Dear Abby: My Stepfather Died Recently

This Dear Abby letter and response ran in newspapers March 9

Dear Abby: My stepfather died recently. I found out when I saw his obituary in the newspaper. It described him as a “loving husband and father,” and while I know that’s a fairly generic epitaph, nothing about it is true. He was an alcoholic who had several affairs while married to my mother. He also abused me and my step-siblings physically and sexually.

It’s bad enough that he died without having to face the consequences of his actions, but it kills me to know that “loving husband and father” is how our community and history will remember him now that he’s gone. Is there anything I can do to get some form of the truth out there? ANGRY IN TENNESSEE

Dear Angry: Yes, there is. Just keep talking and word will get around.


My unasked for, but fully-felt answer to Angry in Tennessee.

Dear Angry, I had a similar thing happen. When I read the obituary of my not-loving, cold as ice, sarcastic, judgmental stepfather, it struck me once more how cruel he had been. A difference in our situations is I did observe he was a loving father to his own children. Sorry to say, My Little Tennessee Dove, but the person who paid for the obituary has the right to portray him as they wish.

That’s what happens in the detritus of divorce with the primacy of blood. It is likely whoever wrote that knows they were lying through their teeth and pen, but there is a family name to honor so innocent people can use it with some dignity. There is no gain in public name calling, and more often than the human heart likes, moving on comes easier with polite good-byes.

Which is what you need to do. It’s not easy. Though my stepfather did not cause my brother’s suicide, he also was not a good influence in my dear, misguided, ill brother’s life. Those years still haunt me though it has been decades, but I also have a life to live and so do you. You have a right to your anger and it is good you have brought it out of yourself and feel it fully. If you haven’t been terrifically sad over this situation, I suggest you try that for a while, too. It’s great for inner nurturing until it turns into self-pity.

Here are suggestions: (1) Seek out a good counselor for therapy; (2) use

My heart-felt memoir and how-to for grief recovery. Can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores.

My heart-felt memoir and how-to for grief recovery. Can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores.

the self-therapy of writing in a heart-felt memoir; or (3) if you can manage it (and it took me years), have a down-and-dirty talk with yourself. Then decide while you are in the muck of your down-and-dirt that it’s worth a try to turn away from history.

Forgiving is too big a word when there is raw pain and you will never, ever forget, but you can refuse to continue giving your ex-step-father priority in your broken heart. Besides, isn’t it reasonable to assume an alcoholic man with a string of affairs would have been noticed in the community? I’m sure you’re not the only one who knows the truth.

I came to believe recovery from traumatic grief and experience is a hero’s journey. Look into the literature of the hero’s journey, as well as grief management.

My best to you, My Little Tennessee Dove.

And P.S. Don’t keep talking about him so word will get around. It encourages hate in you, and may make you look vindictive, cruel, and maybe weak or whiny. If you have to talk like that turn yourself into a polished spokesperson for the issue.

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11 Responses to Dear Abby: My Stepfather Died Recently

  1. Good advice.One must get rid of the hate or it will destroy you.

  2. Yes, and most of us learn that the hard way!

  3. Great post… you’re so right… we have to move on, or carry a chip on our shoulder which only hurts us…the sad thing is that that is what it sounds like this man did… having been hurt and abused as a child, he simply repeated the cycle..Sarcasm is another cloak for the suppressed anger that he felt… and in my experience of alcoholics, they are often deeply sensitive people who drink to try to deaden their pain…
    so, what’s not to let go, so we can move on for ourselves… break the cycle of pain and suffering….and bring in a world of kindness and acceptance….

    • rebecca says:

      I agree entirely. Especially about repeating cycles, which is why abusers are not worth revenge, though damage and continuing abuse needs to be stopped. Thanks for the comments.

  4. Denise Hisey says:

    Your letter is spot on…it’s too bad Tennessee Dove will never have the benefit of your wisdom.
    I really liked how you addressed forgiveness -when the pain is so raw, forgiveness isn’t realistic. And your advice to get into therapy and grieve….well said,Very Well Said!

    • rebecca says:

      Thanks! I believe forgiveness is most often incremental and that’s okay. I wish I could remember where I first read that, but when I first read it, it stopped me. Of course! I’d been trying for a mountain top when a first step will begin the journey, and at some point it really does begin to unravel on its own. Thanks again for your encouragement.

      • Denise Hisey says:

        Incremental! That’s it!
        I am in the middle of exactly that as I speak! 😉
        What a journey God’s had me on -the last 9 months have been on steroids!

  5. rebecca says:

    Well, if I see you along the way let’s wave because I’m still on incremental, too. Good luck. I understand steroids are a real challenge.

  6. You are so right that talking about it encourages the toxicity to spread. Great lesson.

  7. Smaktakula says:

    Great answer. I can understand the writer’s feelings, but hanging on to that anger does no one any good.

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