When your abuser dies and the pain you feel is not love

This story is about Anna. This is not her real name. That has been changed, along with a few details, to protect her privacy. She wanted to share her story because she realised other people struggle with the convention that says you should grieve for a parent who dies, even when they abused, hated and rejected you. Here is Anna’s story.

There was recently a death in my family. My mother in law, with whom I had a very difficult relationship, died. My husband was sad, but not surprised. She was 94 and her death was not unexpected. My children were not really moved by it. They all said she did not mean anything to them. Sadly, she was not the sort of grandmother who forms relationships with her grandchildren. It caused me to think of my own mother’s death over ten years ago. She was also incapable of forming a relationship with her grandchildren, or with her daughter for that matter. I cried when she died and in the aftermath felt my world had fallen apart. I had lost the definition of who I was. As time went on I realised my tears were not about love for her. I realised I had no feelings for her other than anger at the way she had rejected me and deliberately set out to put me down and had not protected me from my father’s abuse. My tears were about the lost opportunity to ever hear her say “I love you”. The last time I saw her, she looked at me with such dislike, and it was really hurtful. I knew she died never having loved or even liked me. And the only sin I had committed was that of being an unwanted child, which was not my choice.

Facing my mother in law’s funeral brought up questions about why people cry at funerals. There are those who genuinely love the person who has died and are grieving the loss of a beloved companion. There are those who are grieving the loss of the opportunity to understand why the person behaved as they did towards them. Or the lost opportunity to hear ‘I love you’, or ‘I am sorry’. I have read that when a parent dies, the unresolved issues between the child and the parent must first be resolved before grieving for the loss of the loved one can take place. I realised that with my mother, resolving the issues identified that there was no love in the relationship. The grief I felt was purely the grief of never being loved and accepted. The little baby still seeking the acceptance that ensures survival.
This year, my mother would have been 90. On that day it was two months short of 13 years since she died. Every year I deliberately ignore her birthday and do not acknowledge it. But this year I decided to acknowledge it and to have a little time on my own. Just me talking to her. The words were not be ones of love. They were ones laying to rest the grief I have felt these past 13 years for what I never had. To acknowledge that love never grew in that relationship but I no longer grieve for that. The pain will never go away, but it has become easier as I have learned that who I am is my definition, not my mother’s warped, controlling one. That I can be a better person than she was. That there were people who liked her and loved her, but I was not one of them. She may have been a great wife, a great mother to some of her children, and a great friend. But to me she was a really crap mother and this is not incompatible with the way other people saw her.

My father is 92 and I know a day will come, sooner than later, when I will have to face the same situation. Any grieving I will do will be for what he never gave me. The difference this time will be the time I have had to accept what he did and establish my own identity.

The message I want to share from this is that you may go to the funeral of your abusive or rejecting parent and you may only feel sorrow for what they never gave you. I want you to know that is okay to feel that way. It is not selfish. You had every right to expect those things from your parent. It doesn’t make you an uncaring person. It makes you alive and real and very human. Others may not want to know about your pain and may seek to shut you down. Don’t allow it. It is important to grieve for what you never had as well as what you lost.