When your abuser or estranged relative dies
May 4, 2013 2:10 PM   Subscribe

When your abuser or estranged relative dies - funerals, obituaries, & condolences. This is a practical, thoughtful and informative website created by two Christian women who are knowledgeable about dealing with pathological narcissists and sociopaths within a family context, in particular the topic of "Silent Partners".

Hoovering defined as a concept.

The Silent Partner is any relative who stands by silently while you are victimized, or who takes the abuser's side against the victim.
posted by nickyskye (26 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you. That was very helpful.
posted by MT at 2:25 PM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a link in there to this frank obituary, which was actually published:

Dolores Aguilar, born in 1929 in New Mexico, left us on Aug. 7, 2008. Dolores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.

Her family will remember Dolores and amongst ourselves we will remember her in our own way, which were mostly sad and troubling times throughout the years. We may have some fond memories of her and perhaps we will think of those times, too. But I truly believe at the end of the day all of us will really only miss what we never had, a good and kind mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I hope she is finally at peace with herself. As for the rest of us left behind, I hope this is the beginning of a time of healing and learning to be a family again.

As much as I want to congratulate that woman for writing and publishing it, I am now desperately curious about the early life of little Dolores Aguilar, coming up in the desert in the 1930s. It must have been terrible. So was she.

I'm very lucky that I don't have a personal experience with this in my family, but I'm a generation below a lot of people who did, and I've seen how they dealt with it, well and otherwise.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:28 PM on May 4, 2013 [21 favorites]

They're treating a serious and important problem, but this site seems really creepy and weird. Saying God "is your real father", the first link in the menu being to a book you can buy, the abundance of terminology exclusive to them, that they define in endless articles, at times in opposition to the regular meaning of the term, like "When we refer to abusive or controlling "birth-families", we mean the family who raised you, and who was supposed to love and protect you. This includes adoptive, step-, and foster families."

While they might be doing good work, and have good intentions, the whole site screams "nutcase" to me. I'd be extremely wary in dealing with these people.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:30 PM on May 4, 2013 [15 favorites]

And since I brought it up, the comments section here contains a defense of Dolores which says LIES ALL LIES.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:31 PM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was very worried posting anything remotely Christian to the blue. I'm atheist but still found the information on this site to be helpful. I have a number of Christian friends who struggle with issues related to dysfunctional families, especially the dying thing, so I hoped this might be supportive to those who are Christian as well.
posted by nickyskye at 2:33 PM on May 4, 2013 [13 favorites]

i've been struggling with a relationship with a christian family member who was a silent partner in my parent's abuse as she approaches what might be her end years due to a not automatically terminal disease. when i think of my familial abuser dying, the words of styrofoam plates comes to mind - "just 'cause he's gone, it doesn't change that fact he was bastard in life, thus a bastard in death" - but when i think of her, there's this compassion, maybe it's her age - maybe it's because i wasn't directly victimized by her (but those flames certainly spread to me) - i try to find the right words, and when she mourns for her husband (the abuser) i try to not hate her. complex stuff. thanks for posting this.

on preview - i'm an atheist in a very religious family - church of christ, freewill baptist, mormon, etc - and sometimes seeing the deeply christian perspective, especially on abuse, is helpful to me. i can leave the god stuff, but it's important for me to think of my family's history of abuse in the context of the religion they followed - personally, those things seem linked (not saying that christianity is abusive, but that my family used religion to cover their awfulness or to excuse the awfulness of others).
posted by nadawi at 2:39 PM on May 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Regarding the idea of "birth families," I use this term myself when talking about my family, though I was adopted, or sometimes "family of origin." This is because I now have a real family, one that is my family of choice, and is and does all of the things a family is supposed to be and do for each other.
posted by custardfairy at 2:46 PM on May 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

i think a common coping mechanism for abused kids to find other families to "adopt" them informally - places where you can stay for days on end, where things aren't so fraught and fearful - i had a number of those families. i don't know that i'd call my family of origin my "birth family" since they raised me into adulthood, but i do understand the appeal of drawing a line between the abusive biological family and the people in your life who do what your family should have done - something that shows the importance of the second set.
posted by nadawi at 2:56 PM on May 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

as to what a "Christian" is

Ah, well, now that is an entire epic unto its own right there. One I wouldn't touch with a barge pole. I remember visiting a relative in Michigan, who told me that our Dutch Reformed Calvinist ancestors were so fussy about what they thought was a real Christian they would have major feuds based on the most trivial of topics. So I just used the generic term Christian for anyone who might appreciate references to the Bible mixed in with how to cope with dysfunctional family issues, with a take what you like and leave the rest approach.

The most useful thing I thought about the site was on handling the death of an abusive or estranged relative and dealing with the other family relations in that circumstance. It is a delicate and complex topic with not much helpful info out there on the web - or in real life - about it.
posted by nickyskye at 2:57 PM on May 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

My older brother and I have been estranged for years. My Dad just passed on May 1. I dread seeing my older brother. He threatened me and my wife the last time that we visited my Dad, in 2011. I'm told that Gary (my older brother) is more subdued of late, but seeing him still scares me a bit.
posted by therealshell at 3:06 PM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

It is a mainstream Protestant belief, yes. It also seems a bit of a derail.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:41 PM on May 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

it seems like there's a lot to pick apart about their specific flavor of christianity, but it also seems like it's searching for something to critique when it's not really the point of the post.
posted by nadawi at 3:42 PM on May 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

I am not Christian. I do know something of the Bible, and I have to say they are spot on as far as that part goes.
These women are doing a valuable service in countering the 'forgive at all costs' mentality in the Christian community, and society at large.
Some levels of abuse ARE unforgivable.
Sticking around to be further re-traumatized does no one any good
Sometimes that applies to the GOOD people you know.
I have a friend with a really horrible ex-boyfriend who is the father of her child.
She chose to raise the child, which I understand, her last shot at having a child.
I would have blown town and changed my name rather than have that man in the loop. He is awe full and so is his family.
I don't see her because neither I nor Mr. Roquette can handle it.
Another old friend has a totally crazy daughter.
I kept getting dragged into that drama. I decided that she wasn't a good enough friend for me to just cope with that.
There is a way in which imposing horrible people on your nicer friends *is* a form of abuse in its own right.
They both got nicely told, and several chances. I don't even call either of them anymore.
One relative I never met has a fairly scary ex-con husband. I haven't seen her since I was a small child. It's never happening. I can afford to travel cross country about as well as I can afford to go over-seas, which is not at all. I am not flying commercial any more after my last trip.
So we talk on the phone. Frankly I do wish we could visit some way that did not involve her scary husband. I know it won't happen unless he dies.
So not happening more than likely.
You can't control the choices of your friends or your family, but the nice thing about being an adult is you have the option of breaking contact, or limiting contact.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:23 PM on May 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

I also know and love people who have suffered abuse within their (exactly this kind of Christian) families and have struggled with the issue for years. They themselves are Christian and do not want to reject their religion. There is precious little help within their religious circle for this kind of suffering. I welcome this post and intend to pass the link along to those I think could use the help.

My viewpoint on religion does not matter; what matters is their viewpoint.
posted by Anitanola at 4:31 PM on May 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

There is a way in which imposing horrible people on your nicer friends *is* a form of abuse in its own right. You can't control the choices of your friends or your family, but the nice thing about being an adult is you have the option of breaking contact, or limiting contact..

Who else votes for that being a blinking banner across the top of askme?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:39 PM on May 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, there is a difference between forgiving from the heart and allowing someone to continually abuse you in the name of "forgiveness." People's actions have consequenses and if someone is truly acting evil the right thing to do usually is to keep yourself away from them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:16 PM on May 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

"They're treating a serious and important problem, but this site seems really creepy and weird."

I mostly felt that it was making too many universal assertions, many of which are wrong (in their universality).

"These women are doing a valuable service in countering the 'forgive at all costs' mentality in the Christian community, and society at large."

Yeah, that's definitely true.

I had a horrifying argument with my father, which ended with (mild) violence, at the end of 2006. We were estranged for a year and then he died unexpectedly.

This wasn't the first period in which we'd been estranged; I'd set strong boundaries with him in my early twenties and would go years at a time without contact after he violated them. What actually happened was that my enforcement of these boundaries for the most part ended his abusiveness to me, although not to others, of course. But I was his chief target when I was a child. So that final argument was really almost like a time-bomb that finally went off — when, in a period of stress he reverted to treating me, now in my 40s, like he did when I was a child, I responded differently than I did then and I basically had a lifetime of things to say to him, which I did.

As a matter of fact, it was in a phone conversation with nickyskye when I was first persuaded, by her, that he was a narcissistic abuser. I don't know if I ever thanked you for that conversation, nickyskye. But it bears on some of my criticisms of the OP because the chief reason I'd not recognized him as a narcissist before is because the model of NPD we're most familiar with is the one that's generally associated with women. His narcissism was the masculine, aggressive, controlling narcissism and while the underlying psychology and dynamics are the same, it has a notably different "feel". For example, the manipulation is much different, though equally present.

I'm also very uncomfortable with the "silent partner" stuff because I think it's a simplistic and ungenerous view. I have no problem with criticizing a parent for failing to protect their child from their abusive spouse, and I also have no problem with criticizing the other family members who avert their eyes or make excuses for the abuser. I have issues and resentments about this; I expect every child who grew up in an abusive household does.

But more often than not, those spouses are targets, too. They live in terror, too. There may be some societal sexism involved in how we have unequal standards for mothers and fathers in families where one of the parents is abusive. We are possibly too unforgiving of fathers who don't protect their children from their mothers, while possibly being too forgiving of mothers who don't protect their children from their fathers, on the questionable presumption that a mother is more likely a victim of their spouse than is a father. And more pointedly, I think there's a whole bunch of problems in vilifying siblings who weren't primary targets — of anyone, we should be sympathetic to their impulse to keep their heads down and to be co-opted into enabling behaviors as misguided attempts to keep the peace. They're children. At any rate, we don't have to choose, really, because it's possible to acknowledge failures to protect loved ones from an abuser while also being sensitive to the fact that everyone trapped in a family with an abuser lives in one form of terror or another.

Anyway, I went to my father's funeral. It never occurred to me not to do so, although, for example, when he fell critically ill in 2000 I was unwilling to stay in town and organize his life. Which I regret to some degree, because my sister then had to do so, and she lost her job for it, and I wasn't working. But I hit a wall with that as soon as I realized that this was something he'd have never done for me. I should have done it for my sister, but in the end I couldn't. The point is, I'm fully capable of doing what I want against the wishes of others close to me.

But it didn't occur to me not to be involved when he died because he hadn't planned for it, he didn't have much money (and it wasn't available to us, anyway), my sister and I were both very poor and although my father has brothers and sisters, none of them volunteered to help us. I mean, we didn't even have the money for a funeral home, we were arguing with the hospital for two days, putting them off when they wanted the body out of their morgue. It all happened quickly, it was like there was no time to even consider not being involved. It was all a nightmare. My sister and I are both disabled and we had to do something with his apartment and stuff. My mom and her husband quite generously pitched in and helped us with all this, even though my mom found it disturbing. And her two sisters also helped us a great deal. It's significant, I suppose, that it was my mother and her family that helped and not my father's. It could be that it never occurred to them. Or it could be that it never occurred to my sister and I to ask them. Both of his sisters lived in town, none of his brothers, though.

I'm on balance glad I went to the funeral, but it was weird. I wasn't as upset as other people. But also, frankly, his unexpected death just a year after our horrible fight and an estrangement, left me with this feeling of no resolution. I still feel that way. And his family was weird to me — although he had attacked me, I know that he told my sister something that minimized what he'd done while maximizing how I'd responded and so I have suspicions about what he might have told his siblings (the ones he wasn't estranged from).

But I don't necessarily think I'd be happier today had I not gone or been involved. My sister were close as children, we've not been close for a long time, but I'd like to somehow be close again, someday. But my sense is that had I not been involved in our father's funeral and all related, that would have damaged my relationship with my sister in some deep way that perhaps never could have been repaired.

I really don't think there's an easy, universal answer to these issues. What I've noticed in discussions here on MeFi, especially about narcissistic parents, is how many people have attested that they excised the abuser from their lives and were happier for it and don't regret it. It really is something worth emphasizing that this is a valid and healthy choice, because culturally we pretty much don't admit that it could be. It's as if everyone must forgive and reconcile and that would make everyone happy, but that's just wrong.

But it's true for some people. And that's okay, too.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:36 AM on May 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

Reading this page made me weep tears of joy.

My mother's sister, L., has been an emotional vampire for the entire time I've been alive. Since she was the youngest child, my grandparents doted on her. At some point in adulthood she got into cocaine, to the point where it ruined her serotonin levels, and based on her erratic behavior I suspect she still does it here and there.

I'm sure something painful had happened to her that flipped her switch, and a small, nagging part of me says that I should extend some kind of empathy towards her. Unfortunately, throughout my life L. has manipulated every member of my family to get what she wanted or to take the attention off of her when she's on a bender, and she's directed some of her worst behavior towards me. If she acknowledged her abusive behavior just once, I'd consider forgiving her, but whenever my mother spoke with her about the way she treated me, L. would respond with "I bet she doesn't even remember what I did to her!"

What especially galled me through the years was the way my mother responded to L's behavior towards me. Over the past year Mom has said that L's drug use "muddied the waters" in their relationship, but during my teens -- the time I could have most used her support -- Mom either turned a blind eye towards L's behavior or defended it. Or tried to get me to mend fences with L. so we could "be a family" again. Having your own mother call you a "drama queen" because you're trying to set boundaries with an abusive family member is one of the most painful things one can experience. Of all my family members, my mother is the most aware of my struggles with depression, and having her discount my experiences so we can get a family picture together just feels like rubbing salt in the wound.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:31 AM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

For years now, I've told my husband that when his sister dies, I will not be attending her funeral. Considering how awful she has been to me for the last quarter of a century, he respects that decision.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:34 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

many of which are wrong (in their universality)

When I find a recipe I basically like, I often tweak it to what works best for me or for the occasion.
posted by nickyskye at 9:05 AM on May 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

I found this to be a really interesting post, thanks nickyskye, especially given my own experiences.

At my mother's funeral, one of my brothers delivered her eulogy. The close family all knew what she was, so there was no need to bring up her difficult nature. In a lot of ways, I guess Phil tried to make sense of why she behaved the way she did, without airing dirty linen. He showed her childhood, talked about the disappointment of some of her dreams, the difficulties she had coping when our father (dominating, finance-controller etc) died. He brought up her good points, her intelligence and creativity.

My niece surprised me though. One of the sweetest people you'd ever meet, and she actually acknowledged that my mother (her grandmother) had problems showing affection (though I wouldn't have put it that way myself), and wished for her peace, now.

It was very kind of my brothers' work colleagues to turn up, but I would have rather they didn't - to me it was a very private time, saying goodbye to someone who had been quite destructive in our family. Perhaps though, my brothers felt supported by these colleagues.

I also chose to view the body - which I found both disturbing and cathartic. My mother's anger and pain were deeply etched into her face. Even in death, she seemed bitter. So I knew in myself that I had not lost anything, or missed out on anything by not meeting her once more before death.

Metafilter (particularly cold chef) was a huge help during that time.
posted by b33j at 3:36 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

b33j, I was trying to find a supportive essay about a relative dying in a dysfunctional family situation to help a friend. It was after reading your AskMe post and jessamyn's too that I did a bit of digging on the web and came across this website whose link I posted.

I showed my friend the post you created and pointed out ColdChef's excellent, practical reply. I really appreciated your courage in sharing your own experience. then and now. Thank you.

The death of an abuser is a richly complex situation with complex grief, complex, multi-generational issues. I'm surprised there is not a lot more on the web about this since dysfunctional families are really common, people do die and the survivors of abusers need to deal with the dead abuser or estranged relative, one way or another. The authors of this site I linked are pioneering in this area and I find that fascinating that they are Christian, courageously outspoken in not falling under the "You Must Forgive" spell that so many people bully abuse victims with, as a way of shutting up the hurt person, which ends up protecting the abuser, creating an enabling silence about domestic-family abuse in general.

A few years ago I had to deal with the death of my own ex-momster, as I refer to the sociopath I survived. Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead burst out of me on hearing the news. I was propelled from sitting into standing up and doing a jig, literally. To accompany them, give them support, I went with a much abused relative to the memorial service for the ex-momster, sat in church, sang the hymns with sincere joy that the world was a better place because this particularly sadistic person had made their final exit.

Over many years I've observed on the blue a number of obit threads discussing the death of people who were documented as quite obviously despicable in their lives, persons who created great harm to others, and there has not generally been permission to speak ill of the dead. I've not understood this. It seems cowardly, superstitious and hypocritical to me. If there is good to share in an otherwise abusive person's life, fine. That's excellent to celebrate or honor. However, I think it's not just okay but important to be reality based, outspoken about the dead person's abuse too, if that were the case.

It has been interesting to me that libel as a law applies only to the living, not to the dead. Presumably because it does not cause "damages" socially or financially to the deceased. Still, there is a social agenda to respect the dead when the deceased may have been not respected in life and may well have gone out of their way to have been grossly malicious. It is an interesting thing that.

Glad you came to this thread b33j. You basically inspired it with your AskMe post.
posted by nickyskye at 4:33 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

ColdChef was really great when i lost a family member last year. it was sudden and brought out a lot of animosity (abusive religious family shuns the gay victim, gay victim removes herself in various degrees from most of the family for decades, until her sudden, early death). as i was reeling and just sort of spewing words onto twitter at him, he was kind and warm and just basically saying all the important things. when i think of why metafilter is awesome, he's near the top of the list. he's made me honestly wonder if destination funerals are a thing - like, i can't think of a better way to shuffle off than to have all my loved ones gathered down south with him as their guide.
posted by nadawi at 4:49 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah, so sorry nadawi to hear about your having to endure a dysfunctional family funeral.

LOL, what a fun idea. "Destination funerals" at ColdChef's place, final exit MeFi meet-ups. cortex could write eugoogly songs.

And so true about ColdChef rocking. It is profound to have a savvy, kind, wise and warm-hearted fellow MeFite who deals with the dead and the survivors of the dead on a daily basis.

I wonder if there are any good funeral director blogs like the waiter rant one that talks about deceased dysfunctional relative issues. I bet estate lawyers have fascinating stories to share too when it comes to ill Wills and the tangle around them. But I suppose it would be dangerous for them professionally to share true stories.
posted by nickyskye at 5:08 PM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

My ex M-I-L was so traumatizing to our family that, when she died, her own son (my ex) called me singing "Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead". Not only did none of us go to any services, we're not even sure what happened with her remains, her property or any thing else. The only crying done was in relief.
posted by _paegan_ at 4:51 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

My personal favorite: Somewhere along the line, expect to get a package of decades-old junk, like cards you gave your mother (why on earth would she be giving them back to you?), drawings you made when you were in grammar school, old photographs, and maybe even a home movie or two. This is a mind game meant to mess with your head.

OMG, did THAT ring a bell. This happens every now and then from Mr. dlugoczaj's abusive ex-wife, and I never really put it in this context. (Granted, one of the first ones he got showed her breast-feeding one of their kids, and that was just a "who on EARTH thinks this is even the slightest bit appropriate?" moment that just ended in a lot of laughing and head-shaking.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:51 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

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