Dealing with estranged parent dying
November 27, 2016 7:20 PM   Subscribe

I came here a while back with a question on dealing with my narcissistic father and have disengaged with my father for about a year or so. (The whole story is in that AskMe). Have you ever had to deal with a parent dying when you were estranged from them? How did it go? Do you have regrets if you stayed away?

My mother tells me he's very frail and thin and probably won't last the year (this is not a diagnosis, I understand that) but he is 85 and has been looking frail for a long while. She seems to understand that I have disengaged with him, but I don't think she knows I've cut him off pretty much completely.

Right now I feel like since he was not there for us at a vulnerable time, that he was living it up, I don't feel like I owe him any sympathy. I don't feel any love for him, just resentment and irritation that on top of his being a dick, he always condescends to everyone. He also wants assisted living only in the best part of town, not in the VA facility across town. So he is being manipulative; I'm bipolar and I don't need his shit.
Yet I've always feared regretting not reconnecting before his death; but a big part of me is so angry at him and is very bitter and like "Fuck him, let him die alone". He's probably not that terrible, not like a child molester or anything, but my anger is pretty ongoing. If anything, I feel like I'm just going to yell at him if I see him, and I've already done that before, not sure if that's at all necessary now. Should I just let him fade away or should I reach out?
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis to Human Relations (38 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
correction; he's 86
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 7:21 PM on November 27, 2016

To clarify, I should also add that my anger at him is relatively recent; in the few years or so, and it has a lot to do with me reframing the situation and seeing reality clearly for the first time. I don't want to go back to my family's way of acting like nothing is wrong or just laughing every thing off or getting caught in the middle of his bullshit conflicts. I feel like that would be his last act of deception and manipulation and I feel like he has been manipulating people for years and that I have to stand my ground somewhere. Am I being too stubborn?
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 7:27 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regret is a big and ill-defined concept.

Make a list of very specific things you fear you might regret (e.g. things you want to tell him, things you want him to say, whatever). Go through the list and mark what items are more likely and what are more in the realm of wishful thinking. He's unlikely to suddenly become the dad you wish you'd had and deserved.

You may find that your list of things you
might regret are not things you can resolve at this point. Or ever.
posted by rtha at 7:33 PM on November 27, 2016 [13 favorites]

I can't tell you what you should do. I can tell you what I did: my father was an abusive alcoholic. I cut contact with him when I was a teenager. We talked on the phone, maybe three times, in the next decade or so. Those phone calls all ended badly. He died in a fairly terrible, drawn out, miserable way about fifteen years later. I had to handle all of his end of life decisions and decide what to do with his remains, etc. This was very painful and I was bitter for a long time that OF COURSE this was as miserable and traumatic as it could possibly be, that was his MO.

I do not regret cutting him off. I do not regret not regaining contact with him. I do not regret not reaching out when I knew his time was near. I just couldn't. I couldn't pretend to forgive him for things he never apologized for. I couldn't pretend that he hadn't caused me and my family a great deal of pain. I will admit that I'm not a terribly forgiving person. You might strive to be kinder in that way than I am.

Time has softened my anger a little. I'm able to remember some of his good qualities (and he did have them). I'm more wistful about What Could Have Been if he'd been willing to face his demons and get treatment. I look at my perfect, beautiful baby son and know my father would have loved him (not that I would have let him within ten feet of him) and know that I will always try to be a better parent, no matter what. Mefi mail me if you want to talk in more detail!
posted by Aquifer at 7:39 PM on November 27, 2016 [13 favorites]

You don't *owe* him anything. And you have every right to be angry with him. He doesn't deserve contact from you.

Now, stop thinking about what he believes he's owed or what he thinks he's earned. Think instead about what you want. What's important to you in dealing with his apparently impending death.

Don't *react* to what a shitty parent he was/is. *Act* the way you believe is right for you.
posted by DrGail at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2016 [12 favorites]

He has taken enough of your time, energy, and emotional effort. Don't bestow any more of it to feed his narcissism. Do whatever you need to do. Period. See him. Don't see him. Yell at him. Be silent. Just know you are unlikely to get the closure you deserve.
posted by LilithSilver at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

The problem is that your dad is a scam artist, so as he declines there will be shenanigans.

Tell your mom that you love her, and please do not mention dad to you ever again. Why is your mother even talking to him? He walked out on her ages ago. Did they get back together or something??

"Oh. That's unfortunate." or "I'm sorry you are dealing with that. I'm sure its difficult."

Once, and only once...

"Mom, Dad is an opportunistic user who never cared for us when we have needed him. I stopped talking to him a long time ago, but thinking about him and all of the awful stuff he's done still makes me angry. I know you don't see it quite the same way, I prefer if we don't speak about Dad."


"I told you previously that's none of my business anymore. Please let's not discuss it/him/that."
posted by jbenben at 7:43 PM on November 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

You may find that your list of things you
might regret are not things you can resolve at this point.

good answer. I feel like there isn't really anything I could do to change the past, so to reach out to him would really just be out of guilt, not affection or real caring. It seems like it might feel really fake to me. (that sounds really cold, but it's kind of true).
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 7:44 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Why is your mother even talking to him? He walked out on her ages ago. Did they get back together or something??

It's super-ridiculous. She's completely codependent to him; he calls her all the time. She sometimes helps him; arranges medical care and whatnot. She calls him. She says she does it because he taxes the rest of the family, but she tends to be a martyr. She feels sorry for him even though when he walked out on her, she had just gotten out of the hospital. He also once said he didn't have $20 to give him though he lived in La Jolla. Basically, he's a dick but my mom is superChristian and mega-codependent. I joke that they divorced 40 years ago and have been together ever since. I also feel kind of manipulated by her, though she's gotten a lot better. It's just this lame web of enmeshment that nobody seems to move forward from.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 7:49 PM on November 27, 2016

Wow, so Jenben I actually cut and pasted what you said and sent it (with edits) to my mom! It was a little weird but I felt I should do it before I lose my nerve. I also told her I have my own problems, etc etc.

Thank you guys! You rock. Thanks for listening to my family drama! ;)
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 7:53 PM on November 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

My dad died unexpectedly (in his 50s, in an auto accident) while we were estranged. It's not the fact of his dying while we were estranged that I regret. I regret that he was so consistently hurtful that I felt the only way to protect myself from further hurt was to cut him off. Maybe if we had ever had a good relationship before the estrangement then I would feel regret that we hadn't gotten back to that before he died. But this wasn't like a father and daughter with a decent relationship who have a blowup over money or politics or a boyfriend. There was never anything there to lose; worse, he was deliberately cruel. I felt relief when he died.

You don't say what your history is with your dad, but you might consider whether there was something there that you could regain before he dies. I also think it's probably different for you since you and he both know he's dying. If you have it in you to be kind to him, I doubt you'll regret it--even if he doesn't deserve it, even if you don't feel honest about it. But if you don't have it in you, you don't.
posted by HotToddy at 8:21 PM on November 27, 2016 [11 favorites]

I can't tell you what you should do; I can only tell you what I did, and what happened after.

My father and I were estranged for 25ish years, for reasons you'd probably agree with. I knew he'd been in poor health for several years, and this past spring I heard that he was terminally ill. He lived 1500 miles from me, and I didn't have any clue how long I'd be there (if he refused to see me, I'd be there a day. If I stayed until he died, maybe a month or two.) Airfare between our podunk airports was prohibitive.

I hopped on a motorcycle (both my most reliable vehicle and the best way to clear my head) and went to him, it took two and a half days to get there. I called when I was two hours away - didn't want to clothesline him. He was still lucid. He slurred a bit but clearly knew who I was. He wanted to see me. When I got there he was still lucid and recognized me but was too far gone to have a Big Conversation. I told him that I wasn't there to re-litigate anything. I was just there to be there. He could ignore me if he wanted.

I'd found a spot via airBnB to stay that was affordable for me, and it gave me a place to be that wasn't there. I stopped by his place (he had round-the-clock caregivers and hospice support. He was difficult, but he wasn't poor) every day to just sit with him. I took my Kindle and sometimes we'd just sit, sometimes he'd doze and I'd read.

He was too tired to talk to me except in short bursts over the next two or three days. After that he lost the ability to swallow and speak. He lost control of his functions, and slowly died of brain cancer* in front of me. We never had the Big Conversation. And that's fine... what can you say to someone who's dying except "I'm here for you."? I became more involved in his physical care as he deteriorated.

He died on June 8, 2016. I have never for a moment, despite my fears and misgivings and past trauma, regretted going to him. Your mileage may definitely vary, but this is one of the bravest things I have done in my lifetime.

* re: brain cancer. My father was originally diagnosed with bladder cancer, which was treated with surgery and chemo. Then he had a couple of brain tumors, which were treated with surgery and radiation. I went to him when the brain tumors came back and were untreatable. So it was the (largely painless) brain tumors that killed him, but it started as bladder cancer.
posted by workerant at 8:22 PM on November 27, 2016 [14 favorites]

In a situation very like yours, I went, it was horrible and painful, but I don't regret going. I didn't feel I had anything more to lose, but could maybe gain something from it for myself, and I think I did. My dad was a monster, whose evil influence still blights my life. For me, not going would have been evidence to myself, that I was as cruel as him. You have to do what is best for you, and not worry what anyone else thinks about it.
posted by glitter at 8:34 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

There's probably something beyond your anger toward your dad -- something you'll feel once your anger burns itself out -- but it's hard to say what it is right now, and how to navigate given that.

This whole "I'll just get him housing" thing suggests you do want to "do your duty as a daughter," as you put it. And you have fears about not reconnecting. So do be true to yourself, to the self you want to be. (On preview, glitter and I are on the same wavelength.)

Right now, given how hot your fury is burning, I'd try to give yourself the space you want. Being compassionate to yourself is important. Your mom is just testing you. How does she know he'll die this year? He's frail? I know some people who have been frail for like a dozen years. She's just trying to pull you back in. The more mildly you respond, the better. Keep the drama down. Take care of yourself.
posted by salvia at 8:43 PM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your reasons for cutting him off seemed like good ones. Those reasons haven't changed.

His dying doesn't alter his past awful behaviour, or his recent awful behaviour. His dying changes nothing.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:55 PM on November 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

He got the benefit of your attention for decades. No reason why he is particularly owed it now.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:03 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you need to understand that this is not an all or nothing situation. You get to choose how you engage with your father at this point. You don't have to be all in, totally immersed in his life and his problems. You get to manage your relationship, you have the power to do that. If you are afraid you will regret the no-contact, you can give yourself a few hours one afternoon to say what you need to say. Again, you have the power here, you can set your own boundaries and walk away any time you want. So do what you need to do for yourself and keep your emotional distance at the same time. Sit down and really think about what you want to accomplish within one two-hour visit, and you can make it happen.
posted by raisingsand at 9:05 PM on November 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you feel the need to ask, it's because you feel that deep down it would be better for you to find peace before your father dies.

I like what workerant did: can you just go and be near your father, regardless of past issues? Being kind to people - even to those who are mean to us - is, in my humble opinion, extremely underrated.
posted by Kwadeng at 11:19 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

My mother and I were estranged for about 15 years before her death (4 years ago, I think). I believed that if I apologised for my reaction to her behaviour and allowed it to continue, she may have tolerated me, but under loud and constant protest. I was open to her contacting me, and negotiating reasonable relationship boundaries (some topics not appropriate, no mocking, etc.)

However, she told my brothers that she didn't want a deathbed reconciliation and that certainly made me even less inclined to attempt one, knowing that she was willing to go to the grave with this between us.

So, I didn't try, and when I recieved the news, I grieved and allowed myself to feel all the feelings, the sadness, anger, hurt. I viewed her body and participated in the planning of the funeral, which I went to.

I have not had one regret since then. She was a narcissistic woman and cruel in her lack of sensitivity. She was not the mother i deserved, and choosing estrangement was one of the healthiest decisions I ever made.
posted by b33j at 2:15 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am sorry this is taking up space in your head. My father died while we were estranged and it is confusing and painful.

In my case, I moved a long way away to give myself actual distance from my family. It made our relationship possible - I could limit communication to email or letters, which meant I could take him or leave him, enforce boundaries and take the time I needed to respond to him if I wanted to respond to him. In the years before he died, I had pretty severe post-natal depression and couldn't afford the mental energy to deal with him anymore and we had not spoken in a long while when he finally died of his long, terminal illness.

Had it not been prohibitively expensive, I probably would have seen him in hospital, so long as I could have assured myself of these things: an escape route of other commitments, no reliance on family for transport, a place to stay that was quite separate from him, firm time limits on visitation and no expectations on me for further obligations. All of these required disposable income that I didn't have to spare, so that was that. I don't regret not spending that amount of money - had I gone, I may have lost my temper, lost my fragile grasp on mental health or alienated my wonderful step-mother. None of that happened because I stayed away.

His death still hit me hard: as others have noted, it was more the possibility of what our relationship could have been if he wasn't a diagnosed psychopath (back when they made that diagnosis). It was hard to remember the sparks of brilliant humour, as well as mourning the family I wish I had. Death is the end of hope for a person, and I think I still had a flicker that he would mellow out in old age and become a father that had the capacity to be anything other than what he was. I missed the good bits and was furious about the rest.

Other things I wish I had known to prepare for: people are sympathetic when your father dies and very confused when your father dies and you aren't close. It was useful to me to have a reason as to why I hadn't raced back to see him as he declined. It was lovely to be able to use the sympathy of acquaintances to mourn the things I loved about him and lovely to have one or two people to be furious about the things I hated. His death has made it possible for me to view him with any sort of compassion and understand that he loved me as much as he could: he was just bad at it.

Whatever you decide will be the right decision: trust yourself. Listen to what you're telling yourself. See if you can separate out the societal pressures "this is the person I *should* be" and pay attention to what you would wish for your child or a friend in the same situation as you. If you do go, map out your protections and limits well in advance and stick to them. If you don't, accept your reasoning as being the right thing for you. And above all else, please be compassionate to yourself. This is not a pleasant part of your journey, but you are not alone.
posted by katiecat at 3:03 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I can only weigh in on part of this, as I wasn't 100% estranged from my dad when he died (I'd created significant distance between myself & both parents by that point but I was still in contact with both of them), but he was an emotionally neglectful and abusive parent and I think a lot of the "well what do I do with this imperfect relationship now it's gone" stuff is similar.

I found it helpful to remember that the default social narrative for parent-child relationships goes something like parent loves child & cares for child appropriately & has a positive, meaningful relationship with child > child loves parent & has a positive, meaningful relationship with parent > parent dies and child feels deep loss & bereavement. There are also strong social taboos, both internal to families that don't work like that and external from people who fundamentally don't want to believe that bad/intolerable/unworkable parent-child relationships exist which make it hard for any stories that don't go love love love > death & sadness (but still memories of love!) to get any traction and emotional breathing space within our culture.

So cultural expectations of regret around the death of a parent, even a difficult/abusive parent, are coloured by this narrative and these expectations, like life is a TV movie and there's always a chance for a redemption and "she's your mother/he's your father" (like that has any intrinsic meaning) and "it's faaaaamily" (like that has any intrinsic meaning). The suggestion that there has to be regret is predicated on a bunch of stuff that is only true if you believe it to be true, and which gets debunked pretty damn early for a bunch of people when their family members keep doing shitty and abusive things and don't show any apparent capacity for TV movie-like redemption.

I got to the point with my dad where even if there had been a deathbed "I'm sorry I wasn't a better father moment" (which there wouldn't have been because dying didn't magically make him do all of the emotional work to get to that point anyway), it wouldn't have meant anything to me because I was still too angry about all of the bad stuff to find any redemption there. And he was too delirious from kidney failure towards the end to say anything that made any sense. So no big redemptive moment. Nothing to have missed or regretted. I was there, and that was primarily to support my other mostly-less-abusive-but-not-entirely-not-abusive family members, and I think it would have been okay if I hadn't been there.

After he died, I didn't feel any grief in the traditional sense (my therapist at one point was like "it's been a year since your dad died and you don't seem to have grieved as such; is that buried somewhere in there" and I was like "...nope, there's just nothing there"). What I have felt is a ton of relief and reduced stress. It's been easier to deal with my feelings towards and about him when I haven't also had to deal with him as a real person (whether I was speaking to him or not). I don't regret that I was there when he died but I also don't think I'd have regretted it if I wasn't. It was just a thing that happened, rather than the crux or resolution of our entire relationship.

I had the kind of family growing up that makes me feel zero obligations towards notions of family as an adult. I am not going to turn up, ride in a funeral limousine, deliver a eulogy, any of the default-child-expectations stuff unless I want to. I am not going to feel obliged just because it's family and dying and any kind of other fraught stuff. I am going to do what is right for me. And I'd encourage you to figure out what is right for you based on who you are and how you're feeling now, not based on losing the potential for hugs and forgiveness that probably don't exist in reality. What's going to make a difference for you now - anything he could do or say at this point, or you working on the impact that having a parent who wasn't able to give you what you needed has had on you?

What-ifs only really work if you believe the person or situation has the capacity for change or redemption, and it doesn't sound like that's the case with your dad.
posted by terretu at 4:34 AM on November 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

My MIL, who was guilty of some bad behavior, died relatively recently. My husband had reconciled with her somewhat before she died and told her how he felt about various things; his sibling did not.

His sibling has had a much, much harder time processing her death than he has. Some of that may be individual differences, but some of it is definitely that he felt he had said everything he wanted to and heard her answers, while the sibling had a lot of "what if I had only said this, now I never can" struggle.

So I think it's worth being there near the end and getting out anything unsaid. But that doesn't mean swallowing your legitimate grievances - in fact, I think that can even make things worse.
posted by corb at 4:35 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I went to see my father after he had a stroke, figuring if it was horrible, I wouldn't be finding out anything unpleasant that I didn't already know. Mind you, he had sent a conciliatory message that gave me hope it would be semi-worthwhile to get together. (I had the trip booked, but he was somehow under the impression I wasn't coming, and he sent the message saying he understood why.) Nevertheless, I was incredibly anxious leading up to the visit and I would never tell anyone to make that effort if they didn't feel safe-- psychologically and otherwise-- to do so.
posted by BibiRose at 5:06 AM on November 28, 2016

Terretu makes an excellent point. Society has a vested interest in keeping the parent child relstionship myth going. I think the idea that everyone will experience grief over the death of a parent is ridiculous. Its like all the many, many people who told me I would regret not having children. They dont know me, I know me.

In my gut I have a strong sense that I will feel only relief when my parents go. I dont waste time feeling guilty about that. There are some childhoods that just dont lead to a classic Hollywood happy family story. I had one of them. Maybe you did too.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:16 AM on November 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

My mother died a couple of years ago. I had long been no-contact with her for reasons. When I heard that she was on the way out, I declined to go see her. I wondered at the time how I was going to feel afterward, whether I might regret it. When she did die, my response what “OK, noted.” So far, I haven't felt any regret or sadness, no more than I would for any other complete stranger.
posted by Weftage at 7:08 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I cut my ties with my father when I was 25 (1985). No abuse, per se, but just an untenable situation for me. My sister and brother felt differently but that's them and that doesn't bother me.

At the end of his life, 25 years later, my sister made sure that I knew that if I wanted to reconcile, the time was quickly approaching. I declined, on the theory that I had cut ties for a reason and any further contact with him would be futile. He died in 2010. I have no lingering regrets or guilt feelings. I knew what I was doing when I did it and I did it for my emotional health and there ya have it, done deal.
posted by janey47 at 10:30 AM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

We are basically superstitious about the time immediately before someone's death. That doesn't make it not important. But it's interesting and maybe important to note that the idea that one's time is more valuable to others immediately before their death is at least partially an artifact of Christian theology. In many Christian doctrines, the time before death is the last opportunity that someone will have to repent and be saved---and so giving them that opportunity is of the utmost importance. That does not actually mean that the wronged individuals need to be involved, but it does mean that it is important for a dying person to have access to the people who can do their best to ensure that they die in a state of righteousness. A sort of spiritual babysitter, if you will. That has morphed into its current secular form, whereby giving dying people access to oneself (and perhaps, more hazily, giving dying people the chance to apologize or repent) is itself a moral good. Perhaps that is the case, but where the bad behavior has been extended and inexcusable, there is a solid argument for you having already given him enough of a chance to make things "right"---it's not as though he made a mistake when you were 12 and you never gave him the opportunity to apologize. He's had the opportunity, he hasn't taken it, any peace he needs to make ought to be made with God.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:32 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also, if you want to know my real thought about the "right" thing to do---it would be to go to a nursing home, even the veteran's home he is rejecting. I would go and spend some time with people who are lonely and isolated, people whose suffering would truly be eased by having a companion. People who will perhaps appreciate you in a way that your father cannot or will not. Surely there can be no fault in that.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:35 AM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I echo what most of the posters above have said, that it's an intensely personal situation, and only you will know.

My mom passed while we were estranged. I did not connect with her before she died. I don't have any regrets about it. I always thought I would, but in the end there was virtually no guilt, only a pinprick here or there for things I could have handled better. I had a lot of regret for the things that could have been, but not really for the choices I made.

The thing is, I believe that most of us who have cut off contact with a parent have done it for valid, ongoing, deep reasons. It isn't an action most of us take lightly. And those reasons don't magically go away because someone is dying. Now, if your dying parent reached out to you and expressed remorse or just wanted to have a Big Talk, I would say there's a good chance you'd regret not hearing him out. But otherwise... I'm not sure why it would end differently from any other interaction with him.

I don't want this to sound callous, and I certainly hope your parent gets better - but I will tell you I felt a deep sense of relief when my mom passed. I no longer had to worry about her - the worst had already happened. Her death was the inevitable result of the choices she made, over and over again, in her life.

Good luck to you.
posted by widdershins at 10:56 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Lots of good answers here; thanks everyone for giving me food for thought.

Salvia, I think you really nailed it:
Your mom is just testing you. How does she know he'll die this year? He's frail? I know some people who have been frail for like a dozen years. She's just trying to pull you back in.

I think that's why I feel so manipulated is that I probably am being manipulated. My mom cannot extricate herself from my dad's affairs; she's always meddling, always codependent. It's insane and ridiculous; she has always tried to put me in the middle of their b.s. That's a big part of where my anger comes from; she insists upon playing the game (she once considered buying him housing when she inherited a tiny bit of money; she said "it needs to be nice; he likes nice things". This about a guy that left her and three children to be evicted in a strange town and he did not lift a finger.

My dad probably isn't even dying! Now reconsidering it, he has been thin and frail for a long time, nothing has changed. He has no diagnosis of anything terminal. He recently had a UTI (big f'n deal) and has to have pre-cancerous growths scraped off his skin (my BF has this, it needs monitoring, but death is not imminent). When my mom said to my dad that he didn't have any serious medical concerns, he said "I have CANCER YOU IDIOT!" But he refused wellness checks from VA staff; probably because he doesn't want to hear qualified medical personnel tell him that he's fine. He wants to play "I'm Dyin' Over Here" for favors and attention. He has been diagnosed with nothing...I can't even believe I wasted energy thinking about this.

I hope I haven't wasted people's time on this; after Salvia's comment, I reconsidered it and feel that it's just a ruse to pull me back into dysfunctional codependent dynamics.

When he's actually on his deathbed, strapped to a machine or whatnot, I will probably make a final gesture. But for now, it just appears to be business as usual.

Thanks again for hearing me out.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:32 AM on November 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

If there are things that need to be said because of regrets you might have, then say them now. But don't say them because you think he's dying (I too, think he's not and your mother is playing mind games.) It doesn't make it some magical opportunity to fix everything, it just makes it the last opportunity. And quite frankly, if you know your dad, you already know the kind of response you'll get. So don't do it for him, do it for you. Or not, if that's the better of the two. Like many here, I have a contentious relationship with a parent and I'm under no illusions when the time comes that there will be a movie like deathbed moment.
posted by Jubey at 1:51 PM on November 28, 2016

I regret a lot of things about my relationship with both parents--but none of them were things I could control. What I can control is my own safety, and I'm glad I've taken steps to preserve that. My dad died at the age of 69 a few years ago. We hadn't spoken in several years. I hate that he died the way he did--but he was mentally ill and I couldn't fix him and trying to fix him was killing me. I think that if he'd actually been properly well, he wouldn't have wanted me to wreck my life to try to keep him alive a few more years.

It was very, very deeply upsetting when it first happened--in particular because he was genuinely alone at the time and it wasn't discovered that he'd died for some time after it had happened. But time has confirmed for me that I did the right thing. I wish I had a decent relationship with my parents. (My dad was ill, but my mother is just terrible, and unfortunately steadfastly still alive.) But my life, for all that, has lots of other things that've turned out fine, or even better than fine. This was one thing that I happened to roll snake eyes on. The fact that you'll never feel hunky-dory about having to make this decision doesn't mean you shouldn't make it if you're going to feel worse for having this person in your life. Focus on building things that give your life its own meaning.
posted by Sequence at 9:24 PM on November 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

long sigh

Well, here's another data point for you. In my case, I did not cut my father off; instead, I continued trying, and trying, to win him over, to connect, to show him a better way, all the way up until his completely unexpected death when I was just past forty.

I found I felt no grief at all. I saw that was because I had lost nothing. When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. In the weeks that followed I grew very angry (like, I didn't know I had it in me level angry), that I had invested so much of my precious energies into this person who gave not two shits about me. Also I was appalled at what I had been modeling for my kids.

I wished fervently then that I had cut him off years earlier. He didn't deserve one minute, not one ounce of me. Actually I still do wish that, that I had had the wherewithal to drop him flat way long ago.

My opinion about your dad is that he could have apologized to you at any point along the way and he has not.
You don't have to go to him for him to be able to do that, to give him that chance. He has that chance every day.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 10:12 PM on November 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've been following this thread with intent and I just want to thank everyone who has shared their story.
posted by Thella at 12:49 AM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I want to be discreet about this, but I also want you to know that making conciliatory "now or never, no one's getting any younger, it's been many years" efforts in situations like this with a relative I have "obligations to", who is severely ill with a personality disorder or otherwise has a long history of abuse (towards me) has always, always resulted in a shocking amount of pain/damage deliberately instigated by the person I was reaching out towards. (It was that much worse in the situation where another relative had beseeched me to "give them another chance" instead of hearing from the person directly that they wanted communications.) Life isn't a Lifetime movie--the sickest people often become even more cruel and destructive with age and death on the horizon. Certain senility disorders don't leave you with "ha ha dad forgets things and can't drive" symptoms but also/instead, "without normal frontal lobe functioning there is not even the little bit of inhibition left against massive cruelty and lack of empathy he sometimes had." I can't tell you how much more damaging it was to me to "do the right thing" and "give it one more try before it's too late" than to just leave things incommunicado. That has been the regret I was left with.

Leave your phone open to taking his calls if he himself decides he's had a change of heart/character but do not let a single response here or person in your life now or in your future (including your mother) tell you you'll have regrets, you don't get what family/life/love is about, etc. People who don't have analogous experiences with someone literally incapable of loving or even decent behavior--people who can be literally dangerous--have no idea this isn't about "well my mom/dad/brother was kinda a difficult character too and we had our On Golden Pond moment so...." Do not spend any more time, money, or pain on this than you have at this point under the misguided notion that this is What One Must Do.
posted by blue suede stockings at 3:44 AM on November 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Glad to hear you're finding ways to stay disentangled. Have you checked out /r/raisedbynarcissists? They practically have acronyms for things like "the codependent relative who tries to pull you back in," so you might enjoy or find relief from reading it.
posted by salvia at 10:20 AM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

this is super old but I revisited...
Leave your phone open to taking his calls if he himself decides he's had a change of heart/character

I actually didn't give him my new number because in addition to being lonely, he is a compulsive talker (like hours) and guess what his favorite topic is? All he wants is an audience, and I'm sure he will die while still looking for one.

It's more like your other comment:
Do not spend any more time, money, or pain on this than you have at this point under the misguided notion that this is What One Must Do.

thanks again all; this bs has been quite damaging to me.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 6:16 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

by the way, I once wrote him a letter forgiving him many years ago; he still never admitted anything and never really apologized, so yeah, he's going to the grave being the same person. thanks again all
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 6:22 PM on December 8, 2016

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