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#579 and #580 “I’m so sorry for your loss” “No loss, really!”

Hi Captain!

What do you do when someone who treated you badly dies?

I went to school in a small town, an “everyone kind of knows everyone somehow”-type place. This isn’t really my type of place, and I left to attend a big university in a big city. I return to the town during breaks, but I don’t think I’ve spent more than six consecutive weeks there since I left for college two years ago.

This morning, I found out that a guy who I knew (sat next to in high school band, had some mutual friends, our siblings dated), “Mitchell”, died in a freak accident yesterday. Since this is a small town, and I had mutual friends with him, my Facebook feed is full of “RIP Mitch” and memorial events being planned. Also, since I’m returning to said town for about three weeks at the beginning of summer for my brother’s graduation, I’m sure I’m going to encounter people who want to talk about Mitchell.

The problem? Mitchell sexually harassed me in middle school (and continued to be an asshole to me in high school). Given the memories of the sexual harassment, and how awful it was to be dealing with that as a mentally ill 12-year-old with DD breasts and lots of other body issues, I’m having trouble seeing all the happy memories and sudden reminders of his existence. So:

1. What’s the appropriate thing to do when people try to engage me in conversation about the death? Obviously, it sucks that he’s dead, and I would never wish that on anyone, him included. But apart from “Yes, that’s awful, and I’m so sorry for his family”, what else can/should I say?

2. Not many mutual friends know about the harassment- they think he was a great guy. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but if someone asks for my Happy Memories or Nice Stories, what do I say?

3. What do I say to my mom? Since our siblings dated, she knows Mitchell’s parents, and since we were in band together, she knows that I knew and interacted with Mitchell. I don’t really want to tell her about the harassment- we don’t have that kind of relationship- but I also don’t want to pretend that I feel much beyond a neutral “someone is dead and that’s unfortunate for them and their family” feeling.

I’m in the process of acquiring a therapist who can help me sort things out, and I have tons of college friends who didn’t know Mitchell and can be a good Team Me, but I’m dreading the return to my old town. Help!

Signed,
Not a Small-Town Girl

Dear Not A Small Town Girl:

We have a very strong cultural taboo against speaking ill of the dead. This can be a good thing or a bad thing (silencing victims can cover up a lot of abuse and bullshit in the process), but I agree that it is kindest to not share negative information with the dead person’s grieving loved ones and just let them get on with grieving and missing the person.

Everyone dies in the middle of something; before the finale of their favorite show, halfway through a great book, with events planned on the calendar, with things still to learn and amends yet to make. And their death doesn’t mean that their past actions stopped rippling out into the world. When you have unfinished business with the dead person it’s hard to know what to do with those feelings and those words you never got to say. I’m glad you are seeking a therapist; consider also writing everything in a letter and then burning it or some other ritual.

I would also suggest taking a social media break for a few weeks. Give people a chance to express their feelings of loss or share happy memories; remove yourself from the responsibility of keeping up with it and from the trigger of seeing it. You don’t have to go to any events if you don’t want to. A lot of it will have died down by the time you head out there.

To answer your questions more specifically:

1. “Yes, I heard, that’s awful. How terrible for his family” is perfectly appropriate. Keep saying that.

2. Here is your script for people who ask you specifically to share memories, etc.

  • Of course I knew him, but we weren’t close. Have you asked ______ (someone who was very close to him)? S/he’ll have loads to tell you.”  Deflect, send the person to talk to someone else.
  • What a nice thought to collect these for the family. Have you talked to _____? S/he knew him very well.” Deflect, send the person to talk to someone else.
  • “We were in band together. His sibling dated my sibling. His poor family.” A dry recitation of the facts. If they ask for heartfelt stories or whatever, just say “Honestly I’m drawing a blank, forgive me” or whatever neutral-ish thing you can think of to say.

3. You don’t have to go into detail about the harassment if you don’t want to, but you can tell your mom (and anyone who really push you to say something more than your non-committal scripts) the truth.

  • “Sadly, we didn’t get along. I knew his family/sibling much better. How awful they must be feeling.”
  • “When I said we weren’t close, I meant we really weren’t close. But my thoughts are with his family, what a terrible time for them.” 

4. Tell SOMEONE the unvarnished truth. A friend. Your therapist. Your sibling, maybe? Tell somebody. “He harassed and bullied me a lot when we were kids, so while of course his death is a sad event, I am having a hard time participating in memorial events or expressing any grief beyond feeling sad for his family.

Lean on platitudes. So sorry for your loss. What an awful shock. I hadn’t talked to him in a very long time, we weren’t close, but of course I feel so terrible for his family. Platitudes are here to get us through very difficult events without hurting other people more than they’ve already been hurt, so don’t feel guilty about using them. People mostly won’t remember what you said, but they will be grateful for your presence and your acknowledgement of their grief.

Dear Captain,

My parents love each other very much and have been married for thirty plus years. They, my sister and I form a close-knit and loving family. Unfortunately, my mother, my sister and I loathe my father’s parents. And they loathe us.

My grandparents believe that my father has married beneath himself and despise my mother. We’re not sure why, since the hatred is surprisingly virulent, but we assume that this is because my mother is mixed race, and from a much lower class background than my father. They have said nasty things (including racial slurs) to my mother and myself (but not to my younger, paler-skinned sister). When I was a little girl, and my mother made it plain they could not bully her any more, they started to bully me when my parents weren’t around.

When I was about fifteen I told my parents about the bullying. We all agreed that my father would continue to go to the biggest family events so as not to cause comment, but he would go alone. Over the last decade I have seen them only once or twice.

My grandmother is sick. She is probably dying. I don’t really feel anything about this. I feel weird admitting that, but I have no interest in reconciliation, redemption, or closure-like experiences. I want to move on by continuing to not think about her any more. I know that I do not wish to attend the funeral. I am planning on using an upcoming exam period as an excuse.

What I am worried about is my father. I spent a long time resenting him for not making a stand against his parents sooner, such as when he first introduced them to my mother. But now I’m older I can see that they used to bully him too, and, knowing that, I have a lot more sympathy for him.

But, the death of a parent is a huge loss. I want to be able to tell my father that, despite our dislike of that woman, I care about how he is doing. I know that my father will still mourn his mother’s death, despite what that woman did to our family. I want to be able to talk to him about her in a way that is separate from my own experiences of her. But I fear that the decades of anger have made this sort of a conversation impossible.

Could you help me with a script on how to broach the subject? Also, could you help me sensitively inform my father that I will not be coming to the funeral?

Thank you so much,
Wants to move on 

Dear Wants To Move On,

Your compassion for your dad is lovely to see, and I think you should tell him what you told us. “Despite our estrangement, I know this is an incredible loss for you, and I am so sorry. I love you.

And then maybe you could ask him questions and let him tell stories, which is a lot of what wakes & funerals are about. Sometimes, the more contentious the relationship with the deceased is, or the more of a pain in the ass they were, the more cathartic and healing the funeral is because everyone can share those memories together. “I didn’t know Grandma the way you did, obviously, and it’s hard to get an idea of what she was like based on our interactions. What was it like growing up with her? What was her favorite food/color/music? Do you have good memories of her? How did she and Grandpa meet? What do you miss about her the most?”

If your dad asks you to go to the funeral, you can tell him it’s during exams, and that you’re not comfortable, etc. You’ve already got it figured out. But ask your dad to talk about his mom, if you are willing and able. If that still seems too hard, just tell your dad you love him and make sure to schedule time with him when you are home next. Maybe send him some music or a book you know he’d like, something to distract him from grief and let him know he’s loved. When a parent’s parent dies, it’s a time that adult children have a huge opportunity to comfort and be good friends to their parents. You are very kind to be thinking of that already.

Edited to Add: Reach out to your mom also. She’s going to have some feelings. They might not be grief, they’ll be strong and weird. Losing a parent figure, even a dreaded one, brings up Stuff. So be extra nice to your mom, she’s gonna be the one who has to hear a lot of “We’re so sad that she’s gone!” from folks and bite down on her “Yeah, big loss…if you love racism!” like the first LW here. </Edit>

Three years ago I lost my grandpa. We were very close, in many ways, but we also had an extremely contentious relationship in later years due to differing political beliefs and his frequent dispatches from The Cranky Old Man Internet. He was a terrible listener, a constant interrupter, and he HAD to be the center of any and all attention. As he grew older, and his mind wandered, he grew increasingly paranoid and verbally abusive. My mom and her siblings had to take turns dealing with him because he would turn on each of them, saying terrible things to them  and accusing them of terrible things. They supported each other, fortunately, and they got through it.

As the family writer, I was tasked with writing his eulogy, which I did early the morning of the funeral while suffering from food poisoning and the constant fear that I would poop my pants in church. It was not the best day ever. Anyway, I’m going to share it here, because it marks an attempt to express grief and love while also being honest about a man who liked being known as a monster pain in the ass. It made my family laugh through their tears, and made the people who knew him best – friends, priest, etc.- say I’d captured him true. I don’t think that meant pretending everything was perfect.

Hello, I’m Jennifer, Oscar’s Granddaughter. The family asked me to say a few words today.

The story of Oscar’s life is the story of a century – of upheaval and change, hardship and sacrifice; service to his country, his church, and his community; the joy of a 60-year marriage to my grandmother Louise, weekly bloodthirsty Scrabble games with his sisters, and spending time with his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

During the Great Depression, Oscar and his best friend “rode the rails” around the country, looking for work. He experienced incredible deprivation and the constant threat of violence from the other desperate men crowding the train cars and the police whose job it was to keep them clear. He joined the army in Texas in exchange for three square meals a day, having no idea that it would be the making of him. His Army career took him around the world, through two wars, through numerous cases as a CID agent.

I could describe all these things to you, but if you are here then you knew Oscar, and if you knew Oscar, he probably told you himself. Many times. He had a way of turning harsh stories of the the things he’d survived into thrilling James Bond -tales, with himself as the wily trickster who cracked jokes, told superiors off, and interrogated war criminals with a mix of guile and unhoped-for compassion.

Writing this piece had me looking up synonyms for “original,” “headstrong,” “a character,” “one-of-a-kind” – I think I will go with “charismatic,” “intelligent,” and “larger-than-life.” He took over every room that he walked into with his enormous presence, carrying himself like an old movie star and filling the room with that rich, deep cultured voice.

He loved to collect jokes and tell them. They were not good jokes. In fact, the worse the joke, the better he liked it – the more the joke was on you for having sat through such a bad joke. He was great at hazing new boyfriends and suitors, because anyone who survived an evening or two with Grampa liked you enough to stick around for the long haul.

He hated to lose an argument and loved to have the last word, a trait that he definitely passed down to his family. I do not recommend that you get into an argument with any of us. You will lose, and even if you win on points or logic or evidence, we will never admit that you won, and three days later we will email you with five more reasons that we are right and you are wrong. We definitely get that from Grampa.

Grampa had one of the most active and curious intellects I’ve ever encountered. Entirely self-educated, he constantly read, traveled, asked questions, researched, and acquired languages, with his mind working right up until the end to understand the world. He was active in politics, and notably helped pass a Massachusetts law to relieve the tax burden on veterans. He was fierce and opinionated and never stopped looking for opportunities to serve his community – teaching citizenship classes and English to new immigrants and going undercover in nursing homes to investigate elder-abuse.

He was extraordinarily proud of his family. As my cousin Joe reminded me, whenever you went out in public with Grampa he would introduce you to everyone with such pride. He had a way of being proud of you that made you want to work hard to deserve it.

During our very last conversation on the phone last weekend, I was disoriented from being wakened by a phone call in the middle of the night and he was disoriented from illness and medication, so I can’t remember much of what he said, other than “Be good, kid,” but I will remember for a long time the absolute love and joy in his voice when he realized it was me on the phone and said my name. I spoke to all the other grandchildren last night, and they described the same experience, even when he could barely speak he said all of our names with such pride and love.

He knew death was coming for him, and he met it with strength and his enormous faith. He wanted nothing more than to see his wife Louise again. Thursday would have been their 66th wedding anniversary. Right now the family joke is that she got tired of waiting and wanted to celebrate it with him, so she called him home. I like to think of them together again.

Let me end with a few words from Tennyson’s Ulysses, a poem about an old soldier wanting to go out for one last adventure. It has always reminded me of my Grampa.

‘I cannot rest from travel…I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honored of them all—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.

… Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

…Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’

At no time during the reading of that did I poop my pants, so, you know, victory.

Letter Writers, if you need to, give yourselves a chance to grieve. Death is a funny thing, and it can hit you like a loss even when it’s no loss at all. Grieve for yourselves, if that’s how it comes. Grieve for the girl who was bullied and who wasn’t believed and who might not be believed now as her tormentor receives a hero’s funeral. Grieve for the loving grandmother you should have had, the one who missed out on getting to know such a kind, thoughtful granddaughter. Grieve on your dad’s behalf; he made the right choice in choosing you over her, but he lost something when he did. Grieve for the way that death cuts us off in the middle of a sentence. Or don’t grieve! And don’t feel weird for not grieving. Sometimes death brings more relief than anything else, and that’s okay, as long as you’re not doing a musical number at the actual funeral (alone in your room at the top of your lungs is perfectly ok).

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112 comments
  1. This is timely. Really. My grandmother is probably dying right now, and while she certainly isn’t “the worst” by anyone’s definition, we aren’t as close as we “ought” to be. My mom’s an only child and I’m trying to put myself in her shoes and be there for her, but frankly I’m not as sad as one might expect.

    • Sarah said:

      I felt that way when my grandmother died – the lead up was bad, but once she passed away I didn’t really feel much. I felt terrible for my dad and my uncle, but I never really knew her and felt bad about not being really upset. But then I got upset at not being upset, and then upset that I didn’t know her and I drove myself to distraction trying to make my feelings fit into the narrative I thought they were supposed to. Somebody I love very much told me that you can’t justify feelings and you can’t boss them around. They are what they are and you accept that. Fighting them only makes it worse. (Of course, we don’t/shouldn’t always ACT on our feelings, but denying them doesn’t help anybody.)

      In the end, I just put myself to work helping my dad and my uncle get Grandma’s house ready to sell and I listened to stories and we did kind things that would have made her happy. And then I went home, went back to work, and (much as I hate to say it) my world did not change very much.

  2. dragonlady said:

    Captain, what a lovely eulogy! I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes. It brings up my sister’s memorial service, when everyone had a chance to get up and share a memory of her. We had some good laughs at those! And after the service, a few of us were hanging out in the sanctuary and tried to remember the theme song to Gilligan’s Island and started singing it. She would have been so happy that we remembered all the words!

    Letterwriters, grief is weird. You may not miss the person, but you might grieve what might have been.

    • “You may not miss the person, but you might grieve what might have been.”

      I love this. I’ve lost people where I haven’t really been sad. Certainly not as sad as I thought I’d be and society declares one should be. Then it hit me; I’d already mourned for what was lost. Death itself didn’t change much.

  3. pucksmuse said:

    LW1,

    The Captain’s , “Yes, I’ve heard. How awful for his family” line is perfect. And then change the subject. Don’t be drawn into long discussions of how wonderful Mitchell was and how much he will be missed. Those feelings aren’t genuine for you and you shouldn’t be subjected to the maudlin post-mortem sanctification of someone who happened to die after a short lifetime of being a fairly crappy person.

    As for her suggestion to tell someone the unvarnished truth, PLEASE PLEASE do this. My younger sister was a DD before eighth grade. The same girl who was too shy to talk to boys was suddenly designated “the school slut” by some of her female classmates. Horrible rumors got spread around about her supposedly sleeping with every boy in her grade.

    And two of those boys spent two years grabbing at her, snapping her bra strap, cornering her in the hallways and threatening to assault her, making filthy jokes about her, calling her names and generally making her life a living hell. She said NOTHING to anyone and was convinced she deserved it. While she maintained a facade at school, the change in her personality at home was drastic. She went from a sweet happy girl to a having a vicious temper and screaming at us. And we had no idea why.

    When she graduated to the high school, where I was a senior, those same rumors went around and those same boys tried their bullshit. I realized how bad her life at school had become and suddenly, Sis’s change in personality made sense. She finally explained the extent of the abuse to me. I wanted to tell my parents, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to tell them. She wanted to handle it herself.

    Fortunately, my friends liked Sis and went to bat for her. The first time a boy grabbed at my sister, he got his head slammed into a locker. The rumors eventually died off on their own because every time my friends overheard one repeated, they would tell the source that they were an idiot and Sis would never do what they were describing. Jealous freshman girls don’t like being called idiots by seniors.

    It took a few years, but Sis’s personality eventually returned to the sweet girl we remembered. But she still has some PTSD related issues. She doesn’t like it when people sneak up behind her. And grabbing her or tickling her will likely result in an elbow to the face. She eventually told our parents about the harassment after she graduated college and they were heartbroken she didn’t say anything about it. They were the sort of parents who would have gone to bat for her immediately. But knowing why her personality changed so drastically actually put a lot of their memories of her adolescence in perspective and healed some hurts on all sides.

    If you don’t trust your parents enough to discuss the harassment with them, please discuss it it someone. People underestimate how deep the scars from our teen years can go. You don’t have to carry this burden around any longer.

    • 6 Foot Tall Now and Built for Power said:

      Thanks for sharing this. I was small growing up and learned to scrap to deal with the bullying. Your sister’s story brought a tear to my eye in sympathy.

    • espritdecorps said:

      I was a 12 year old with DDs that sprang out seemingly overnight. In a couple of months I went from skinny jeans to baby got back. It was terrible.
      Packs of guys would corner me in the hallway, feel me up, and try to coerce me into meeting them after school. Everyone could see that I was afraid, but they all looked the other way.
      The guys who harassed me were popular, and the same girls who had teased me for being a nerdy good girl earlier in the year were calling me a slut, and spreading rumors about all the guys I had been with. Former friends abandoned me, scared that they would be targeted next.
      I reported what was happening to the counselor for my grade, and they told me it was hard not to have friends, but didn’t excuse me from making up stories. And that if I was more friendly, I would get along with people better.
      I started hiding in the bathroom until Homeroom, I would go in, be counted as present, then skip school for the rest of the day. One day a group of four popular boys were waiting for me outside of school. I was terrified, when the first boy grabbed me I kicked him in the crotch as hard as I could, and ran off.
      The next day his parents filed a complaint with the school and I was given detention for assaulting him. After that anytime they came for me I kicked and hit. I was now a violent truant, a problem kid, but my reputation protected me, and after a while they just said mean things about me behind my back and left me alone.

      We moved to a new district in the suburbs high school, and it got better. People there thought I was a little scary, but I found friends, and was left alone by most people.

      I wish I’d have had an awesome big sister to stick up for me. I’m glad you were there for your little sister.

      • I am so sorry you had to live through that particular variety of middle-school hell. I was a scrawny little thing til quite recently, but I got suddenly surly as well after a family friend molested me. My parents were confused but attributed it to adolescent hormone fluctuations, and I didn’t tell anyone anything for ~10 years, didn’t think there was anything worth telling, because I doted on him with adolescent infatuation and assumed for the longest time that some shameful aberration of my body made him do what he did. I sometimes wonder, completely unproductively, whether the scholastic brilliance (*snort*) of my childhood might have galloped on apace if not for that creep. It makes me so mad that girls’ academic potential gets derailed by bullshit sexual harassment.

        • espritdecorps said:

          What happened to me has always made me wonder about the dropoff in girls interest in math and the sciences at adolescence.
          I loved science and had ambitions to work in a scientific field when I was young. But after middle school, I had zero desire to be in male dominated spaces or fields.

        • dorisdinosaur said:

          Saaaaame. I used to be soo soooo smart. I used to be a grade ahead for english but then an older boy (from the english class) sexually harassed me when i was 8 or 9 y/o and i avoided going into that class and the teacher asked me what was wrong and i burst into tears and she said i didnt have to go if i didnt want to. Then the head teacher called me to her office and she and the assistant head laughed at me and implied that i sexually assault myself (????!)

          And so when i finished that grade they just made me do it all pver again the next year for reasons never explained to me. Thereafter my academic efforts plummeted until, like other women in this thread, i became a violent, aggressive truant and class trouble maker.

          Im astounded at how often this pattern of events plays out in womens lives. Glad to know im not alone and there are other women who understand my pain and loss of my educational oppertunities.

          • YES. How very disgraceful that this is apparently a “thing.” Ironically, my 9th grade science teacher once kept me after school to try to bully some sense into me. I slouched in the windowsill and stared outside while he told me that if I kept hanging out with my friends, who were my world, that I’d end up getting pregnant and dropping out and living on welfare. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU “REACH OUT” to a student who is not meeting her potential!!!

          • Also, that’s a wretched thing to endure so young. I’m so sorry that it happened to you, and that this stuff can ripple so extensively through our lives.

  4. photondancer said:

    I like your eulogy. It epitomises tact, a quality which doesn’t get enough good press these days. Honesty has its place but that place is rarely in the presence of death, when people are already in a heightened state of emotion and denial (it could have been me!). Sounds to me like LW2 knows what she wants to do and is fairly confident her reasons will be accepted, so I’m not sure why she wrote. The conversation she wants to have with her father (about how she perceives her grandmother) is a reasonable one, but it will almost certainly be better to wait till things have settled down.

    As for LW1 though, I’m confused. Maybe I don’t understand the dynamics of a small town but it seems to me that she’s overly anxious. Are people really going to hound her over Mitch and how she has to say lots of good things about him or they’ll form a mob with torches and pitchforks? It’s unlikely she was the only person Mitch was an asshole to. She can deflect, using the platitudes provided, the ones who don’t want to hear (and perhaps really didn’t know) the worse side of his nature while communing with the ones who, like her, are merely being conventional.

    • Erin said:

      The answer to “why did they write in” is “because they felt the need to” and I think that’s valid.

    • Phoebastria said:

      Small towns really are like that. People who are aware that you had some sort of connection will bring it up, and small towns make for a sort of bottleneck where it’s much more likely to run into people who will bring it up. It’s the kind of conversation topic that small town people feel socially obligated to address. It’s not an intentional hounding, more of a concern for a painful experience affecting the tight knit of the community, and a different sort of social environment that teaches that this is the way we maintain the tight knittedness, by talking and listening to each other for something we can do.

      I was living in my small hometown at the time if my father’s sudden death, and people I only vaguely recognized but could not name or identify our connection were offering hugs in the grocery store. They also didn’t know my relationship with him had been strained, so there were a lot of attempts to talk with me about happy memories. This is way different than the passing of a classmate, but there is a legitimate concern that people will be bringing it up: that’s how small towns are.

      • Duae said:

        It’s been 5 years since my mother passed away. She was a big doctor in a small town and I still have random strangers (not as often, thankfully) come up to me and go “I know you! Your mom died!” Like they expect a cookie for it. I have settled on a “Yes, yes she did” in a matter of fact tone. It’s not a painful thing, just utterly random.

    • A small example regarding small town dynamics and the passing of an individual. Some back story: there are many MANY individuals in the small town where my dad’s family lives who share my maiden name (families of 10 or 8 will do that I suppose). You also don’t find very many individuals *outside* of this particular county with that name. The majority of the family stuck pretty close to home. My parents do not live there any longer, and haven’t since I was very young. My grandfather passed a while back from general elderly-ness.

      One person from this county where my father grew up, traveling to my parents current home city, came across my brother – they were checking into the hotel that he was working at – and gave him condolences on the passing of our grandfather simply from the association of the last name on his name tag.

      So, if small town folks know you are associated, they really will say something!

    • allreb said:

      Yep, small towns (at least some of them) really are like that. There’s a certain kind of small town where, for example, you go to school with the same kids, pre-k through 12th grade, where a lot of their last names match street names because their families have lived in the town so long, where you know whole branches of them and it feels like no one ever leaves.

      If you’re the person who *does* leave, you may well have been an outsider your whole life there. I was — thankfully I had a handful of other, outsider-type friends (who also fled immediately upon graduation) — but when I’m back in that town, it never fails to feel weird. And people talk about everything. They share everything. My mom would call me to say that she’d run into someone at the post office who’d just heard from the kid I babysat in middle school had gotten married and has a kid, isn’t that lovely? I had forgotten that kid *existed*.

      And because you feel so weird and outsider-y, it is VERY easy to feel like you’ve seen the bad, dark side of someone the town really loves. (It sounds like LW#1 *has*.) It’s possible that the community just loves that guy and won’t hear anything bad about him, and you’re the outsider, so they’re not going to listen to you. Or that his behavior is written off as joking, boys-will-be-boys, etc, and no one seems to get why you don’t think it’s all in good fun. It’s alienating as hell (and for me it was just small stuff – no harassment like LW describes).

      So yep, it’s entirely possible that the LW will come back to town and run into people who will want to talk about it, who will hold Mitch in high regard and not know about or not be willing to talk about his jerk side. The dread LW describes is about what I would feel (and expect) if something like that happened in my town, too.

      (That said, the flip side of small towns is that they *can be* lovely and intimate and supportive. My mother passed away last year, and during the worst of her illness/when I was there to be with my dad, and for the funeral, etc, people came out of the woodworks to be supportive. Childhood friends I hadn’t contacted in years visited her in Hospice; the parent of one of my handful of outsider friends — who I literally hadn’t seen in 13 years (the friend, I mean) — came to the funeral and came by later to make sure my dad was okay, etc. *If* you are in a place where you find that kind of response helpful, it can be wonderful; if not, the same everyone-knows-everyone dynamics that make that possible can make small towns miserable.)

      • Cactus said:

        Yep. My hometown wasn’t quite like that, but there’s definitely some commonality to what you’re describing. When I lived there, I felt like I couldn’t leave my house without seeing someone I knew, and since I often didn’t want to see/talk to ANYONE, I was rather reclusive. I’d compare my hometown to a malevolent upper-middle-class version of Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. Same regulations about lawns, same weird town creation myths, same town festival stuff, same awkward busybody neighborliness. A lot more kids going off to private schools, a lot more mansion construction, a lot more Republicanism, a lot more awful racist children. And while it’s absolutely normal for people to leave, when my sister was last there, she was forced to go to one of those festival things and EVERYONE was bugging her to move back permanently. (I think they’ve realized I’m a lost cause.)

  5. Jane said:

    For LW #578: HIDING, SILENCE, and PUNTING are your friend.

    I had a similar (though thankfully not so difficult) situation occur two years ago when L., a girl who was in my brother’s high school class, was murdered. I was horrified, of course, but also L. had behaved really creepily toward me and my family after she dated my brother and they broke up, so I was. . . uh. . . a bit at a loss. L. was also close to one of my dearest friends, and she died just before I came home for Christmas. ACK BAD.

    1. I hid at home during all memorial events. I responded to inquiries about my whereabouts with extreme vagueness. I think I may have said something about spending time with my family. This one may work for you too, since you’re home briefly from university (?)
    2. Make great use of sympathetic silence. Look sad and nod a lot when someone is talking to you about this guy. My experience was not that people wanted me to share my own memories of L.; they just wanted someone else to listen while they talked. You can be sad for the pain they’re in while not being very sad for your own sake.
    3. PUNT. Any time they want your thoughts, turn that conversation right back around to their feelings. Do not let the conversational ball rest with you during a sadfeelingstime spree. This is what I did with my own dear friend who was really shaken up by L.’s death. Bonus: you will seem/be extra-caring for your friends during this time.

    Basically this is just the Captain’s advice, with an extra dose of VAGUE and SILENCE and EVASION.

    • miss_chevious said:

      c/n: suicide.

      Yep, this. A guy I knew in high school killed himself a few years back. The reason I knew him is because his last name came after mine in the alphabet and so all through junior high and high school he would harass and bully me about everything — my appearance, my lack of money and/or social status, my alleged sexual activities, my penmanship (really!), all things great and small — and since he sat right behind me, he could do it without getting caught. I didn’t suffer any long lasting effects from it, thank god, but when I heard he died, I didn’t have any feelings of sadness or grief. Good riddance, more like.

      So when most people ask me about him, I stick to this: “How horrible for his family. Really, just awful.” Because it probably is. And it sounds genuinely sympathetic, because I am genuinely sympathetic to people who have gone through such a loss. As the Captain points out, that’s what platitudes are for.

      But people who are my actual friends and who were not close to him/ did not know him get the unvarnished truth: he was an asshole to me for years and so I couldn’t care less that he’s dead.

      Also, I second Jane’s advice to avoid all possible memorial events to the extent that’s possible. You are VERY BUSY (if you can be without causing problems for yourself). Memorial events are for people who want to remember the deceased, usually fondly, and you’ll cut down on a lot of obligatory platitudes if you can avoid them.

  6. neverjaunty said:

    LWs, both of you are trying to negotiate a difficult situation without either adding to the grief of well meaning others or causing yourselves unneeded and unfair pain. You are both AWESOME and I am sure you will get through this in these possible way.

  7. SpinachInquisition said:

    I just want you to know that I’m copying and saving this post for when my 2nd set of (terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad) grandparents dies. I need this next to all the crappy stuff in my box of memories.

  8. Hello, don’t mind me. I will be sobbing at my desk over that beautiful eulogy.

  9. MrsMorley said:

    To both letter writers:

    The death of someone loved by others, but not by you is hard to navigate.

    You’re both doing an awesome thoughtful kind job. I applaud you both.

  10. Cat Geek said:

    My abusive father was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. By the the time I found out, I had been out of contact with him for several years.

    I found out from my mother, who was still married to him, but in the early stages of getting divorced, and I think she had a lot of mixed feelings about him.

    My boyfriend cut contact with his abusive dad several years before I cut contact with mine, and he’s someone who gets it. So, the first thing I said to him when I got home was “My dad has cancer! :DDDDD”

    I did not react that way in front of my mom, even though it’s what I was feeling. I was trying to rebuild a relationship with her that had been hurt when I first disclosed the abuse to her, and I know that her feelings towards my father are a lot more complicated than mine are. I tried to be pretty neutral about it, while being sympathetic to her feelings.

    All of this is to say, you don’t have to share someone’s feelings to be sympathetic toward them.

    • Oh hi, are you me?

      I’m in the same boat, only my dad is still alive as far as I know. He’s rumoured to have advanced no good-very scary-cancer. My family has (ignored me cutting them off years ago and) done the whole “but what if he dies before you see him again and you regret it for the rest of your life?”. To that I say: bah, humbug!

      The news brought me happiness. It’s not that I want him to die necessarily, but it would fill me with relief to know that he’s not walking the earth anymore, possibly hurting anyone else.

      • Cat Geek said:

        Oh, he’s still alive. Unfortunately, he has one of the types of cancer that has a high survival rate. Ha.

        I wouldn’t actively hurt him, but finding out he has cancer does fill me with glee.

      • Drew said:

        I bet if you re-parse that sentence, you’ll like it even more: “What if he dies before you see him again, a visit that you would regret for the rest of your life?” Hmm, you know, that doesn’t sound so bad…

      • zyronife said:

        “but what if he dies before you see him again and you regret it for the rest of your life?”

        I’ll risk it.

    • Melanie Chorisglossa said:

      “All of this is to say, you don’t have to share someone’s feelings to be sympathetic toward them.”

      Word.

      I’ve cut off 99.9% repetend contact with my parents – but felt constrained (entirely by myself, alone – no external pressuring) to make some acknowledgement when one of them suffered the loss of a sibling to cancer. In the end, it was a card, with a brief message about their loss, their shock, their sadness.

      Weirdly enough, it helped to pretend I was writing to a stranger, who just happened to have the same name.

      On the topic of finding a confidant for hidden histories and the *true* state of affairs in one’s own heart, I can recommend for LW to be tactical with the choice of person. Coming at this from the other side: I ended up being the confidant for someone after a long-time member of a local martial arts society died – the news that my local best friend had been as good as molested by him took more than just a few moments to process, and I’m ashamed to say it was a near thing as to believing her or not.

      What helped me most was us having been talking quietly in a safe space (my own home), and not having much of an investment in the one who had recently passed. That gave me the distance to then also allow my definitely not-grieving friend to have her say. I respect her wishes and don’t mention this person around her. It makes listening to the elegiac conversation about him somewhat tense for me, but being a newer member means I don’t have really have to contribute, just listen.

      (This is a repost – my original seems to have evaporated into the ether – not even a “your comment is in moderation.” Note to self: log in *before* commenting, eh? *wan grin* My apologies if this turns into a doubled comment.)

  11. Bookmarking this for when Abuser Grandmother dies. Thank you so much, Captain. This was pretty much perfect.

  12. Lauren said:

    I don’t think the LW would ever do anything like this, but I have a story about what *not* to do. 10 years ago a very close friend was murdered and it was very shocking and traumatic for our social group. We were all on LJ at the time and comforted each other, posted memories and updates about the criminal case. After a couple of weeks, one of the satellite members of the circle announced that he was sick and tired of reading about her and that he never liked her and she was stupid and that anyone who mentioned her from that point on would be unfriended. (!!!)

    Now, he was always the kind of guy who wore his asshole on his sleeve, but I still can’t imagine what he thought was going to happen when he said that, but it was incredibly hurtful for him to confess his negative opinion of our friend at such a time. It was so uncalled for, even for a proud jerk. (The LW has some legit beef with Mitch RIP bless his heart, but this guy just didn’t care for our friend’s personality because it was too positive and bubbly and didn’t want to keep that thought to himself. Ugh, fuck him sooo much.)

    I think that he got called an asshole on his post, but after the very initial reaction he was just dead to 9/10 of us. We didn’t even discuss it, we just all individually couldn’t stomach the thought of him anymore.

    Now it’s a kind of bitterfunny memory. Like, he was threatening to unfriend *us*? Lol, let us help you out there, buddy.

    • RP said:

      “he was always the kind of guy who wore his asshole on his sleeve”

      Oh, can I steal that? I need to steal that.

      He sounds like the kind of person where everyone wonders how he ended up in the friend group in the first place. Other people will ask why y’all are friends with him and no one really knows why.

      • Totally stole “asshole on his sleeve”!!! Can’t wait for the opportunity to say that about someone ;-)

    • Q-chan said:

      “Wore his asshole on his sleeve” is a perfect phrase that I am totally going to keep in my back pocket for future use.

      And yeah, I had something similar happen on a message board I was a part of. I didn’t really know the person who’d died all that well, but a ton of my friends did, so I grieved with them (which was fairly visible; we changed all our icons to one of her favorite anime characters for about a week or so). Well, naturally, there was one dude (who was part of another “clique,” so to speak, that wasn’t on the best terms with my friends) who wrote about how he was soooooo sick and tired of hearing about the person who’d died and that we should all just move on already. He phrased it in such a way that it was like “well, someone’s gotta say it! I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking!”

      No, dude, you’re just a shitweasel and that was a dick move.

  13. attica said:

    To #580, I would suggest (in a wholly non-pressure-y way, just something to think about when you’re alone and feeling safe) contemplate going to the service. Not for the dead grandma’s sake, but for your dad’s. Your attendance need not be a referendum on your feelings for the deceased, but rather your feelings for the bereaved. I’ve been to my share of funerals for people I didn’t even know, just because they’d been important to people who were important to me.

    Which is not to say that not going is a bad choice — if you feel repelled by the notion, you should absolutely not go and absolutely not feel bad about it. But there’s no harm in thinking through another option before deciding.

    • MrsMorley said:

      While normally I’d agree, here I’m not so sure. And it’s because #580’s mother was also mistreated by the grandmother. Now seems like a very good time to retire to exam studies and offering love to both parents.

    • JHS said:

      I think going to the funeral would depend on the relationship with the rest of the family. Can the LW stick them? If not, then no, they shouldn’t go. If they can, well, what they do is stick by their dad’s side all the way through, get them coffee and sandwiches, hug him when he needs it. If the mom is going anyway, the LW might not be needed for this. But as you say, if they feel repelled by the thought of going, then no, they shouldn’t. And it sounds like they’re already prepared to be extra kind to their dad, which is the most important part of it all.

  14. Elsajeni said:

    My mother-in-law, who didn’t like me, treated her son/my husband very poorly, and was generally a mean person, died a few years ago. It was… strange. And difficult. The big things that worked for me, to deal with my own complicated feelings and reactions to other people’s sympathy:
    1. I adapted the Don’t Argue With Compliments rule to expressions of sympathy from most people — whether you agree or not, the best thing to say is, “Thank you.” (Although I didn’t hit on this rule until AFTER automatically saying “Don’t be, she was mean as a snake” to at least one “I’m so sorry.” Definitely honest! But not a thing the best version of me would have said out loud, I think.) After that, hopefully you can change the subject; if people resist the subject change, try, “Thank you, but it would really help if I could take my mind off it for a while. So, those Astros…”
    2. I picked out a few people to whom I COULD freely say, “Don’t be, she was mean as a snake.” I was still furious with her, and I wasn’t ever going to get to tell her so — I needed some people in my life who I could tell. This is already part of the Captain’s advice; I’m just seconding it.
    3. I tried to deliberately think kindly about her, to focus on the ways in which I could be sad or sorry for and about her. Because there were some — she wasn’t well or happy toward the end of her life, and I’m sorry she suffered; mean or not, no one deserves that. And my husband’s relationship with her was complicated, but he did grieve for her; I was sorry for him. I know this wouldn’t be helpful for everybody — certainly there are some people who the only reason I’d go to their funeral is to make sure they were dead, and I wouldn’t spend a moment’s thought trying to conjure up sadness for them, and I don’t want to imply any pressure to do this if that’s the way you feel — but I did find it somewhat helpful, and especially I found that it made it easier for me to be there for the people who were grieving her more than I was.

  15. Jae said:

    Dear LW, I think “Yes, that’s awful, and I’m so sorry for his family” is perfect. Other than that, with people with whom you don’t want to talk about the harassment, I’d just say “I didn’t know him all that well” and change the subject.

    With your mother it might be different. When I was younger, my mother insisted I be friends with her and my father’s god-children. They were awful little brats and they tormented me all through my childhood whenever we met. Torment as in throwing matchbox cars at me, hitting each other and me, and while it was all good fun for them and they always fought, it was horrible for me any time I saw them. Later, when my parents insisted I’d tag along to birthdays, confirmations, and later weddings, I had a hard time driving it through to her that these people were *not* my friends. Even when I was long over the childhood cruelties, and they and I had grown up, I still didn’t see why I had to spend time with people I didn’t like and had no intention to befriend. It took a long time but she eventually saw that I wasn’t going to change my mind.

    In your case… I agree with the captain. Tell your mother you two didn’t get along, and get more explicit with every round of pushing she might do, e.g. if she wants you to attend his funeral or such. You don’t have to. Even if he was a saint to everyone else, he was an asshole to you and you have no reason to do as if he was a nice guy. I’d simply evade everything to do with him and try to avoid funerals or memorial services, so’s not to hurt the family who will probably be truly grieving and can#t use bad news post mortem.

  16. Phira said:

    I appreciate this post, not because it’s timely for me, but because I’m bitterly estranged from a family member and people occasionally get all, “But what about when he DIES?!”

    And I wanted to add, for the Captain’s benefit: My partner’s beloved grandmother died a year and a half ago, and at the time, I was in the middle of an incredibly serious flare of inflammatory bowel disease (so severe, I was contemplating a leave of absence). My partner, grieving the loss of his grandmother and extremely sick with the flu, couldn’t for the life of him remember if the church her funeral services were held in had any bathrooms.

    I’m a Jewish atheist and so I don’t really pray because, well, why would I? But wow was I praying a lot throughout the mass that I would NOT have to poop.

  17. twomoogles said:

    Wow, all this is excellent! I definitely think that for LW1, platitudes are the way to go. I think that a lot of people use platitudes because they really literally *don’t* know what else to say, so it’s kind of a societal script. The reasons might not be that they didn’t like the deceased–it might be they didn’t know them well enough, or just can’t find the words.

    People have many sides to them and nobody is universally liked. It doesn’t mean those who *do* like them are wrong or need to be informed otherwise, but it can be really painful and frustrating to hear everyone going on about somebody when you just don’t agree with any of it, and feel like you’d be lambasted were you to say so. Maybe Mitch *was* a great guy now. Maybe he had genuinely changed. I know people who were *awful* in high school and grew up to be pretty amazing.

    But, that doesn’t obligate you to care. I know this has come up in recent articles as well. You’re not obligated to forgive. That applies even when the person has died. Your memories of Mitch are what they are. Others have a different experience, and neither of you is *wrong*, I’d say. But, it’s probably not going to be useful for either of you to debate the matter, especially now…so platitudes are the way to go. And second (third? fourth?) the idea of telling one person everything.

    A slightly strange sidenote–when I was in high school my mother died. Several people I’d gone to elementary school with came to the funeral, as she was quite well known there. This included, yep, 2 girls who had been awful to me. I remember them coming up to me at the funeral and telling me how sorry they were, and me being absolutely full of burning rage. As far as I know they were sincere, and from everything I’ve heard at least 1 of them has become an awesome person as an adult. But at the time I sure didn’t want to deal with them.

  18. PandaGrrl said:

    This is timely. My maternal grandmother passed away about a month ago and the memorial service is next weekend. I stopped seeing her frequently when my parents separated in the late 80s and my memories of her are not overly positive. I am definitely feeling sadder for my mom and aunts and uncles and my grampa than I am for myself. I will definitely be keeping these scripts in mind. Thank you.

  19. LW 1 & LW 2, compassion like yours is the best kind. It’s generous towards others while recognizing you have your own needs, and those needs should be met, too. And that in a funerary sort of setting, you can do a lot to advocate for yourself while allowing those closest to the person who died, what they need to mourn. Your dad, LW2, and community, LW1, are lucky to have you.

    That’s all I’ve got, really. You both sound like really gracious people who know how to let people you care about mourn a loss, even if it’s not a loss for you. That’s a really good gift to give in the difficult parts of this life we have.

  20. mamacitaconpistoles said:

    Also, LW2, if you’re in a place to look at it this way (and you don’t have to be and it’s okay if you’re not), you can look at asking your dad questions about his mom like this: hopefully, *hopefully* she was not uniformly terrible to him all the time. She was still have been terrible to you and maybe terrible generally. But if she did have redeeming characteristics for your dad, it might help him to know you don’t begrudge him whatever loving relationship they did have. Sadly, in your grandmother’s life it sounds like love and acceptance were finite resources (and they didn’t have to be). But if you don’t mind listening, the share your dad had can be acknowleged for what it was.

  21. caryatid said:

    jennifer, that’s got to be the most beautiful post you’ve written yet. lovely, compassionate, useful. i loved your eulogy. thank you for sharing it!

  22. Cauldy said:

    Dear LW2 — I was in your shoes almost exactly one year ago. My dad’s mother was not a nice lady at all. She was verbally abusive to my father and his sister. She absolutely loathed my mother for similar reasons (different religion + lower-class background). She was nasty as all heck to me, and as a young teen I also stopped associating with her. My father went to the big family events solo, and I saw her once every few years. Then she became very sick. Like you, I had zero desire to reconcile with her. Being sick didn’t make her a better person. Then she died, and I felt nothing about her death. But I was also very worried about my dad, because he did love her and her death was very hard for him to process.

    I think the Captain’s advice is perfect — tell your dad that you love him, spend time with him, ask him how he’s doing, and maybe ask stories about his mother. But I thought I’d add some other options for expressing your love and support for your father if you’re having trouble expressing it in words. My dad wanted to send flowers to the funeral, so helped him pick out a florist and decide on colors. He wanted to contribute to a display of photos that would be shown at the funeral, so I helped him sort through his photos of his mother and pick the best ones. He wanted to donate to a charity in her name, so I used my internet search powers to come up with a list of options and gave him a quick summary of what each one did.

    After the funeral, my dad told me how much he appreciated my support, because it allowed him to focus on processing his grief, without the distractions of “I need to do X and Y and how do I Z?” So, if you want to, and if you have the time and resources to offer help, I think that can be a great way to show your dad that love him and care for him. You could maybe even use this as a way to broach the subject: “Dad, I’d really like to help you with X since I won’t be able to attend the funeral” or “Dad, is there anything I could help you with for the funeral, since my exams will prevent be from attending?” In addition, if anyone is a rude-butt at the funeral and asks “Where’s your daughter? Shouldn’t she be here?” then he can respond “She wasn’t able to make it, so she helped me order flowers / pick photos / make a donation in [mother’s] name / do other helpful thing,” which may be a big stress-reliever for him.

    • Phoebastria said:

      This is beautiful useful advice.

    • MrsMorley said:

      These are excellent suggestions. Also, it was kind of you to do such things for your father

  23. Capt Awkward, awesome advice to both letter writers!

    One further gambit for letter writer #1: If the platitudes don’t shut down people who keep prodding you for talk about the fellow who harassed you, it is perfectly OK to say, “I find this very upsetting and I just can’t talk about it anymore.” They are free to interpret that any way they want, but you are just telling the truth: you are upset and you don’t want to talk about it anymore.

    • Drew said:

      This is brilliant. Better than what I was about to post, which was “It’s been a long time since I saw or spoke to Mitchell, to be honest. I’d rather hear from people who knew him more recently.”

      Which, I guess, I posted anyway.

  24. Lizzie said:

    Recently I asked my Mum for some stats on grief over losing parents. Mum is a doctor (general practitioner) so she sees a lot of people in that situation, and she’s always been as interested in the emotional aspects of medicine as the biological. She gave me some basic descriptive information that helped me understand what my friend was going through. It’s not exactly what the LW was asking, but I thought I’d share in case it could be helpful.

    1. On average, deep grief over a parent lasts for about a year. Sometimes longer. Sometimes shorter – Mum had seen people get through it in six months, but that was pretty unusual. The first year, you have to go through all the milestones: first Christmas without Dad, first Dad’s birthday without Dad, first Father’s Day without Dad, first own birthday without Dad …. The second time around, those times are easier.

    2. The average lowest point is about four months after the death. During the first few months there’s a lot to do, and a lot of stress, and the stress response carries you through it; but that wears off.

    3. When you’re not grieving, regular days are boring, and holidays and special events are exciting and fun. During grief, often the two are inverted. During holidays you feel especially bad because you’re reminded of Dad’s absence, plus you feel like you *should* be having fun. The regular boring days are what get you through.

    4. Not always, but often: the more conflict there was in the relationship with the parent, the *harder* it’s is to work through the grief, and the longer it takes. You’d think it’d be he opposite, right? But Mum says usually no.

    5. Grief can make it hard to sleep, can make you irritable, can feel like you’re numb. It can feel a lot like depression. (I found that helpful as an analogy because I haven’t lost a parent but I was at one point depressed.)

    • Brightwanderer said:

      That’s all really interesting, thanks for posting it.

  25. Xenophile said:

    I second the recommendation to stick to bland facts. My mother’s mother was abusive and bigoted her whole life, but also somewhere on the schizophrenia spectrum and later in life developed Alzheimer’s. Due to her paranoid delusions, she eventually stole my college fund and accused my mother of conspiring with the neighbors to tap her phones and spread false rumors about my mother’s father sexually abusing her throughout her childhood. (The “rumors,” of course, were true.) She cut off contact with my mother and died a year or two later. They never reconciled. As the oldest child, my mother was expected to give the eulogy. She took a tranquilizer and gave a calm, dispassionate list of facts about her mother’s life without attempting to discuss feelings or leave inspirational words for the mourners. It was the most economical use of her energy at that time, and probably the least disorienting part of it all because it was based on objective facts.

    When an abusive person dies, everyone has different memories of them, and different versions of history. It was so confusing how everyone at my mother’s mother’s funeral described a completely different woman. The priest had never met her and just made stuff up, but it was completely false and she would have even been offended to be characterized like that. But the fact that she graduated from such and such high school in such and such year was something real that I could hold on to. And it was so neutral that no one could argue with it.

    • Xenophile said:

      Oh, I almost forgot: LW2, if it’s appropriate and if you have the means, you might consider sending a practical gift to help reduce your father’s stress and demonstrate that you’re thinking of him. A fruit basket or a gift certificate for meal delivery so he doesn’t have to cook while taking care of his mother’s effects, for example. I sent my mother a basket of bath and body products and suggested she take the opportunity to use her parents’ gigantic bathtub with some nice bath salts.

      Also, YMMV, my therapist recommended finding one or two positive/neutral/funny things to refer as necessary. It’s okay if there is only one positive thing about their whole heritage; just acknowledge that and change the subject. “What were your mother’s parents like?” “Her mother made excellent pie. Her father was half Swedish and put pickled herring on everything. Btw, it’s amazing how quickly my little cousins have grown…”

    • Melanie Chorisglossa said:

      “When an abusive person dies, everyone has different memories of them, and different versions of history.”

      Whoa! Head-spin from this because it’s a super-truth thing that hadn’t really been made plain to me before this.

      Thank you!

      • Xenophile said:

        Glad I could help! I find that most abusers are smart enough to be charming when they need to be so it’s like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Same as when parents choose favorites, or if the parents’ behavior changes over time and the children have completely different recollections based on their ages. Plus, everyone comes up with alternate narratives to cover up painful truths, out of denial and not wanting to speak ill of the dead.

        In this case, one of the mind-boggling things was meeting my great aunt for the first time. 25 years prior, my mother’s mother told her sister to never speak to her or her family ever again, so we didn’t meet that side of the family until the wake. We had always been told that Mom’s mom hated Latin@s because she was mixed and had spent her whole life trying to pass. She hated her alcoholic, wife-beating father and there was a lot of racial discrimination when/where she grew up, so as soon as she turned 18 she moved away, married a Swede and told everyone she was white. It seemed to explain why she hated my (Mexican) father, my brother and me. She was the way she was because of her painful childhood. But when we met her sister, she made offhand comments about how their dad was such a softy and never so much as spanked them, and how they had always been so proud of their “Spanish” (notably not “Mexican” or “Chicano”) heritage. Now I have no idea what their family was like, or why she acted the way she did.

    • Palliser said:

      One follow up in case anyone has to be in charge of a funeral for a difficult person–it is perfectly possible to have a respectful service without a eulogy. A minister or other figure can give a generalized speech emphasizing that person’s humanity. My family isn’t big on eulogies and we have had that style service for a couple of relatives.

  26. cleo said:

    Delurking to add to the excellent advice. I really enjoy this site.

    For LW2 – You could send flowers to the funeral – not to honor her, but to support your father. I choose to go to my abusive, horrible grandfather’s funeral. It was the right choice for me, but parts of it were really hard. My wonderful in-laws sent flowers to the funeral home (they knew about his abuse). Everyone else thought their flowers were for my grandfather but I knew they were for ME (because they told me so) and it helped a lot – I looked at their flowers and I felt loved and less alone. And good for you for wanting to support your dad while being true to yourself.

    • unlurking said:

      That was a really beautiful thing that your inlaws did, small yet huge, full of meaning, and it’s beautiful that you remember it, I really love this. <3

      • cleo said:

        It really changed the way I think about flowers and similar small but thoughtful gestures. I’m not that good at remembering social niceties, but this inspired me to make the effort to send something (anything) to show my love and support.

  27. thaleiamuse said:

    After my abusive miserly bastard hoarder father died last summer, I went into the local bank to deal with his old account. When I explained the situation to the bank manager-guy, he offered the usual condolences, and said he was sorry. Or he started to–I found myself cutting him off with, “Don’t be. He was an asshole.” I certainly hadn’t planned on saying that, but damn it was so nice to say the truth. The manager guy was like, “Oh, okay,” and then we got down to business.

    Funny thing is in this small town where my father was known as The Guy In The Coffee Shop With All Those Volkswagens no one so far has offered condolences to me or even mentioned my father, I think because he’d been in a nursing home for several years before he died and people had assumed he was long since dead.

    I have not mourned for my father and I don’t expect I will. I gave up any kind of hope of him being a decent person a long time ago, and while I’m still processing (mourning) that I never got a nice dad like every kid’s entitled to, that’s a longer process and isn’t really related. I had a friend years ago who knew a little about my father insist that when he died I’d feel sad. Even then I knew I probably wouldn’t. I just couldn’t imagine it, because he and I had no connection at all.

    I suppose that isn’t advice, more a comment, but I guess I wanted to say that it’s perfectly normal *not* to mourn, sometimes.

    • AMM said:

      I suppose that isn’t advice, more a comment, but I guess I wanted to say that it’s perfectly normal *not* to mourn, sometimes.

      When my mother died a few years ago, I was half-surprised to discover I felt — nothing.

      The best way I can describe my relationship with her is that I wanted/needed a real relationship, and she wasn’t able to relate to anyone on anything more than a superficial level. She was great in social situations, but didn’t deal well with anything that required more than just good social skills. I don’t think she knew how to have an emotionally intimate relationship. Most people thought of her as a lovely person; my brothers’ friends wished she could be their mom. And my siblings didn’t seem to have a problem with her — my oldest brother kept talking about how much she loved him. But I found if I was around her for any length of time, I’d get suicidally depressed, and it would take me weeks to recover.

      I’ve been explaining to myself my reaction when she died by saying that, as far as I could feel, there hadn’t been anybody there for years. Maybe I got my mourning out of the way before she died (in body.)

      Fortunately, when we went down for the funeral and all the other stuff you do when a parent dies, nobody asked me how I felt about her dying, so I didn’t have to lie and make nice. And when I do see family (maybe once a year — we’re not close-knit), it never comes up.

      • Leonine said:

        “The best way I can describe my relationship with her is that I wanted/needed a real relationship, and she wasn’t able to relate to anyone on anything more than a superficial level. . . . I found if I was around her for any length of time, I’d get suicidally depressed, and it would take me weeks to recover.”

        Wow. I’m sorry if this is off-topic, but your comment just opened a little window for me. My mom stopped by last week, and I was down in the dumps for three days afterward. Part of recovering from my childhood has been making it a strong habit to be my own authentic self in all my relationships, but with her, I have to throw up all my old shields, and it is just so anxiety-provoking and sad-making. One of my strengths is making real human connections with people, but she treats connections as conduits for belittlement, so with her, I have to shut it all down, and it really hurts. I had never really thought about it like that before. Thank you.

        It also makes me wonder what my life would have been like if I had had any real relationship with anyone as a child, but that’s a thought for another thread.

  28. Feb said:

    LW 1,

    The captain’s advice and scripts are awesome – though I’d probably suggest avoiding talking to your sister [or anyone who actually knew the guy] about what happened with him until after the grief and feelings of “Omg, how could such an awesome person die! And so young!” fade, simply because talking about bad things the recently deceased has done tends to put a bad taste in people’s mouths and really can come across as just having a grudge if not worse.

    Now, I’m not saying don’t talk about it – Do! Seriously, if you think it might help you at all talk about it. Just, if who you’re talking to knew him be aware of what they may be feeling in terms of grief too.

  29. mcbender said:

    (Hello everyone! Longtime lurker, first-time commenter.)

    This post really hit me in the feels, for two reasons; one silly, and one not. The silly one is that my name happens to be Mitchell and reading the first letter felt… odd. I know there’s no rational reason to react to it – it’s not even the person’s real name! and I’m clearly not dead so it’s not about me! – but perhaps because I don’t encounter people I share a name with very often, I’m not used to this sort of thing (and especially not when it’s a harasser or the like), and it felt weird. I’m not sure what else to say, just that reading it got to me.

    The not-silly reason is that I know how awful and confusing that feels. When I was at university I got a random call from my parents one day informing me that my childhood bully – let’s call him “James” – had been found dead in his dormitory, possibly drug-related. I had no idea how to respond to it, and the call left me completely speechless; as I recall it, I went through the rest of that weekend in a complete muddle because I was so completely confused. I’m very grateful I didn’t have to attend a funeral (and would have had a ready-made excuse for not going, coursework is good for that) or interact with his family, because I would have had no idea how to react and might have said something hurtful to someone. I think your instinct to go with “That’s awful. I feel for his family.” or something along those lines is a good one; it’s true, and you don’t have to lie about your own feelings with respect to the deceased except by evasion.

    (Admittedly my feelings were also complicated by the fact that “James” and I had been friends once, and quite close, before he inexplicably decided to turn on me and assault me physically for the amusement of his other friends, then spend the better part of a year alternatively ignoring and mocking me for having had the audacity to be upset by it… but that’s neither here nor there.)

    I’m sorry I don’t have any constructive advice to offer you, LW #579. All I can say is that I know it’s hard and confusing and you’re already handling it much better than I think I could have done.

    • JenniferP said:

      When you have a name like Jennifer, the first bit tends to wear off after a while. Glad you’re alive!

  30. Jenn said:

    I can say with all honestly that I don’t miss my mother that much. I grieve for the little girl she was who suffered so greatly, and the woman she could’ve been without it. But I can’t forget the woman who made sure that if she was unhappy everyone else was unhappy too. The woman who put my brother and myself in the role of parents, the woman who fell apart and never even tried to pick up the pieces. I hope she’s found some measure peace now.

  31. Jolly said:

    Hoo boy, LW1, I feel you. Except in my case, the person who bullied me in middleschool (thankfully nothing sexual, just run-of-the-mill acting like a huge asshole/spitting in my face at one point) died while we were still in middleschool. It was a swimming accident, and I was legitimately sad, both for his parents but also because I assumed he would have grown out of being a huge dick if he had just had the chance.

    One of my friends considered herself to be his best friend (despite his even worse behavior towards her–in retrospect, he was friendly toward her in the meanest, most sexually objectifying possible way, but as a middleschool girl with low self-esteem, that made them best friends), and after his death she decided to get a huge card for his parents and have all of his friends write down their favorite memories of him on it. She asked me to sign it, and as delicately as possible I said that the card was a good idea, but that he and I weren’t close, that I was very sorry for their loss but I just didn’t have happy memories with him and I didn’t feel comfortable doing what she was asking. Afterwards my homeroom teacher, who heard the whole thing, came up to me and said he agreed with me and that I didn’t do anything wrong/not to worry about it, but my friend’s reaction was to kick me in the shins as hard as she could and call me a huge bitch (yep, middleschool).

    I guess what I’m saying is, be honest, be kind, but if people who are maybe not their best selves due to grief get upset that your experiences and reaction is different than their own, that isn’t really on you. Just politely exit the situation and assume it will blow over.

  32. LW1, you are awesome for asking this question ahead of time and considering this sort of thing, instead of being a class A jackass like I was in high school when faced with a somewhat similar situation. A boy in my class, who had bullied me, sexually assaulted me repeatedly, and spread nasty rumours about me, committed suicide when we were in grade 11. A mutual friend sent me an IM and said, ‘OMG did you hear about Casey?” I responded, “ugh, no, and I don’t care about anything that anyone has to say about that piece of shit.” He said “um, wow, that was a horrible thing to say. He killed himself last night.” And never spoke to me again. Understandably so, honestly.

    *hangs head*

    • Drew said:

      Te absolvo, amica. You were young and you did something rash. Those facts are related. More to the point, you learned from that awful experience. I hope you can find a place where you aren’t beating yourself up over a single mistake, years ago. Maybe write that friend a letter (that you won’t send), pouring your heart out. Maybe even write one to Casey.

    • h said:

      Hey, you had no idea of the context. The news could have been, “He got arrested for drunk driving, LOL!” Or, “He beat some kid up and he’s in jail.” Or, “His dad gave him a car!” You made the “mistake” of speaking harshly about somebody who sexually assaulted you. I assume the mutual friend didn’t know, and that you never got the chance to tell him. Honestly, I blame Casey for posthumously breaking up your friendship due to his bullying and sexual assault. Sure, it’s a good lesson to take care in your speech, but IMO you’re maybe overapplying it?

      If you had the chance, would you have told your mutual friend something like: “I’m so sorry, I had no idea. I was upset about something Casey did to me, but I never would have said that if I knew why you texted me.”? (There’s just no way to make that punctuation come out pretty, but I’m sure you follow…)

      We’ll never be perfect. But if something like that were to happen to a friend today, I would advise them to send a card saying what I wrote above, and then to let it go.

    • Taiga said:

      Hang your head? If you’d told your friend “good, glad to hear it!” it would have been perfectly appropriate (says random stranger on the internet) so you’re a good person for NOT saying it.

    • boutet said:

      I’m having a hard time putting to words here. You hurt someone, but you hurt them by speaking honestly about someone who hurt you, and you without knowing the full situation that made your words hurtful. You still hurt them, but I think that not wanting to talk about your abuser is not wrong. His death did not go back in time and erase the things he did to you.
      What you did was speak harshly about someone who had hurt you, but in a situation that made you look like the worse person. If you had said it -after- you knew he had killed himself then it would be a pretty horrible thing to say, yes. But you said it before you knew, when he was, to you, an abuser and nothing else. Your situation is not “similar” to the LW since you did not know your abuser was dead when you spoke. Yours was a reasonable angry response to (as far as you knew) a living abuser who could and probably would continue to abuse you.
      The person was still hurt, and the friendship damaged, but I don’t think you need to berate yourself, or hold on to shame. Like Drew said, you learned from an awful experience.

    • atma said:

      It’s OK to not love bad people, even when they’re dead. It’s especially OK when you don’t even know they’re dead.

      Yes, I can see that your reply was upsetting in the moment. But never speaking to you again, after thinking about the fact that you didn’t KNOW he was dead? That’s ridiculous.

    • Seriously, did your friend think you were supposed to guess the bad news? He gets some slack for however he reacts in the midst of grief, but eventually it might have occurred to him that there was no reason for you to respond any other way.

    • MrsMorley said:

      You don’t need to hang your head or be ashamed. If you’ve since decided that leaving off “piece of shit” on communications would be a good idea, I won’t fault you (but then, I rarely use obscene or scatological language, so I’m biased).

      But there was nothing wrong with your comment. You clearly communicated that you didn’t like Casey and didn’t want to hear about him. Your interlocutor was at fault and would have done better to start with, “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Casey killed himself last night.”

    • Sue Wilson said:

      Well, I may just be a cold person, but someone’s inner pain does not in fact absolve them of how they treat others. You can acknowledge that someone was struggling with life and still think they’re a piece of shit. I don’t actually think you were cruel, especially when you didn’t understand the context. I also don’t think it’s understandable that someone didn’t speak to you again for telling the truth about how you felt about someone who tried to make your struggle with life difficult himself.

      But I completely understand wanting to be a more compassionate person than you might have been.

    • People tend to glorify the dead. You didn’t know he was dead, and we’re being your authentic self. I hope you know that you didn’t actually do anything wrong by saying what you said. Assholes commit suicide just like nice people do, and that’s he only thing they have in common.

  33. Thursday Next said:

    I’ve found that if I have nothing to reminisce about (or only unpleasant things), that I can sometimes shift the focus to the other person and become a listener for them. “I didn’t know X as well as you. You must have some great stories from Y time…”

    I think one of the best gifts you can give a loved one is a sympathetic ear, whether you share their grief or not. Having a chance to reflect on a few sweet memories from long ago might help mitigate the pain from more recent bitterness.

    • Toestands said:

      Love your username!

  34. keelyellenmarie said:

    A funny [well, not funny at the time, but amusing to me now…] story about dealing with this situation in exactly the WRONG way…

    When I was eight or nine, my great grandmother (my dad’s father’s mother) died. To my knowledge, she hadn’t been particularly sick, so in that sense it was sort of unexpected, but you know, great grandmother… she was in her late eighties.

    Now, I barely knew my great grandmother. In my memory, she was a frail old lady who pinched my cheeks and had a full-strength version of the Boston accent that my irish catholic grandparents have only traces of, which I found interesting and endearing. I’d met her a handful of times.

    So, you know, not exactly a huge loss for me. BUT I was also a little kid who had never lost a family member before, and so I was upset…maybe more by the concept of death, and the idea that I would someday lose my grandparents, who I was very close to, than by her death specifically, but upset nonetheless.

    After my parent’s told me [in a very matter-of-fact way that I didn’t really understand], I went away to my room to cry. I don’t know how long I laid there sobbing, but eventually my father barged in, saw me crying, and LOST IT. I got an earful about how I barely even knew her and had no right to be upset, and that if I had known her, I would be glad the “miserable old bitch” was dead.

    Guys, up until that point I was entirely unaware of this fact, but apparently every adult in my family hated my great grandmother, and for good reason: she was a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic who my grandfather escaped by joining the army the day he turned 18. But for whatever weird reason, presumably related to some culturally-ingrained notion of responsibility to family that I don’t fully understand, after my grandfather started a family, he took his children to his mother’s house for Sunday dinner every week for the fifteen years or so of their childhood that they lived close enough to do so. Through that whole time, great grandma remained a miserable, mean drunk, but they showed up anyhow, every damn weekend.

    And you know, this is family history that I’m really glad to know. It explains a lot. It was just maybe not information I needed dumped on me angrily while my little-kid brain was trying to wrap around the notion of someone I knew dying?

    On the bright side, while this experience clearly sticks in my head, and definitely contributed to my childhood terror of my father’s anger, my grief over my great grandmother was no where near as deep or complicated as that of, say, my grandfather or his siblings, and I like to think/hope that maybe my dad having that outburst at me prevented it from being directed at someone who would have taken it worse than I did.

  35. My great aunt was schizophrenic and a real challenge for my Mum and aunts to look after as she aged. She had some very strong racist beliefs and was banned from certain venues around the city because she would confront people and abuse them because of their race.

    My aunt did an incredible job with the eulogy in much the same way you did Captain: acknowledged her achievements, paid tribute to her strengths, and quiety presented her less favourable qualities without glorifying them. It was a master of writing.

    Horrible relatives are, unfortunately, a fact of life and it sucks LW that for you it was your grandmother. I hope you can find a way to support your dad that works for both of you. And please – don’t feel pressured to love her retrospectively. You don’t deserve that and neither does she.

  36. LW#1: “We didn’t get along” I think is fine – it doesn’t sound like your badmouthing someone who just died, but explains why you’re not serving up happy funtimes memories. Follow it up IMMEDIATELY with a “I’m so sorry for his friends and family” to turn the subject back away from how you felt about the deceased and back on to how, yes, death is a bummer isn’t it?

  37. Jenn said:

    LW#1 I’d say be as honest as you need to be. Mention that you weren’t close in school and lost contact in college but you are sorry for his family. That’s all anyone needs to know right now.

  38. Belinda said:

    A woman in a survivors’ group I was once in said she went to her rapist’s funeral (he was a member of her family) dressed up to the nines and drunk off her scone, and shouted drunkenly at everyone at the graveside. The rest of us were like YOU ARE OUR HERO.

    Presumably she didn’t want to have a relationship with any of them afterwards, though. :O

    This is not really the same situation but I share because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

    • Taiga said:

      Good Lord, she’s my hero too and I’m not a survivor!
      I read somewhere once that when someone dies you grieve for what YOU’VE lost. So why should we pretend to mourn someone whose loss means nothing or is actually a relief?

    • hrovitnir said:

      Wow. That is kind of amazing.

    • gidgetcommando said:

      I aspire to her level of wonderfulness. May I have the presence of courage and the absence of give-a-fuck necessary when the time comes.

    • Epiphyta said:

      Holy shit, that’s magnificent. And “drunk off her scone” is my new favorite descriptive phrase.

  39. My dad died almost two years ago. I had cut our contact to semi-monthly calls because of how he had treated me the last couple times I had seen him, and had planned to skip my annual trip home because he was just unbearable. And then suddenly he was in the hospital while I was on the other side of the country, and then he died.

    He wasn’t a good person. I have no doubt that he loved me, but he was just incapable of expressing that in a way that wasn’t toxic as hell. Very few people understand that. And very few people actually witnessed him being horrible, because he was careful to hide what he called “dirty laundry.” My mother blames me for his behavior and has since I was very young.

    The trouble is that everyone kept telling me what a wonderful man my father was. He was for *them,* sure. The Jewish grieving process required that I spend several days assuring people that my father liked them and shit like that. It was exhausting. Everyone said to look after my mom, and I was taking care of other people. I’m better at looking after other peoples’ emotions.

    After the last time I saw my dad alive, my husband and I talked about how we’d only let my parents see our hypothetical offspring in supervised visits, and how we would lay down a lot of ground rules about bad behavior. So of course I was upset because my dad died and I didn’t know how to deal, but I was also relieved. But whenever I tell someone this they act like I’m some kind of monster. I don’t know how to grieve and it’s just so isolating to not know how to talk about this.

    • cleo said:

      That sounds awful. I was relieved when my abusive grandfather died, too. I don’t think that makes you a monster.

    • Jadis said:

      You’re not alone. I carry a fair amount of guilt (which I have not yet entirely worked out) over basically abandoning my mom when her life was pretty much put on hiatus while she tended to my dad’s end-of-life care as his health deteriorated. Like many of the people who’ve posted here, I have extremely complicated feelings about my dad due to his abusive (undiagnosed, since he thought his behavior was perfectly normal) personality disorder. To others, he was just “gregarious” and “strong willed”, when actually in private he was an emotional infant who would fly into a rage at the smallest of unpredictable transgressions. I had really distanced myself from him in the last years of his life, and while I feel terrible about not helping my mom out more, I also feel like I just…couldn’t. Not without making my own self really, really miserable.

      So, I totally get you on feeling mostly relief once he was gone. It’s something I’ve verbalized to *very* few people, and definitely not anyone in my family. My sister, who left home at 18 and never came back, and didn’t have to live with his day to day nastiness, often waxes rhapsodic about how much she misses him, and all I can do is nod and acknowledge that yes….SHE misses him. But I can never commiserate, because I honestly don’t. Relief. For me, and especially for my mom, who bore the brunt of it all for 46 years, who’s now free to live the life I always imagined for her if she’d only been able to break free.

      I get you.

      • “To others, he was just ‘gregarious’ and ‘strong willed’, when actually in private he was an emotional infant who would fly into a rage at the smallest of unpredictable transgressions.”

        oh my goodness that is basically my dad. He didn’t hit me often once I was a teenager, but he was prone to these violent rages where he’d try to break my door down or similar things. One time it was because I had changed the channel when he was asleep. Really little things. I was constantly afraid. I once broke the CD drive on the computer while such things were expensive and he was completely chill. Plugged headphones into the computer and he freaked the fuck out. He went on an hours-long rampage when I installed Firefox.

        It sounds terrible, but I am *so* glad he died quickly after his stroke. He became a monster following his heart attack ten years before his death.

    • J. Preposterice said:

      You’re not some kind of monster. We had to lay down Rules with my father for interacting with our kids, and Flagrant Violation of Rules is a big part of why we’re estranged now.

      I can’t help on the grieving part, but I totally hear you on feeling like you need Rules to protect your children, and I think it’s a completely reasonable and normal thing to want when you have a parent in the picture who is…not gonna be great.

      • Thank you for doing that for your kids though! I don’t know how I’m going to deal with my mom. She’s less scary than my dad was, but she’s going to need some very solid ground rules.

    • Jenn said:

      I think part of it is we all sold this story that ‘all families are healthy’ and ‘all families are close’ when that’s just not true. I mean maybe Great Aunt Bessie was a lovely person but if you only met her twice when you were a infant it makes sense why her passing might not be a big deal to you.

      Same for abusive members of the family. It’s hard to grieve for someone who made themselves a source of pain and misery. That doesn’t make one a monster, it makes one a person. I mean I wish I had more feels for my Mom’s passing but at the same time the path she choose was one of alienating those around her.

  40. Leonine said:

    I don’t remember where I first heard about this (although I feel like it was here?), but the ring theory is a pretty good rule of thumb when dealing with people who are dealing with death, illness, etc. These LWs both seem lovely, and I don’t mean to imply that they would be or are being as insensitive as some of the people in the article, but I think this model is cromulent.

    From the article, the theory in a nutshell:

    “Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. . . . The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, ‘Life is unfair’ and ‘Why me?’ That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

    “Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

    “When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it.”

    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

  41. Taiga said:

    Here’s a good funeral tribute to an abusive parent.

  42. My biological father died four years ago. I’d seen him once since I was six, even though he lived in the same metro area. Just before my first round of finals in law school, I got a message from my stepdad that the bio father was dying of rectal cancer, and my paternal grandmother (who I also hadn’t seen since I was six) wanted to talk to me. I did have breakfast with her when I was home for Christmas break, and she seemed to be under the impression that a short stack of pancakes and some shitty coffee would fix everything. (Spoiler: no.)

    Anyway, she wanted me to go see him, and I did not want to, so I didn’t. He died in April, and I didn’t find out until May (or, as I will always remember it, the Day Before My Criminal Law Exam). I don’t regret not seeing him, because what was there to say? I do regret not having the choice to not go to the funeral, not that I could have. I’m annoyed that while I knew things would never be “fixed,” now the opportunity is gone and that makes me a little sad, which is ridiculous, but mostly I am super relieved that he’ll never show up looking for a kidney or a chunk of liver.

    • I’m annoyed that while I knew things would never be “fixed,” now the opportunity is gone and that makes me a little sad, which is ridiculous,

      I don’t think that’s ridiculous at all. I’ve been grieving for a while that I’ll never have the relationship with my father that I want. I’ve gotten past hoping for apology or some expression of regard, but continue to think basic respect of the sort that cordial adults give each other would be nice. And it will gut me the day that I know that isn’t even theoretically possible anymore.

  43. Anonaconda said:

    What a lovely eulogy! I’m in awe. I feel like I can picture exactly who your Grandpa was.

    LW #2, you have your own relationship with your grandparents that is separate from your father’s, and it is 100% okay if you don’t want to go to the funeral. However, I will say that from my perspective, the funeral is really for the survivors, not the deceased. If you want to go to support your father, it doesn’t have to mean that you’ve forgotten the abuse. It might even be a way for you to find closure and forgive your father, if you’re ready to do that. My father lost his mother recently, and while it was a very different situation from yours, I know that having his children there was important to him. He had known that it was coming after a long illness and that it was what she wanted, but he was still kind of a mess.

    But again, if you don’t want to be there, you absolutely don’t have to.

  44. solecism said:

    Hey there. I just experienced a death in the family last month. My mother’s husband died of cancer and complications caused by severe alcoholism just a couple weeks after he went in to get checked out for some pain. They’d been together for 20 years, but their marriage was a toxic war zone of various abusive behaviors, and I had progressivly reduced contact over the years to protect myself and my partner so that I saw them maybe 1-2 times a year and talked by phone slightly more than that. I had explicitly announced this to my mom last year, that we just couldn’t handle being around both of them but that I still loved her

    I had gone to visit my mom over a weekend to help her prepare to bring him home for hospice, and instead I stayed a full week to support her in the first days of making arrangements, incuding the funeral service.

    Here were some of the things I did (in no particular order):
    1) Sorted through thousands of digital pictures to collate those that featured her husband for the service slide show.
    2) Accompanied my mom to the funeral home for the planning meeting with the director and 2 of her sisters-in-law. Paid attention to her reactions to the various options offered and suggested alternatives or clarifying questions when it seemed appropriate. Paid attention to her comfort level and asked for the funeral director to leave the family alone so they could discuss service arrangements (food/no food, more formal/less formal spaces) without constraint. Acted as go-fer to fetch items from the car as needed.
    3) Acted as secretary as my mom begin coming up with ideas and key points for the obituary. Proofread the draft.
    4) Went shopping with my mom to buy the supplies necessary to create her own registry book for the funeral service and memory cards of my stepfather and than you cards and photo poster boards. Did the computer work to create these templates, then traveled to the copy shop to get them laser printed.
    5) Printed out lists of things other people can do for the recently bereaved as my mom had no idea what to say or how to react when people offered their well-meaning nonspecific helpfulness. Printed out lists of steps to take when someone dies in terms of notifications and paperwork. Admittedly, she also got that from the funeral home, but not until the next day.
    6) Provided a sympathetic ear and just listened when she wanted to talk. Acted as a sounding board when she wanted to discuss her concerns and goals.
    7) Found someone to care for the animals the day of the service so she didn’t have to worry.
    8) Helped load the vehicle with the various photos and other items for the service. Helped arrange all of these and pack them up at the appropriate times.
    9) Took charge of cooking and washing dishes. Bought groceries.
    10) Helped her take the service bed out of the living/dining area on the first floor and back into storage.

    During the service, after everything was set up and people started arriving, I mostly just picked a spot and hung out. When people wanted to come talk to me, I listened. I watched my mom work the room. I tried to stay out of the way of the crowds.

    I hope to visit monthly for the rest of the year to continue offering support as she copes with the ongoing business of probate and learning to run a hobby farm solo. I am sad that he is dead, but I also felt a great deal of relief to be able to visit the farm without all of the turmoil and noise and have it feel like a pleasant weekend. So a great deal of ambivalence there.

  45. Reading the first letter struck a chord with me. I was sexually assaulted by someone in school, and I can imagine the overlap if he was to die. Indeed a few school peers did die young and there was an outpouring of comment and emotion from people, some of whom didnt even know them well but were shocked by the general prinicple of one of our cohort dying.

    I agree with ‘How sad for his family’ and if necessary ‘actually we werent very good friends’ perhaps followed with the diversion of ‘but how sad for anyone to die so young’.

    I do question the suggestion that OP avoids social media though. If it was me, I would reject this; I rely on social networks for everything from keeping in touch with friends, right through to mental health support in the middle of the night. I think youre right to suggest OP avoids the aspects of social media that might bother her, but that can be done by muting discussion threads on facebook as they pop up, or muting phrases or users on twitter in the short term – you can do this as you go, in order to make your social media space YOUR space, without feeling you shouldnt access whole networks for a fortnight.

    I just feel very strongly that firstly, social networks can have huge benefits in terms of support, so shutting yourself off is not a good idea unless there really is no other way (if you dont know any people or groups that are NOT talking about this death), and why should the OP have to deprive themself when they are not in any way at fault? Sure, filter, mute, block, whatever you need to do to recapture YOUR social space, but dont feel you have to cut yourself off.

  46. umyeah said:

    Bleh, this all hits home way to close. A few years ago I was forced by my (abusive) mother to go to my step-fathers funeral (he killed himself before the trial was over to avoid going to jail for raping and assaulting my sister, thankfully someone intervened and stopped her from forcing my sister to attend).
    I am a very teary person and could not stop crying during the entire service. Many people came up to me and hugged me and told me how much they understood my pain and loss how sad it was he had done this (they didn’t know the reason and my mother refused to tell them, I feel she never believed my sister, or didn’t care – to the point she told him that my sister would get over it and we would be a family again). I wish that I’d had the scripts to be able to explain my emotions and reasons for the tears (mostly anger and anxiety at being forced to be in such a place)
    I realise now that I was grieving the loss of family I could have had, and for my sisters loss of innocence and inability to have closure on her (our?) terms.
    I didn’t, and don’t begrudge those people who had good experiences with that man, because they deserve the opportunity to heal themselves too. I just wish that our society didn’t force people to put their very real pain before others potential pain (and I guess just hurt feelings)

    • Erin said:

      Wow, that is a really awful experience. I hope your sister and you found your healing.

    • It’s good that your sister has you for support, since she’s obviously not getting it from your mother. Gah. Hope you’re both doing okay now.

  47. Hannah said:

    Captain, I’m so glad you answered this letter and shared your grandfather’s eulogy with us. Although I’m not in the situation the LWs are (though I’ve been there and can only expect to be there again), my grandfather passed away at the beginning of this week and as the writer in MY family they elected me to give the eulogy and even though he and I were close I’ve still found myself floundering. Obviously I’m not going to steal your eulogy but rather than google “how to write a eulogy” it’s been comforting and helpful to have your thoughtful words to come back to and sort of ground myself on

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m so sorry for your loss, and if the structure or wording or whatever helps you at all, steal away. It’s not the funnest task ever, so whatever makes it easier. Don’t be afraid to include funny stuff, imperfections, quirks. An obituary is neutral/factual. A eulogy is yours.

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