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Archive for March 16th, 2009

How does the death of an abuser affect the child abuse survivor? I have heard mixed reactions from child abuse survivors who have been through this.

Some people have told me that the death of an abuser was a relief. They could sleep better at night because the threat of the abuser still being “out there” was finally gone. They tell me that there is finality in knowing that the abuser is dead. They can finally lay that chapter of their lives to rest.

However, other child abuse survivors have told me that the death of an abuser can be painful. Words that were never said will now never be said. The opportunity to confront the abuser about the child abuse is gone forever. The possibility of the abuser taking responsibility for the abuse and apologizing has ended. If the abuser was a parent or other relative, any hope of reconciliation is also gone.

I sometimes wonder how I will react when my mother/abuser passes away. I must confess that a part of me feels giddy at the thought. I don’t mean to sound like some horrible freak, but the wounded little girl inside would very much like to know that the threat of her harming me again is gone for good.

If I received word that my mother/abuser died, I wonder if I would go to the funeral or not. At first, I thought I would so that I could see for myself that the threat is gone forever. Then, after my mother-in-law passed away last year, the reality of what is involved with funerals really hit me. Could I sit in a room and listen to nice things being said about my mother/abuser? Would I want to put myself through hearing my mother’s relatives tell me what a terrible daughter I am for not seeing her during the last years of her life?

And yet, after she passes away, questions about my mother will get much easier. Instead of having either to lie or admit that I have not seen my mother in over five years, I can simply say that she passed away.

An acquaintance of mine had a very bad relationship with her mother. At best, it was emotionally abusive. I am not sure how much deeper the abuse went. This woman cut off all contact with her mother for years, and then her mother passed away. She did not tell anyone that her mother had died for a long time because she did not want the usual sympathies. She did not want people assuming that she had experienced a loss that she had not had. Things were much less complicated to keep this fact to herself.

I don’t know how I will handle things when my mother/abuser passes away. And who knows? She might outlive us all.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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