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Dead to Me, but Not Dead: How to Mourn the Loss of Still-Alive Parents

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In 2008 I sent my parents an email and informing them that I was discontinuing all communication with them forever. This action was a result of a hospital stay in a trauma center. The doctor made it a condition of my release that I terminate all contact permanently. I was resistant. I was trapped in a Stockholm Syndrome situation.

I found cutting off all communication was one of the hardest things I had ever done, but also the most freeing.

I had been under their abusive control for 35 years by then. Even though the sexual violence had long ended, I was still being emotionally abused, and worst of all I was now giving them access to my 2-year-old. This was my last chance to get it right. I had to protect myself and my child.

Who divorces their parents?

Someone who needs to achieve safety and freedom.

My parents did not take too well to the news of separation. They came to town and stalked me for over a period of 10 years. They hired private investigators and stalked me online. They knew when I changed jobs, got new phone numbers, moved homes, or got new cars (I was hearing this from my aunts).

I finally had an attorney to contact them and tell them to cease and desist or suffer legal penalties. I am not sure they ever stopped. They now live near me.

You are dead to me

The only way I have been able to cope with this over the years is to imagine they are already dead. I have already lost my parents. I am already a parentless child.

The problem with my becoming estranged from them is that there is no room in society for my kind of grieving. There is no funeral, no obituary or eulogy. No funeral procession or repass. No gathering to mourn the dead. No swapping stories of their accomplishments, funny antics or quirks and no one is making casseroles or bringing over flowers. You do not get a week off work and your co-workers are not understanding you will be out of sorts for a while. No check in phone calls from friends and family. No, you are on your own.

People with parents who they at the least like cannot understand. They do not know what to say or how to say it. They are perplexed at how a relationship can get to this point.

How am I supposed to grieve now?

How am I supposed to cope when there are no instruction manuals, no New York Times Best Seller List books to read. The only place I know to turn to is therapy, and that was inadequate.

What I did

  • I shutdown, walled everyone off and went into mourning.
  • Did not speak of it or ask for help (I felt it was all my fault).

What I wish I had done

  • Worked on these issues in therapy and expressed my deep sorrow and that I missed them.
  • Had a ceremony to mark the change in relationship to recognize the death for what it was.
  • Talked more openly about my decision without shame.
  • Communicated my reasons and how it was not my fault.
  • Communicated that it was not a rash decision.
  • Told my parents why I was cutting off communication.

What I am doing moving forward

  • Sharing my grief with those who care about me.
  • Limiting the shame I feel.
  • Be OK with the relief that they are out of my life.
  • Claim they are dead to me and that is OK.
  • Filling my life with people who can fill the void of good parents and role models.

Grief from loss is a very lonely journey. No one is on this path with you. You are in the sadness boat with no oar. The grief is complicated and nuanced. You are relieved that they are out of your life, but also deeply miss what never was and would never be. It is strange to miss something you never had (nurturing, safety, unconditional loving).

So, are my parents dead to me?

Yes, I will no longer give them any of my emotional energy. I will not regret supporting them in their declining years. I will not regret leaving all the responsibility to my brother. I will not be attending anyone’s funeral or sending flowers. I will not shed a tear for them (I have done enough of that). I do not even want to be informed of their deaths. I am officially done with them. They were never good for me, I deserved better and now I will seek out better.

They owed me safety and stability and they gave me none of that. Therefore, I owe them nothing. I am not a bad person for feeling this way.

If you need for your own sanity to declare your parents dead to you, you are not alone and are in the right. You may think this is the worst decision to make in your life and how can I possibly be doing something so cruel. Just reflect on your inner child and how it is your job to protect her from all harm. This will make it easy to make the right decision.

You are Mighty Strong, and you can do this! You are not a bad person.

Getty image by Klaus Vedfelt

Originally published: November 10, 2022
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