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Complex Grief: Death of a Narcissist, a Family, A Dream

No one should ever be notified of the death of their loved one through the impersonal auto-generated daily email from a funeral home. Damn, that’s cold, Baby! But that is how you’ll be notified about a death in your family when your family has been torn asunder by narcissism. Brace yourself.

I know because that’s what happened to me.

It all began last Saturday when I blundered out of bed and refreshed my Gmail, only to be shocked to see my grandmother’s face smiling brightly from the daily email from the Funeral Home. Damn!

Part 1

Oh, That Obit!

My hands were shaking when I clicked on the link next to Grandma’s picture to open her obituary. Then anger overtook grief as I discovered that in writing her own obituary, I’m told that Grandma chose to cherry pick who deserved (?) to be listed as her survivors and relatives. Her son chose to honor her spite and published her obituary excluding anyone who didn’t make the cut. I didn’t. Neither did that embarrassment of her older half-sister, Stella, who Grandma’s adored father abandoned in the 1920s to be raised by a single mother, and later, a drunken step-father.

That’s when I learned a great truth: Anger is a wonderful antidote for grief.

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An Idea

Yeah, last Saturday wasn’t a good day, but by Sunday I’d calmed down enough to think constructively and two words kept coming to mind: “hot coals.” I traced it back to Proverbs. “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” And that’s when I had an idea.

Why not convert all that negative energy from anger into positivity!?! Grandma chose to leave this world with spite. To slap faces from beyond the grave. When she went, she chose to go low.

Very well, then, I will go high. I set to work to care for my mother in her time of loss as best I can from a distance. And that’s when I rediscovered how wonderful work is in times of grief.

I wracked my brains and contacted anyone who ever knew my mother and asked them to please send her a sympathy card as she had lost, not only her mother, but her friend and her last family member (on speaking terms.) They were all more than happy to reach out! In her time of grief, I want Mom to know she’s not alone. There are so many people who remember her fondly…and care. Family may be cruel but strangers are always kind.

All that emailing and contacting, tracking down long lost family members, was a wonderful distraction. But after I’d called the florist to place an order for Mom, I had a horrible thought: What if no one had told Mom about Grandma’s death!?! I would hate for her to be shocked, as I was. Damn, damn, damn.

But you can only work and spin and stay busy for so long. It wasn’t until mid-week when I realized I wasn’t just grieving Grandma. I was grieving the death of a dream.

Death of a Dream

Somewhere, hidden at the back of my mind, I believed that if I wrote long enough, passionately enough, clearly enough and honestly enough, that my family would finally say, “Okay, we get it. We’ll stop hurting each other. Let’s try this Family Thing again, but this time, without the narcissism.”

Now I know this will never happen. What was that quip in Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang? “Time’s up. Had your chance. Muffed it.” There will be no reconciliation, at least, not in this life.

Love does not triumph over all, at least, not with narcissists. They talk loud and long about love and family, they’re generous with hugs and tears, but cross them, set a boundary, tell the truth…even just once…and you’re done. You’re cast into the outer darkness. I guess all those old MGM movies where love and good always triumph were wrong.

Elder Alienation

As the week progressed, I wrote draft after draft of the letter to accompany the sympathy card for my mother. As more information came through the grapevine, I had to write a new draft every time.

In a week of shock after shock, the final straw was learning that no one at Grandma’s Assisted Living even knew Grandma had a daughter. No one had a more devoted daughter than Grandma, yet Grandma never spoke of my mom to anyone at Assisted Living. In the absence of details, I can make an educated guess at what happened, which brings us to the topic of Elder Alienation.

It just took one manufactured grievance twenty years ago, long-planned and well calculated, for my Golden Child uncle to kick my Scapegoated mother to the curb and become the sole controller, the sole caregiver of Grandma. What a wonderful son, caring for his mother alone, basking in the admiration of everyone who knew what a sacrifice he made.

I’m quite sure he never tells anyone the rest of the story. It was by design. His loving sister wanted and expected to help. He never gave her a chance so she decided that if that’s how he wanted it, that’s how it should be. She already had a husband with cancer to care for.

Just as Parental Alienation only requires one lie to tear a loving parent from their little children, apparently the bond between an elderly parent and their middle-aged child is just as fragile especially when the elderly parent plays along with the Golden Child’s manipulations.

One imaginary insult set off a chain of events in 2000, and this is how life, and love end, with a Mother and Daughter physically separated at the bitter end. I can imagine the terms set for Mom visiting her mother were calculated to make it impossible for her to accept them. Kudos for setting boundaries, Mom. I’m proud of you.

So in my letter to my mother, I told her what a wonderful daughter she is, was and always had been. That Grandma should’ve been down on her knees, thanking God every day, for her wonderful daughter. It’s true!

Part 2

The Funeral

This very weird week culminated yesterday with Grandma’s funeral. Private, of course. Time of day, undisclosed. But it was recorded and the video uploaded online. Michael and I watched it together yesterday.

How can you summarize a life and personality of 92 years in 35 minutes and 43 seconds? Can you capture the gist, the essence of that person? Of course not! No one could. You can’t describe Grandma, you can only experience her.

Grandma’s funeral left me strangely cold. The obituary was read, carefully excluding The Unworthy Ones. A recording of The Battle Hymn of the Republic was played, an homage to dear, funny Great-Grandma who loved that hymn, requested it at her own funeral in 1998…and also wore dangling earrings in her coffin. Think about it! LOL

Then the pastor read tributes written by Grandma’s son, daughter-in-law and their three daughters. Conspicuous by its absence was anything written by my mother. (Was she even asked!?! I certainly was not.) We all seem to associate Grandma with her delicious food and wicked game of Crazy Marbles. Food is love and love is food. But Grandma was so much more than that, wasn’t she?

It wasn’t until they played Elvis singing Mansion Over the Hilltop that the tears came gushing until my stomach cramped from crying. I remembered those Christmases with Grandma tickling the ivories as we all gathered to sing about those mansions over the hilltop ’round the piano. The fiction of happy family had yet to be shattered. It was idyllic.

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little [bit of] gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined
I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

At the end of a curiously unsatisfying funeral which left me with no sense of closure, well, a miracle happened. The pastor held aloft The Last Battle by my dear, darling favorite author C. S. Lewis. And I knew, even before he started reading from it, exactly which passage was perfect for a funeral.

Then Aslan turned to them and said:

“You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

It was a Divine Appointment. I needed to hear those soaring words written by C. S. Lewis to understand life, death and have closure, perhaps a closure my grandmother didn’t intend for me to have. I have it anyways. Someday when my story is over, my idea of Heaven has always been Narnia.

‘Til We Meet Again

For five years, I’ve written my flippin’ giblets out in a futile attempt to rescue and restore my family and heal my soul. I feel better and better every day, but I now know the family is beyond repair. But I still hold out hope that my mother will reach out to her only child, me. It will take many difficult letters but I will never, ever give up hope that love and forgiveness can happen and my Good Mother will return, free of all those “fleas” narcissists spread to their nearest and dearest.

There was another hymn our family sang around the piano on holidays before we returned to our own homes. And so I will close with this benediction that always brought tears to Grandma’s eyes.

God be with you till we meet again,
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again,
’Neath His wings securely hide you,
Daily manna still provide you,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again,
When life’s perils thick confound you,
Put His arms unfailing round you,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again,
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,
Smite death’s threat’ning wave before you,
God be with you till we meet again.

Goodbye, Grandma

I could write reams about you, Grandma. All the memories, experiences, stories, flavors, fragrances, gifts, laughter, games and how you’d squirt me through the kitchen window with the faucet sprayer. You were a woman of many parts, mischievous, great sense of humor and an infectious giggle. The quintessential grandmother against whom all other grandmas pale in comparison.

Your house with its wonderful fragrances of food cooking and dishwasher detergent was…and still is…my idea of Heaven. When I was discouraged about finding love, you assured me that “there is a cover for every pot” and you were right. I know your prayers have protected all of us. Thank you for praying that God would bring Mr. Right into my life and thank you for hosting Michael and my wedding in your home. It was beautiful.

I’m sorry you saw fit to treat my Michael and my parents with utter disrespect. I didn’t want to do it but I had to step away from you to protect Michael and me from being hurt. You were so judgmental, everyone was forced to be unauthentic in order to maintain your approval. We’re good people. Why did you do that to everyone?

You tore your own family apart and then reveled in playing the victim. That was wrong. Everyone says you were so “sweet.” They didn’t really know you and had never crossed you. I hope you realize now that you had a wonderful family and an exceptional daughter in my mother.

I wish you’d changed in life, Grandma, but now all I can do is forgive you.

Goodbye, Grandma. I love you. Thank you for everything.

In loving memory of Grandma Betty
1928 – 2020
Aged 92 years, seven months, and 30 days

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Complex Grief: Death of a Narcissist, a Family, A Dream

Lenora Thompson

For five years, "Narcissism Meets Normalcy" has followed the real-life, ongoing story of freelance writer, Lenora Thompson, and her readers’ healing journey from narcissistic abuse to healing, peace and happiness. In August 2020, Lenora launched a new blog, "Beyond Narcissism…And Getting Happier All the Time" as she and her readers explore the new world of peace and happiness. "Beyond Narcs…Get Happy" is 100% reader supported! To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael’s heroic fight against Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to subscribe to her other writings, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2020). Complex Grief: Death of a Narcissist, a Family, A Dream. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Aug 2020
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