While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On abusive parents who cover their tracks:
My mother created a public persona to our community and church of a sweet, giving, loving, tender mother. This was a facade for the vicious, verbally, emotionally and physically abusive person she was and remains, albeit slowed and mellowed a bit by age. Two of her six children died prematurely due to alcoholism from the abuse that fractured their psyches.
I moved 750 miles away so I'm not caught having to be involved. I've chosen silence.
I've already made it clear I will not speak at her service and while I will be there out of respect for the family, that's about it.
I am the daughter of a father who was a cruel bully. It took me decades to figure out how to deal with him but when I was around 40, I finally realized I could cut him off if he spoke to me in a disparaging way. I wrote out a list of possible responses and put them by the phone so that I was ready to say, "I will not allow you to speak to me like that" and "If you can't speak to me respectfully, I will end this conversation."
It doesn't matter if the abusive parent agrees with you — he almost certainly won't — but standing up to him will help you win your self-respect. Work on a simple statement: "While you can still hear me, I want you to know that you created an unhappy family and I repudiate your disparaging, cruel and selfish behavior toward me. Your conduct has been shameful."
Bullies depend on intimidation; don't let them get away with it. You can hold them accountable.
On a loved one's death that's "not about you":
I was 24 when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was sobbing in my parents' kitchen when my mom turned to me and said, "Stop that. He's the one dying, not you." She said it lovingly, quietly and softly and she was right. Sad as I was to lose him, it is still one of my most cherished memories to have been quietly by his side, telling him how much he was loved, as he took his last, serene breath.
Fast forward to 2008 when my best friend of over 40 years, who consoled me when my dad passed, lay dying in her home after a 10-year battle with cancer. I knew it was our last visit together, and I began to cry and made the totally selfish comment that here was my best friend, dying of cancer. (Boo hoo — poor ME.) She turned her head, which was no small effort, and said, "I'm not dying of cancer. I've been living WITH cancer." She was right, too. She died the next day.
When my time comes, I hope I have the presence of mind to be kind to those who may be more upset over what they are losing (me) than what I am losing (life). All the wailing and crying won't bring anyone back and it may ruin the opportunity you have to be there, strong and loving, to help them pass from this world with dignity and peace.