DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother is suspected of having narcissistic personality disorder -- one of the worst cases many have seen. Throughout my life, I was subject to verbal and physical abuse, as well as unreasonable demands to allow her control over my life, and further abuse if I deviated from whatever nonsense she dictated -- well into adulthood.
In my 30s, I began distancing myself from her, and her behavior became increasingly deranged. She began lying about me to friends and family, accusing me of suffering from mental illnesses I certainly don’t have.
As a result, in my 40s, I cut her out of my life completely and stopped responding to calls or emails. She then cut me out of her significant will, yet continued sending emails and leaving voicemails abusing me, and accusing me of shirking my duties toward her as she aged and grew ill.
She is now expected to die within three years due to numerous chronic diseases. When she dies, frankly, I will be relieved and grateful that I will no longer be subject to her sharp abuses that still leave me feeling like a vulnerable child. I will not mourn her, nor am I willing to lie and talk about how wonderful she was, when clearly she was anything but wonderful to me.
Do I have to attend her funeral? What should I say to those who offer condolences? Am I obligated to appear as a loving daughter after she dies?
GENTLE READER: You no doubt have a plethora of people, degreed or otherwise, ready to give you advice on why and how to make up with your mother before she dies. Miss Manners can instead answer the question you asked, namely how to behave after she is gone, assuming that no deathbed resolution occurred.
We do not speak ill of the dead because our sense of fair play demands that the subject of any accusation has a chance to defend herself, and this will clearly no longer be possible. But speaking ill and thinking ill of the dead are not the same. And one can refrain from saying harsh things without pretending everything was wonderful.
If things were so bad when she was alive that you had to cut off all relations, then etiquette makes no demand that you attend the funeral. If, however, you do attend -- or if people express their condolences to you -- the proper response is dignified and short: a serious “thank you,” without elaboration.