When A Toxic Family Member Dies, You Don't Have To Mourn

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Trigger warning: sexual abuse

I ignored a call from my mother a few days ago. When I saw her number blare across my screen at such an early hour, I knew what she was calling to say: My grandmother, her mother, had died.

She followed up with a text telling me what happened and asked me to call her. I didn’t.

I responded to her text saying I was sorry and sent my condolences.

She told me she’d be hitting the road in the morning to take the ten-hour drive by herself to attend the funeral and said she’d keep me updated on the plan.

I wanted to ask her not to, but I deleted the text as soon as I wrote it.

You are a horrible daughter. This is her mother. Are you this heartless that you don’t even feel bad? She’s driving ten hours alone to attend the funeral, and you literally don’t care. What is wrong with you?

I’d sat with my mother the day before and she’d told me about how sick her mother was and how they were moving her to hospice. She rubbed my arm and she told me the story and looked sad.

My stomach turned, and I wanted to run and scream, “I don’t care what happens to her!”

I didn’t, though. I just resorted to my usual breaking out in hives and not having an appetite for the rest of the day. That’s what happens to me when I swallow my feelings.

My grandmother called me one night when I was sixteen to tell me what a horrible person I was. She called me a liar and told me there was no way she’d ever believe a thing I said and that I was going to hell.

My mother knew why she was calling and made me take that call.

I’d just broken my silence and told my family that my grandfather, my grandmother’s husband, had been sexually abusing me for as long as I could remember.

I was supposed to keep it a secret. In fact, he’d paid me to do so over the years. But I couldn’t take it anymore.

I went from having a close relationship with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on that side to them abandoning me and thinking I was making it up to get attention.

I don’t how I expected them to react because I never thought I would tell anyone about what happened. It just came out of me one night. I still remember how hard it was to swallow for hours after I screamed it out.

Nobody wants to believe that their husband, father, or uncle touches little kids inappropriately. I can’t imagine being in that situation, and for all the family members that were hurt because of my news, I have compassion.

But it was his news; his fault; his doing. My grandmother covered up and lied for him. She didn’t do anything to protect the poor children who endured his abuse. It didn’t matter if they shared the same blood. It didn’t matter to her if I was suffering.

The burden was never mine to carry or fix. I know that now.

I also know what my limits are. I know when I talk to someone from that side of the family, it brings up a lot of stuff for me. Feelings, fury, and a hole in my heart that I always think I’ve patched until I see a relative and we act like it never happened.

Abandonment still hurts, and the feelings never go away. But I refuse to bring up old shit and suffer through it to look like a loyal daughter, or a good niece, only to come crashing down for my kids.

I have not let this ruin me by any means. It is not a reason for me to not have what I want in life.

I don’t feel sad that my grandmother — someone who knew exactly what her husband was doing because I wasn’t the only one that came forward — is gone.

I don’t mourn her.

I can’t act like I do, and I cannot be there for my mother while she goes through this if I want to preserve myself. I can’t.

I can’t even talk about it with her, or be there for her, or act like I know what to do. I don’t.

I’ve given enough of myself away trying to keep the peace so I would still have them in my life, and in a desperate moment when I needed them, they all left me. Including my own mother.

Not mourning a toxic family member when they die is confusing. I feel for those who have lost her. I have empathy for my mother because she lost her mother.

But I can’t be there to support her. If I did that, I wouldn’t be supporting myself.

It’s okay to give yourself some major self-care by walking away from a situation and not being the strong and mighty one who comes in and is there for everyone.

You don’t have to mourn a toxic family member when they pass. You don’t have to feel guilty about it. And you certainly don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.

You aren’t a horrible person; you are a brave person, someone who is daring to put yourself and your mental health first.

Remember that.

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