It's Valid to Have Conflicted Feelings When an Abuser Dies
In most situations, we know what emotional reaction will make sense with what happens. Winning a game makes us feel proud. Failing a test makes us upset. Getting delayed by a train makes us annoyed. But what emotion should one feel when someone who hurt us dies?
The man that sexually abused me died this week. When I found out, I was in the middle of class. I froze. I was shocked. I knew he was living with cancer, but I didn’t know how severe it was. I had discussed this very moment with my therapist months ago. “What do I do if he dies? How should I feel?” Even then, I didn’t know how I would feel. I just thought I would let time take its course and find out when the time came. Sadly, for me and anyone else who has ever gone through this, there is no guidebook to how someone should feel when a person who has hurt them dies.
I was still in the process of reporting my assault to authorities before he died. I, along with two other women, reported this man to the police, and the other two women already spoke to a detective. Because I’m at college, I was unable to speak to the detective yet. But because the perpetrator has passed, all the legal processes no longer matter.
The process of grieving an abuser is extremely complex. No two people will grieve the same way. It will look different for each person, because each bond broken, each trust misshapen, each experience, is unique.
For me, I feel like I and these women never got the justice we deserved. We never got to tell him how much he hurt us. He never faced any charges. For that, I feel upset.
I also realize that now that he is no longer alive, he can’t hurt anyone else. For that, I feel relief.
But I also am unsure if it is right to feel glad someone is dead. For that, I feel conflicted.
I feel many emotions all at once, and I don’t know what is “right” to feel. But that’s the thing: there is no one right way to feel. No one is standing next to you or me telling us how we should feel when these conflicting emotions come up. It’s all a part of the healing process. Someone may judge us for feeling the different emotions we do, thinking certain emotions are improper given the situation of death, but being able to feel all of these emotions shows us that we are human. We have so many feelings, and we don’t have to choose just one. In a traumatic situation as conflicting as this, you and I aren’t expected to have just one feeling.
It’s OK to feel. It’s OK to be mad. It’s OK to be joyful. It’s OK to be disgusted, confused, disappointed, giddy, excited and any other feeling all at the same time. All of our feelings are valid.
After all, it’s your healing. The only person deciding how you should heal is you.
Photo by Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash