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The terminally ill abusive parent - compassion or condemnation?

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Many adult lives continue to be tormented by the specter of flawed relationships with estranged parents, especially in cases where childhood neglect or abuse occurred. These kinds of ghosts will very often never be laid to rest, and open discussion about what took place is unlikely to occur.

How each person deals with this situation is highly individual. In many cases, there has been a conscious decision to walk away from the abuser at an age where the appropriate considerations and follow-up actions could be taken without fear of further reprisal. For instance, the adult children of abusers often tend to place a reasonable physical distance between themselves and their parents, and they carry on completely separate lives without parental contact being maintained.

Desire to Confront the Abuser
However, in most cases there will remain some degree of desire to confront the past. Placing a physical distance between parent and child is simply insufficient; the victim can feel that their abuser still retains control in the relationship, as the child never had an opportunity to assert his own authority and point of view. He has, quite simply, never had the opportunity to confront his parents or to hold them accountable for their actions or inactions as parents.

Code of Silence
Many of those abused, even when they recognize the need to confront a parent about past actions, do not want to re-open old wounds for several reasons. It is typical of abuse victims to say that they wish to avoid creating upset and anxiety for other family members, especially for siblings who may not have been exposed to the same ordeal.

The fact is that these families were often so dysfunctional that, sadly, a common code of fear and silence passed through all of the siblings, even if each one suffered the same fate and would have benefited from shared experience and grief. The desire for siblings to continue protecting each other under “the unspoken code” can continue long into adulthood, sometimes indefinitely.

Dealing with News of Terminal Illness
Despite all of the negative pent-up emotions and connotations, learning of the terminal illness and pending death of an abusive parent can present very mixed emotions to adult abuse victims and their siblings.

Very careful consideration is required before deciding how to deal with this news and whether a visit to the terminally ill parent should be made, especially while the parent is still “of sound mind” and communicative, should that be the case.

Being a Supportive Partner or Friend
Supporters and partners of the victim also need to be extremely careful in dealing with friends and loved ones who find themselves suddenly confronted with the news that their abuser is dying.

While it is all too easy to advise that the abuser deserves no sympathy and no visits, the plain fact is that nobody apart from the victim knows what they feel at that precise moment. The ill person is still their parent. The ill person is the only father or mother that person has had in their lives. This may be their sole opportunity for genuine closure, and if they fail to take it, the decision could be regretted.

Advice to partners and friends of a victim would be to simply be there, be supportive and listen, but to offer no judgments whatsoever, since these are inappropriate.

Deciding Whether to Visit – The Benefits
There are many cases where abuse victims have chosen to visit a terminally ill parent in the dying months. This can be cathartic for the victim as well as for the parent, as long as the purpose is not simply confrontational.

Seeing an abuser in their time of weakness and vulnerability will be a new position, and it invariably redresses the power balance.

Chance to Apologize
It can also offer the parent an opportunity to consider and construct an apology, if such is in their nature. It is at a time of terminal illness that many people will realize what they did wrong to others and will seek to rectify -- or at least explain or express distress at -- their actions.

It may help the sufferer considerably to know that the parent goes to their grave with regrets or upset over past actions or even to know that they merely acknowledge and accept what they did.

No Regrets
Conversely, if a victim chooses to see a parent and show compassion, and there is no regret or acknowledgement, this may still help. The “victim” is still the one in the position of strength and control, and he can still say what he needs to say.

Most importantly, seeing a parent in their dying days gives a victim the chance to look their tormenter squarely in the eye and say, “I am no longer intimidated.” If appropriate – and again, this is highly individual – it may feel right to say: “I forgive you”.

Move On With PositivityThese sorts of confrontations will usually allow the victim to move on with their life in a way they could never have envisaged if they were still carrying around the former specter (and old image) of a more potent, hurtful parent.

Therefore, while it seems absurd to suggest showing compassion in the dying days of a tormenting parent, there can be certain benefits for the adult victim, and it is often a risk worth taking.
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During my spiritual journey I’ve had to let go of all abusive people. However, we do recover fully from the affects, if we have a program of recovery, a certain type that is powerful enough to work through the past. As an adult child of 2 devastatingly abusive narcissists, I made amends to them rather than expecting it from them.

We never go into a situation with any expectations; to do so is a setup for us leaving resentful and causing more damage. After all, we did react, and that is what my amends were about. I wanted to be free and amends to them was part of that.

But the only way I could do that was by having God in the picture (it’s not religious) and by having a purpose (guiding others to healing) that fulfills me so much that I don’t care about the past. I’ve changed to a place I never could have imagined.

If I’m trying to do this without a powerful spiritual solution, then I’m still operating with my same mind.


I went to see my father jut before he died and I did not cope well- I was back as a scared child even though I was 53 at the time, I hadn’t seen him since I was about 20 so it had been 33 yrs and I was so afraid of seeing him that I fainted at the hospice door. I went in though my body was saying don’t do this, and then he did the old routine, loving hand holding, gradual disapproval and then contempt and finally rejection – don’t come back and see me again before I die – don’t come to my funeral.
I just got out of there and struggled to hold on for a few months before totally succumbing to PTSD full blown breakdown and there I stayed for year until I finally managed to get out from underneath. From where I am now I have no regrets but I was lucky to have my long term mindfulness practice and a fantastic supportive husband to got me through it all along side using MDMA to be able to go back into his abusive ways and face then, and finally a string of meditation retreats via Plum village communities. BUT I would not have made it if those two things had not been in place and I think this should be made clear – your article does not do this and whilst I agree with some of it – I think you should also put warnings out that address this whole ‘being back where you were again issue’. ££ years of very had work at healing myself were not enough to cope with that encounter and through it I also lost contact with both my siblings – again no regrets as I am now free of PTSD but a heck of a price to pay – they could not cope with my ‘new’ story and I could not cope with their rejection of my whole truth.
I went running back to my mother when she sent a message out to me through her sister that her husband was dying of cancer.

I moved in and stayed until the house was sold after his death. He was very abusive to me verbally. He never hit me, kicked me out, set strict limits on my living.

He kinda of apologize and said that he has been angry with me because of something I said when I was 15 or 16. He was hurtful, rude, and a bully the entire time he was with my mother.

When my bio father was becoming ill, I stayed away. It was for my own health. I wasn’t about to be felt up because he didn’t recognize me and only saw my mother. He has only known me for a few years and when we first met, it was all about me getting my mother to live with him. It was never “how are you” it was always “how’s your mother, is she dating anyone?”

I wasn’t mentioned in the obituary so I just stayed clear. (Product of an affair of two married with a houseful of children of their own. 8 sisters 5 brothers all to together.)

I am walking away from all things black and negative. I will not run to my mother’s bedside. I have given her enough times to clear the air. She refuses to listen to me and will defend her two abusive husband. (One sexually)

I found myself caring for my physically, emotionally and (by proxy)sexually abusive mother in her final years. My stepdad was overwhelmed and alcoholic and she had fun off several other nurses.

We never really were able to discuss the abuse, the absences, the men. Anytime conversation would come close she would say some cutting remark and I would shut up.

I never got to confront her and she died with so much I wanted to say. No, to SCREAM at her. When she died I left my (now) ex & his aunt there with my dad to deal with it all. I took my (very young) kids to play at McDonald’s Playland and to Toys R Us for whatever they wanted. It was my way of getting the last laugh I guess. I never cried and still feel glad she is gone. She can’t hurt my kids this way.

Brant sanchez

Im currently struggling with closure due to never recieving any feelings of confidence and being putdown through negative responses from my mother..i was self sufficient in my twenties until my ex left me without trying to talk to me as to why…my best friend who was also my grandmother passed from cancer weeks after & then my father a few months later.. i assumed a new coping mechnsm. and dabbed in using meth after i also was layed off.. i do know that i was devistated and hurt from the rejection. I made it through that for 6 yrs but have recently fell under similar circumstances. .i know whats wrong but not the cure so please help me


They put my mom into hospice yesterday. I went to the hospital a few times before she was moved. I knew that I would not address her on this issue, since my father is my abuser. I have a lot of anger at her for not protecting me. I don't know what I feel.... I know that she will pass away soon, in the next few days. I'm already lining up a few friends who have been thru other deaths with me, (both of them) put me in the hospital. I don't want to go back again. Especially, since my new "in-law family" will be there.

I know that I will have to hold the reins very tightly for a few days - till it is over.
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