When an abuser dies

dead flower

**This post may be a trigger for those who suffered physical abuse or molestation.

On January 4th I got a text telling me he was dead.  My first thought was “good”.  Then I got hit with a wave of guilt.  How could I feel good that a person died?  I felt like a bad person.  We aren’t supposed to talk ill of the dead, but when the dead did some horrible things I think it’s time to talk about it.

It’s not like I didn’t tell before now.  The first person I told said I was lying and stopped speaking to me.  To this day she will barely acknowledge me.  We were very close, it still hurts.  I told my mother years later, she believed me, but I asked her not to do anything about it because it would have ruined her relationship with her sister.  You see, my abuser wasn’t alone, his wife was with him.  His wife is my cousin.  My sister listened when I told her, said she was sorry, but she is still very close to my cousin.  It hurts me terribly.

I felt very guilty about this the abuse.  I was a teenager, I felt like I should have been able to stop it.  To not feel like I just wanted them to love me.  I was a very confused teen.  I was undiagnosed with bipolar disorder.  It was easy to confuse me.  I was a teenager.  These people were grown-ups, they broke the law when they molested me, even if it seemed to be consensual.  There is a reason we have those laws.

After the initial abuse he would grab and fondle me when people weren’t around.  I tried to stop this.  It was very hard.  I was so confused.  This was someone who was supposed to protect me, yet this is how I was seen; as a sexual object.  I lived with my cousin and her husband.  It was not a good thing.  I was never comfortable.  They threw me out of the house because I cut school.  I was a straight A student, I cut school, it didn’t affect my grades, but that wasn’t enough for them.  I was told to get out.  I don’t feel the punishment fit the crime.  I had less than 2 months until I graduated from High School, and I had no where to go.  (It’s a long story as to why I was living with them.)  I turned to a friend and lived with her family until I graduated.  This house was so much different.  I felt safe.

It is hard to tell this story without going into too much detail.  I don’t think that is necessary.  I want to tell you all that if you were abused it is not your fault.  It doesn’t matter how old you are.  If you have been grabbed or fondled, you have been abused.  If you have had sex without your consent, you have been abused. If you were too young to consent, you have been abused. They call it harassment or rape when you get older.  It’s all wrong.  No matter what you do, what you wear, how you act…it’s wrong to treat you as a sexual object.  It’s wrong.  You should never feel like you did anything wrong.  I carried that guilt and shame for a long time.

Now, I feel a tiny bit of release.  He’s dead.  And I feel good about it.  Does that make me a bad person?  No, it makes me human.

Does the pain and confusion go away when an abuser dies.  No.  Maybe that’s because nothing is really settled.  For me, I still have people who don’t believe me.  I don’t feel like either of them paid for what they did to me.  They kept the same people close to them.  He continued to have sexual relations with many women.  (I don’t know that he abused anyone else who was under age.)  She is still part of a close knit family.  I’m the odd man out.  Everyone ignores the girl who told.

How to cope with the feeling that arise when an abuser dies.  (from Athena Moberg and Bobbi Parish of The #NoMoreShame Project)

  • Remember that nothing you feel is wrong. Emotions are never right or wrong. Nor does feeling them make you good or bad.
  • Don’t try to suppress or fight any emotions that may arise. Resisting our feelings often forces them to return even stronger and more demanding of our attention.
  • Don’t be surprised by any emotion that comes up, even if it surprises you that you feel that way. Sometimes our emotions are letting us know we have unacknowledged issues to process. Keep in mind that emotions we experience following our abuser’s death can often be conflicting.
  • Don’t focus on sorting out which one is right or wrong. Just acknowledge them, feel them and use them to process whatever information you need to.
  • Attend your abuser’s funeral only if you feel it would be beneficial to you. Family members may try to pressure you to attend the funeral, if only to keep up appearances that “everything is fine”. If you do choose to attend any services it might help to take a safe, supportive person with you.
  • Be prepared to grieve the loss of things you always wanted from your abuser. Perhaps you wanted an apology. Or you wanted to confront them and have them accept responsibility for what they did. Maybe you wanted them to finally become the parent/ sibling/etc. that you needed. Giving up those hopes is a loss that you may need to grieve.
  • Seek help if the emotions brought up by your abuser’s death feel overwhelming or insurmountable on your own. A support group, therapist, grief counselor or Trauma Recovery Coach. Even if you felt that you had already “finished your work” the death of your abuser is such a significant event that it might necessitate some additional help. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost ground in your recovery. It just means that some new ground has been uncovered.

To read other stories about how people deal with the death of an abuser see the links below: