Monday, August 5, 2019

In Grief: Mourning The Murder of An Abusive Father

[Reviewed and updated February 11, 2024]

A girl’s first true love is her father.  ~ Marisol Santiago

A reader writes: My eccentric father was murdered in January. I can't deny that he was an angry, abusive person, but I also knew he loved me. I learned to draw boundaries with him and we developed a deep connection in the past few years as I helped care for him. My family is worried/angry because they don't think I should be so "upset" by his murder. Of course, I understand what they mean, but I was closer to him than they were and I was able to forgive him, mostly. At least I was able to forgive him enough that I could see the wonderful, amazing things about him, too. And anyway, I can't help or deny how I feel! So I am trying to keep this part of myself hidden from my mom and siblings, mostly to spare myself the annoyance caused by their well-meaning interventions.

An additional factor is that there have been five people arrested for this murder and, although I can choose to ignore this, I can't bear NOT to know what is going on with their trials. So I am continually getting info in the mail that reminds me of the reality of his violent death.

Anyway, I was wondering if your online forum for Loss of A Parent was appropriate for someone like me who has lost someone very significant, but very complicated, in such a brutal and unexpected way. It seems like most of the posts are by people who lost someone more "normal" in a more "normal" way. I'm sorry for their loss, but I envy them. I'm not sure how much I have in common with them!

But I AM writing this at 4 in the morning, since I can't sleep!  So I have that in common with those "normal" grievers. Thank you for listening!

My response: I am so terribly sorry to learn of the death of your father, and to lose him in such a tragic, violent manner must have been devastating ~ I simply cannot imagine. Even though he was a troubled and complicated man, he was still your father, and I am struck by the level of wisdom and maturity that is evident in your ability to recognize and honor that fact. I only wish that you could do the same with your grief. That is to say, even though the cause of your father's death was most unusual, your loss is still worthy of grief and deserves to be honored as such.

You say your family doesn't think you should be so "upset" by your father's death. But you see, my dear, how grief is expressed varies among individuals, even among members of the same family, as each person's relationship with and attachment to the deceased family member varies. In a very real sense, with the death of this man who is your father, each person in your family is grieving a very different loss.

There is a saying that I love that goes like this: How it improves people for us when we begin to love them. Obviously through all your father's faults, you found a way to forgive him his shortcomings and love him anyway ~ which is far better for your own mental health than harboring anger, bitterness and hatred toward him for all he did and failed to do. What matters when you lose a loved one is the relationship you had with the person who died. Only you can measure how much your father meant to you, and in the wake of his sudden and brutal death, only you can measure how very much you have lost. You are absolutely right that you cannot help how you feel ~ feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad ~ they just are! I suggest that you don't let anyone tell you what you should or should not be feeling about any of this. Besides, what really matters is what you do with what you are feeling, and as far as your other family members are concerned, I think you are wise not to turn to them for whatever support and understanding that you need right now. You don't see eye-to-eye about all of this, and it is pointless to argue about any of it, especially right now. Better to find someone else who is willing to listen without judging you: a friend, neighbor, colleague, co-worker, clergy person, grief counselor or grief support group.

I hope you'll decide to join our online Loss of a Parent forum, where I know you'll be welcomed with open arms and caring hearts. Our Grief Healing Discussion Groups are available to you at no cost, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The most important thing I want to tell you is that the grief you are feeling is legitimate and normal, and you have every right to be mourning the loss of your father, in whatever way feels right for you! Loss is loss, pain is pain, and grief is grief.  There is no right or wrong way to do the work of grief, my dear ~ there is only your way, and you must discover that for yourself. That said, there are certain aspects of grief that are universal and predictable, and when you know what those are ~ when you know what is normal and what to expect in the days and weeks ahead ~- you are far better prepared to manage your reactions, whatever they may be. You say you're not sure what you have in common with others whose parents have died. What you have in common with them is the pain of grief and loss.

Of course there are certain aspects of your loss that are different and significant, most especially the manner in which your father died, and for that I want to refer you to some additional online sources of information and support for that particular kind of loss. These are listed in this post: Coping with Traumatic Loss: Suggested Resources. See especially:
I'm so pleased that you wrote to me, my dear, and I sincerely hope this information helps. I also hope it brings you some measure of comfort to know that I am thinking of you and sending you my heartfelt condolences.

Afterword: Dear Marty, I wanted to write to thank you for your wonderful letter. I cried a lot as I read it and that felt very good. Your letter opened a window of understanding for me. I was able to see that each of my family members IS grieving in their own way. Even if that isn't exactly the way they would describe it! Thank you as well for the many resources you included. I have looked at several of them. I am comforted by the knowledge that there are people out there who can affirm my grief journey. This is going to be long and hard! My dad was a zoologist and paleontologist. I have started going to the local zoo several times a week. It is so peaceful to sit among the animals. I have also begun to see a grief counselor. The victim's advocate from the county where my dad lived actually told me that they would pay for the counseling! Your letter was so full of grace and kindness. Thank you so very much. I have bookmarked your site and will return to it often. Thanks for that as well.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay
© by 
Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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