Thursday, July 28, 2016

Writing a Eulogy for an Abusive Parent - Honest and Respectful Approach

Every day there are millions of people who lose loved ones. Some portion of those people, like me, may have lost an abusive or less-than loving parent and be wondering: Should I go to the funeral of my abusive parent?, How do you have a funeral for a bad parent?,  How do I give a Eulogy for my abusive parent?  I struggled for many weeks with this dilemma.  I'm one of 5 kids and all of them kept saying "someone needs to say something." Yet nobody was raising a hand. As one of the children planning the funeral, it seemed like it would fall to me. It seemed like they all assumed I would handle it. I'm one of the strong ones, albeit a tad of an outsider within the family... 

How could I attend the funeral for a woman that physically and mentally abused me, a bad mother, a grandmother who was critical and difficult with my children, an alcoholic and prescription drug abusing woman who had fits of rage, a woman who I believe sexually abused my older brother. a mother that put family members in the hospital with injuries she inflicted? This woman, my mom has just passed away - I was numb. I didn't want to be around my siblings. I didn't want to go anywhere let alone the funeral. I couldn't decide how to be respectful yet honest. There was no way I was going to stand up saying she was the best mother ever. Yet I didn't want to write a scathing eulogy. I wanted to be honest about her poor treatment and how I felt - that was mixed emotions. 

After much deliberation about what my mother had done to me and for me - I choose a road with subtle sign posts to the informed listener of the story of my mother's treatment of her children. It's here in between the lines, in the words said or not said. Here is how I wrote a eulogy for my bad-mom who didn't really love me or her other kids. Here is how my grieving and healing began.

I'm posting a portion of my eulogy here - so perhaps others might have a bit of a guide to how one person approached their own difficult situation.  This is a long long blog...

Here is the actual eulogy - although a few section have been shortened. Also I generally used her first name or mother not Mom - because I thought Mom was too endearing all the time. Note that each phrase that is italics and underlined, for me, had a different meaning --- which I explain below.


My mother, leaves behind five children and eleven grandchildren and we are grateful to those who could be with us today. One last bit of “family togetherness.” Each of us will remember her in our own way. In our family we all had a unique relationship with Mom(1). That said, while Mom had her favorites(2), I know my mother treated us all similarly and loved us all the same(3).

While there were sad and troubling times(4), we each have some fond memories of her and perhaps we will think of those now.

So let me talk about the woman that has brought us to this place. Let me share some of the positive impacts(5) she has had on me and that I find myself embodying in my everyday life.

Mom was an adventurous cook. Grandma's cookbook had nearly a dozen pickle recipes and an equal number of bread recipes; there wasn’t great diversity in cuisine during my mom’s formative years. That didn’t stop her. Mom ordered Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks. 24 cookbooks delivered to our home one per month, starting in the mid 1960’s. These contained page after page of Foodie delight with background, recipes and tips for regional ethnic cooking. To create these delicacies Mom needed to find the exotic spices and ingredients not to be easily purchased in our small town. Thus her resourcefulness lead to spice distributors in New York that became her mail-order source for rare ingredients. We enjoyed dishes such as Kibbeh, Syrian bread, tabbouleh, curry, patacones, and coconut rice. ...My favorite food in the world – Nasi Goreng – an Indonesian fried rice dish, was a common comfort food around our dinner table then and it remains so for me today. I’m also an adventurous cook(6) and I pass on these family recipes and traditions and this is my tribute to her.
Mom was an Antique lover. My mother introduced me to flea markets, estate sales and auctions and the wonderful world of antiques. First there were the family heirlooms to cherish - like her grandmother’s sewing machine or items from her Uncle’s store. Then there were many days that she and I would pass the time going from sale to sale looking for new treasures. Starting at an early age Mom taught me to research, plan, negotiate, then buy(7). Among her passions – Croesus and decorative plates. It was likely no surprise that upon my college graduation, the first items I bought for my apartment were antiques, which I still use today. My passion is a late 1800’s oak barley twist; like Mom, from a great distance I can discern a desired antique object from a sea of junk as if with eagle eyes. As an adult when we would get together, I could always count on going antiquing with Mom. My children have a keen appreciation of my passion for antiques. And that is my tribute to her.

My Mom was an extremely hard-working woman.  I asked Mom about raising a large family and she said the key was everyone did everything together, family togetherness(8). We all took naps at the same time, bathed at the same time, played at the same time....I do not recall my Mom sitting down in the family room to watch TV for hours like we children often did. She seemed to always be getting up to go do something. She had a determination and will which at times made her a force to be reckoned with(9).  I have strong work ethic and that is my tribute to her.

Keeping track of five children these days would take a village – but then it was just one hard-working woman. Mom and one enormous chalkboard. The chalkboard was Mission Control for our family's operations.  A three foot by four foot space that had every black inch covered with writing. Mom was the list maker and keeper of the chalkboard that organized our lives. Nobody else got to, or perhaps felt allowed to(10), write on that chalkboard. There were items to do(11), to remember, to follow-up on or to pass along.  Family priorities and future commitments were journalled there. Even when children were not living at home, there would still be items flagged on the chalkboard with their names. This list would be reviewed with you immediately upon your return. The chalkboard eventually gave way to pieces of paper and then post-it notes(12). In preparing for today I had my own list which kept me on track. My list was a constant reminder of a skill that Mom imparted to me. I’m a list maker, an organizer, and that is my tribute to her.

Mom was very focused on getting value for her money; looking for a deal. Let’s use the term frugal. It wasn't about what you wanted but what was needed. I recall getting my hair cut at the beauty school instead of the beauty parlor because students don’t charge as much. I remember opening bank accounts just for the free gift and getting our carpets cleaned during the sales pitch for a new vacuum which we would never buy. Back-to-school clothing was purchased out-of-state where the sales tax was lower.  Mom also ruled over the utility budget and the thermostat setting. Recently my daughter turned up our thermostat up from it’s winter setting of 62F. As I was suggesting to her that she could just put on a sweater I had a flashback to my teenage sister having the exact same interaction with Mom. .... There were always ways to economize which made opportunity for other things like family vacations or saving for a rainy day. Most importantly, and perhaps significantly to all of us, her frugalness and perhaps the sacrifices we all made(13), provided for undergraduate and grad school funds for not only her 5 children but also all 11 of her grandchildren. Perhaps we were her rainy day(14). I have a great education and also have a keen eye for seeking value and that is my tribute to her.

I am frugal, hardworking, organized, antique lover, and an adventurous cook. I am my mother’s daughter.

I have passed and am passing her best life skills(15) to my children not just in words but in meals cooked, gardens grown, homes built, promises kept, hugs given, sacrifices made, and beauty shown. I, and I hope my family, often think upon the characteristics of a good and kind parent, or grandparent and the impact that parenting has long into the future(16).

Given all this, I know that there are many things my Mom accomplished and did throughout her life that I will never be able to do(17).

When I last saw Mom, she was a most serene woman. Happy to sit calmly.  We played with a small puppy and she talked about her parents and happy times on the farm where she grew up (and where we put her to rest today). I pointed to the photos on her wall of a family get-togethers -  she thought she saw, and pointed out her daughter(18) (me) amongst other faces which had long faded for her. I was happy that, in her mind, when she thought of family togetherness I was there with her.

My last words to Mom were “I love you.”

When I say “I love you” to my children, which I do often(19),  I do so while remembering who showed me what those words could mean(20).

Mom is now at peace. My hope is that in some way each person leaves today honoring the best parts of themselves which stem from a legacy that started in this community and was handed down to us through our mother. Let that be our tribute to her.


Here is the rosetta stone to decode the above:

we all had a unique relationship with Mom(1) - Each person was abused but not all in the same way. My mother had a good eye for weaknesses and hot buttons and used them on each child and to pit children against each other. To the determent of many sibling relationships to this day.

favorites(2) - Favorites meant at times being treated better, but it also meant being treated more poorly too. My older brother was her "lover boy" - I can't believe she really called him that. When she was happy with him it was great, when she was made at him she would whip him terribly. 

treated us all similarly and loved us all the same(3) - which is to say not much love and poor treatment, generally 24-7-365

sad and troubling times(4) - My mom had very poor health as she aged, I'm sure people thought I was referring to that. Really I was recalling much of my youth and interactions with her.

some of the positive impacts(5) - I spent lots of time thinking about the things that I did that were because of my mother. Many skills are from her, and I talked about those. In addition, because of her abuse - I take care everyday to be the type of mother I never had.

adventurous cook(6) - Cooking was often delegated to the children - at 7-8 years old I remember being in the kitchen helping to prepare meals or clean dishes. Part of the adventure was trying to keep out of my mothers way especially if she had been drinking. It was typical for her to be angry and gesturing at us with a large knife in her hand. Luckily I was never cut. My adventures in cooking are really just different recipes!

negotiate, then buy(7) - Unsaid, the other option my mother employed was stealing. 

family togetherness(8) - This was a double edged sword in my mom's toolkit. Family togetherness was not generally about fun - but about doing work. I learned to hate this term.

 a force to be reckoned with(9) - Abusive parent, drug fueled or drunk, best to stay away but not always possible. 

allowed to(10) - There were many unstated rules and it was challenging to understand initially. One simply did not write on this board - ever. Also did not go into her bathroom or question all the bottles of medicines and gallon jugs of wine....

items to do(11) - There was always a never ending list of chores. If they did not get accomplished in the timeframe specified or to the level of detail anticipated, the punishments were swift. Perhaps this is why I was so lax on kids helping me out at home. 

pieces of paper and then post-it notes(12) - My mom had issues with mental acuity as she aged. There was paper everywhere. 

the sacrifices we all made(13) - We put up with the abuse and we kept quiet about it. We built walls. We bear the scars to this day.

we were her rainy day(14) - I often wonder what my mother would have been like if she had not had so many children. She would frequently jab at us with words of discust regarding "ungrateful children." She was an only child and I think ill equiped to mother so many children. Did we fuel her into the pit or would she have gotten there all by herself? Did we bring the clouds and keep her from shining?

her best life skills(15) - I found a silver lining. I took the best and left the worst far behind.

often think upon the characteristics of a good and kind parent, or grandparent and the impact that parenting has long into the future(16) - Think about good and kind, and know that the impacts a parent can have stem from all that they do. Evil parents impact long into the future too.

did throughout her life that I will never be able to do(17) - I've never been to China or Egypt like she did - I'm sure that's what people were thinking about, but I've also never abused my kids. I rarely drink alcohol, and I don't like taking any kind of medications.

she thought she saw, and pointed out her daughter(18) - This was to my siblings that had excluded me, or at a minimum not invited or made me feel welcome, at family gatherings. While my mom at the end didn't remember many people, it was significant that in these photos she picked out my sister-in-law and thought it was really me. 

which I do often(19) - My mom rarely said "I love you" and if she did it was a prelude to something she wanted. Hugs were also infrequent and uncomfortable. I say I love you, and really mean it, to my kids so so frequently. At this point in the funeral they both shot me a silent "I love you" hand sign and we all started to cry. 

could mean(20) - I think if we had asked our mother if she loved us, she would had stated that that was obvious and true. Love to her meant something very different that it means to the rest of the world. How could she abuse those she loved? I don't think she ever thought of it.


In a few weeks once the headstone is completed, I'll travel back to the cemetery to oversee the placement. I'm going to take some plants from my garden and put them around the headstone. It's not likely that any of her children or grandchildren will ever go visit the gravesite. I'll put in some hostas, daffodils, and maybe Showy sedums.

That somehow feels right...

Thanks for sticking with me here!

Teresa Marie

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