My brother passed away on Monday. My father is coping by lashing out. What do I do?
My brother passed away on Monday after an 18 year battle with mental illness. The circumstances of his death were horrible if not entirely unexpected.
My husband, toddler son and I went down on Tuesday for the funeral Thursday morning. On Wednesday I spent the better part of the day with my parents seeing to the funeral arrangements and making telephone calls to shore up loose ends. I went through my brother's belongings. I ran errands with them, and went with them to the cemetery to choose a plot. After leaving the cemetery, my father attacked me for not answering a question. That's it. He asked me a question, I was talking to my mother and was finishing a thought when he raised his voice at me, demanding that I answer his question. I told hiim I was finishing a thought and had intended to answer him. (This, by the way, is bog standard behavior on my father's part. His feelings are a mystery to him and, thus, he creates conflict in order to have somewhere outside of himself to put his emotions. Psychotic, raging narcissist.) He then started screaming in my face, making threats, mocking me, and hurling very personal, insulting invective at me for the better part of an hour. I somehow managed to hold my tongue and deflect most of it, pointing out to him that my brother's passing was the point, that I was there to be supportive and loving, and that there was, in my view, no basis for the conflict. I repeatedly said I was sorry for my father's grief and that I loved him and my mother (a stretch but I wanted to put the outburst to bed quickly.) Well, this only threw gas on the flames and, toward the end, he started pushing some pretty big buttons and calling me names. I'm sorry to say I rose to the bait. All of this happened in a moving vehicle, by the way, and by the time we'd gotten to where we were going I was very close to getting physically violent with him. I got out of the car, called him a motherfucker, and walked it off. Obviously, this was not my proudest moment.
My father's and my issues are myriad and deep. I despise him, really, and the only reason I have anything to do with him is that he and my mother are still together. She is very important to me and I am determined to maintain our relationship. I consider my relationship with my dad irretrievably broken. I am polite to him out of respect for my mother but I think were my mother to pass before him I would write him off. I feel tremendous guilt saying this because he is my father. At the same time, it is a matter of self-preservation. My duty is to myself, my husband and my son.
Anyway, in the wake of my brother's death, at 42, my parents are understandably bereft. They are alone now, facing the emptiness of a life without my brother and his illness to tend to, without the good parts of my brother that they were able to catch glimpses of in his more lucid, stable periods. They are also left with the horror of how he died, which was gruesome and sad, and which my mother was present for. I am not there. I chose to come home rather than stay for a few days because I cannot allow myself to be abused by my father, particularly as it would mean either keeping my 19-month old son with me in a crazy house (he is in the process of weaning off breastfeeding) or sending him home with my husband and being away from him for the first time. I feel a lot of guilt about not being present for my mother. I can cope with this guilt but I need to find a way to support my mother and handle my father, who insists on being on the phone for every telephone call I have with my mother, and who has already been verbally abusive with me this morning over the phone.
I have a call in to my therapist but I would appreciate hearing some coping strategies from some of you. How would you cut your abusive parent off at the pass? How would you allow your parents their grief without becoming the target for your abusive parents' rage and guilt? Bear in mind that my father has zero insight into his own inner-workings, projects wildly in every scenario, and has absolutely no compunction about name-calling and bullying, and who is incapable of allowing for differences of opinion and coping style. He's also very parochial and rigid in his thinking.