Updated: May 2
There is almost no greater sorrow than having a parent disown you. But in narcissistic families the callous act of turning your back on your child is commonplace. And leaving the name of a child out of a parent’s obituary is a final shameless act of cruelty.
The way death is handled in a narcissistic family is not like it is in other families. Not even close.
When one of my younger sisters kept the death of an uncle from me a secret back in the 80’s I was somewhat mystified. And when she kept visits from my father a secret from me and my other two sisters I was confused as well. And why my father chose to visit her and not me or my other sisters, although we lived in close proximity, was mind boggling. And extremely hurtful.
It would be decades before I would find the answers to so many confusing mysteries but suffice it to say they all fall under the umbrella of one word: narcissism. Or, more specifically, a family dysfunction caused by Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
It has been almost a year since my father passed away. I found out on the Internet.
It had been three decades since I had heard from my father. Likewise, I had not contacted him, either. I knew he didn’t want to hear from me.
The last time we talked was on the telephone in 1990. It was an unusual conversation. Several years earlier he had called me and my three sisters and asked us to drive to the town in Illinois where he lived to sign over some Chrysler stock that he had purchased for each of us. Since he first started working at Chrysler in 1967 he would have money taken out of his paycheck each week to purchase stocks in each of our names. He wanted us to all to meet for breakfast in Belvidere for breakfast to do the signing.
My mother got wind of the plan and called me and my sisters telling us not to do it. “That’s your money!” she said. “He owes that to you!”
The bitterness between my parents was still raw, even decades after their divorce.
The relationship between my me and my mother wasn’t much better. I could only imagine what wrath I would endure if I agreed to sign over my stocks to him.
At the time I had two young children and really didn’t feel like dragging them all the way to Illinois, plus I didn’t understand why he was taking our stocks from us. I knew he had a gambling habit. Is that why he wanted the money?
Two of my sisters and I declined, and that was the last we ever heard from him.
Until one day in 1990 when, out of desperation, I called him. I was going through a divorce, my children were almost in their teens, and I was about to lose my house. I knew it was a long shot but I asked my father if there was any way I could cash in my stocks.
“I already cashed them in,” he said coldly. “I signed them myself.”
He then added, “You’re the big psychologist (I was studying psychology at UW-Whitewater at the time)! You figure it out!” and hung up.
I was devastated. Not because I couldn’t get the money, but his cruel sarcasm had cut me to the marrow. He obviously was still hanging on to a grudge for not signing over my stocks to him years earlier.
It was mere coincidence that I happened to Google his name just two days after his passing. The funeral hadn’t taken place yet.
But two days was plenty of time for any of my three sisters to tell me of his passing, but none of them did. I’d had very little contact with any of them since my mother’s passing six years earlier.
I made my way over to the local business where one of my sisters worked. The one my father stayed in touch with.
I walked up to her and asked, “Are you going to the funeral?”
“How did you find out?” she asked, genuinely surprised.
In narcissistic families there’s a coping mechanism that children develop called “resource guarding,” similar to how a dog will guard his food from people or other dogs. The dog knows that the resource, i.e., the food, is limited, and so they do their best to keep it all to themselves – instinctively they know they will perish without it.
Children of narcissistic parents often compete with each other for attention and affection because there is such a limited supply, if any at all. Instinctively, children know they need love and affection to survive, and will behave in cutthroat ways to shut their siblings out so that they can have what little love resource there is.
Amazingly they will sometimes do it to the bitter end, even secreting their parent’s demise to keep as their very own, and naming only themselves as sole survivors in their parent’s obituary.
Sadly, only one daughter’s name appears in my father’s obituary -- the only one who signed over her stocks in order to keep his love.