another form of regret from coming up at a later time. Following these tips above will help you through your healing process.
The emotions one experiences after losing an abusive parent cannot be likened to those one feels after losing a parent they loved. It is a complicated form of grief and must be treated as such. Give yourself time to sort out your feelings; don't rush the healing process, and, remember, it is important to break the cycle of abuse.
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June 11, 2022 by Frances Kay