On Dealing With The Death Of An Estranged Parent, And Not Feeling Regret

by Caitlin Couthen
Originally Published: 
In a dimly lit environment, a woman cradling her baby, her expression filled with concern
Taws13 / iStock

I haven’t spoken to my mother in almost five years. She and I have always had a very tumultuous relationship, and it became increasingly so as I attended and graduated college, got engaged, got married, and had a baby.

Prior to the cutoff a few years ago, we had brief moments of not speaking — a month here, a few months there, but it never lasted because I felt guilty and always tried to patch things up.

The most recent estrangement ended when I found out I was pregnant. I smoothed things over because I wanted her there. I wanted my mom there. See, when girls do things like go to prom, get married, and have babies, they should have their mother there. With my prom, my mom convinced me to get ready with friends, so I wasn’t even home. When I got married, she said shopping for dresses was “stupid” and never went with me. But I thought, A baby! This will make us best friends.

It didn’t exactly happen like that. We had a strained relationship my entire pregnancy. The only time I saw her during those nine months was at my baby shower. When my son was born, I never received so much as a congratulations; instead, I was greeted by a hate-filled tirade about my decision to allow my best friend in the delivery room.

My mother lived out of state and chose not to visit for the birth of my son, but did that matter? Of course not. Any time she could think of a reason to be mean, she would contact me. Yet I still let her meet my son because she was my mother, and I held firmly to the hope that things would get better.

The meeting, when she met my son for the only time, was the crack that caused the entire foundation of our relationship to crumble. A baby didn’t bring us closer together. If anything, it made our relationship worse. My new motherhood, my parenting, was one more thing for her to criticize, one more round of ammunition she had to beat my spirit down. She criticized the fact that my husband changed a diaper, the fact that I was trying to breastfeed and wouldn’t let her give the baby a bottle, and oh my word, when I passed around the hand sanitizer all hell broke loose.

My mother had a lot of her own demons. And though her story is not mine to tell, there are parts that belong to me. While we always had a tense relationship, it became increasingly so once she began struggling with addiction, right around the time I turned 18. I am not quite sure how it happened, but it did. And it was the most awful thing to watch.

I remember witnessing her fall asleep standing up in the middle of Target. I remember picking up my little brother from the police station while they took my mother to the hospital for involuntary mental health care. And I remember how cool she thought it was because of the celebrities she read about who took Xanax, so by association, she was also glamorously addicted to these drugs.

All of these memories play in my mind over and over. And I am not sharing this to hurt her. Good or bad, she is the only mother I will ever have. And last month, she died.

When I cut her out all those years ago, I went looking for resources, and all I could find online were resources for parents in this situation. Articles about how the children must be selfish, immature, and bratty. People would tell me constantly, “That’s your mom! You need to let this go.”

But there is only so much abuse a person can take before they say “enough.” For me, the birth of my son was also the birth of my backbone. It was the birth of me saying “enough is enough.” Once I became firm in my decision, I started hearing people say, “But what if something happens to her, how will you feel?”

That is the million-dollar question when you end a relationship in anger. What happens if they die? Can you live with yourself? My answer to that question is yes. Yes, you can.

I found out my mother died from two people simultaneously. At that moment, I went into action. I needed to be with my dad and my brothers and the rest of my family. I did it for them — not for me, and not for her.

As you can imagine, I have been dealing with a lot of emotions in relation to her death. When a parent dies, it is earth-shattering. Just completely devastating. You are forever changed. Yet, the truth is, I mourned my mother many years ago. After years of therapy and being open about this with my friends (and non-friends who ask), I can tell you that I felt, and still feel, a million emotions in regards to the death of my mother.

Not a single one is regret.

I chose to end an abusive, toxic relationship. I chose to allow people who loved and supported me to be in my life, and those who hurt me and betrayed me, those who took advantage of me and used me as a punching bag to be let out of my life. It was liberating.

But it is also devastating. I am so sad that I didn’t talk to my mom on the phone the night before she died. I am heartbroken that she never knew my amazing boys. At 1 and 5 years old, they are the most amazing creatures I have ever been privileged to know. Mourning the absence of the mother I needed, the one I knew she wished she could have been, and the one I lost has been the hardest and most emotionally taxing thing I have ever done.

I loved my mother. Of course, I did! But there was a time when I didn’t love myself enough to be free from her abuse. Then, one look at that perfect, squishy little boy and I knew. I could not allow any form of abuse in his life. That was it. That was where my freedom started. I can only hope that if you’re reading this and looking for strength to leave an abusive relationship, you know that you are enough. You are loved. You do not deserve that behavior, and you, too, can be free.

As I sit here and think about the fact that my mother and I will never reconcile, I’m okay. She was never the mother I needed. She couldn’t be. But maybe she is also finally free. Free from the demons she faced in this world. Wherever she is, I hope she is no longer hurting. Having my children has been so healing because I truly understand a mother’s love. I never knew it growing up, but loving my boys as fiercely and intensely as I do? That has been more healing than I could have ever imagined.

I grew up in a home that looked perfect from the outside, but was a battleground inside. It was all a clever game of cat and mouse. Every night there was a mouse, and you had to hope and pray it wasn’t you. My mother was a very broken and hurt woman. And hurt people, well, they hurt people. It is so hard to be hurt by someone who should love you. But we cannot stand idly by and allow these relationships to continue. We have to set boundaries and end contact if needed. Because sometimes the only person you can save is you. So save yourself. You are worth it.

This article was originally published on