Mourning the Living Dead

What would you do if I invited you to a funeral without a casket?
You’d probably assume the dead had been cremated, right?
But what if I told you they were still alive? 

living dead, narcissist, narcissism, narcissistic abuse, mourning, littleredsurvivor.com
Photo by Peyman Naderi on Unsplash

You might call the cops because you’re afraid I’m going to “off” somebody Godfather style. Of course, if you thought either of these things, you’d be wrong. The point I want to make is thousands of people mourn their family members every week while the people they are mourning are still alive. These living dead are narcissistic people, who for one reason or another have made it nearly impossible to have a relationship with them.

Whether you’re dealing with narc shunning or choose to go no contact, chances are you are mourning someone who is still alive. They might be an engulfing narcissist who tells you what to wear and eat and who to date. Such controllers force the survivors to sing the words to that old Billy Joel song, “This is my life, leave me alone,” to reinforce their boundaries. Or they could be a covert narcissist who won’t make public waves but will wait until your back is turned to twist the knife in—unless you meet their expectations. Either way, how much fun are these people to be around?

People who have never had to deal with narcissistic abusers have no clue what the rest of us have survived. We mourn what is missing because someone insists on being right or wants to be in control more than they care about our hearts. The narcissist chooses to act as if we are dead instead of owning their crap, while we who have empathy, mourn what we thought was a real relationship.

Wishing for the narcissist to change is just a continuation of the abuse. We can dance through hoops like a Cirque du Soleil artist and bring gifts like the magi until one day we might discover we’ve wasted our lives waiting for a flicker of approval from a narcissist who refused to grant it.

Of course, we don’t wear black all the time, but on every birthday and holiday, a shadow passes over our hearts to remind us somewhere in the world, there is a shell of a human being we once loved. We mourn them because our minds continue to play tricks on us. What if I called? What if I showed up? What if they actually care? What if they want to apologize? All of these what ifs get our hopes up, and sometimes, we listen and follow these cues—only to discover nothing has changed. We’ve grovelled for nothing, then we are left wondering why am I so broken? Why did I let myself get tricked again? Why do I feel so unworthy of love whenever I encounter the narcissist?

It’s not worth it. If someone wants to be your friend, they’ll call you or text you or show up at your door because friendship is a two-way street. Of course, an engulfing narc will also do these things but in a pushy and controlling manner. Most of us can tell the difference between the narcissist abuser and a true friend who show up–not to push, but to be available. To say, “I care, happy birthday, I hope you are well, I thought of you, do you wanna go out for coffee?”

For those who have been ignored by a narcissist, it’s hard to know where you stand, but when you don’t hear from someone for months and hear nothing on special days, you can be sure you are standing on the outside of the family circle looking in. Such discoveries can be as painful for an empath as if the person we once loved has really died—only worse. Worse because mourning the living dead gives us no closure. We don’t want them to die because that means we’ll lose the hope of ever reconciling with them again.

At the same time, we mourn them every holiday and every time we think about them and realize they are no longer a part of our life. They are alive, yet dead. Dead to honesty. Dead to empathy. Dead to any ability to have an equal relationship. Dead and beyond caring how their victims feel. Mourning leaves us with no choice, but to become even stronger survivors—survivors who look death in the face every time we think of our family members. Survivors who are in a constant state of mourning the living dead.

Some liken the narcissist to a vampire. They’ll suck you dry until you feel like an empty shell. That’s because narcissism is contagious. Flying monkeys and the golden child are susceptible to becoming a narcissist themselves. Victims who only partially wake up will continue to be victims over and over again. For some, the charade of pretending to be family brings more than one kind of death—the death of the living narc and the death of the living victim. “If you can’t lick ‘em, join them” is a dangerous game. We might grieve the living dead so much that we forget to live.

A relative once told me, “We will never be able to live until our parents are dead.” I cried because I didn’t want my parents to die, but I wanted to live. Recently my friend’s narcissistic mother died after years of estrangement. She said, “I grieved her loss years ago, today I grieve what could have been.” A mutual friend replied, “This profound statement beautifully articulates what we all are going through or will go through when our “narents” pass.”

It wasn’t long after “the great divorce” in my family. I hadn’t opened windows or showered or done the dishes or even looked at Facebook. I was too depressed. As an Enneagram Two, I felt I had poured myself out like a drink offering for my family—except I wasn’t Jesus, and I had no clue how to rise again.

I got a phone call, then a knock at my door. I ignored both. It was a sweet church lady named Mary Lou. She was a little older than my parents. She was always so upbeat; I wondered what she could want. Then she left a voice message. “Cherie, I know you’re in there, and I am going to stay out here and even sleep in my car if I have to until you open that door.”

I couldn’t leave a nearly eighty-year-old woman outside in the cold for hours. I felt like crap, my house was a mess, but what could I do? I went to the door and cracked it open just enough to let in the light. Mary Lou came swooshing in, smelling like lilacs and dressed like a hyacinth. She opened my windows bringing blinding rays of sunshine and sparkles into the room. I still had bedhead, and the house smelled like the cat box needed changing, but Mary Lou brought the resurrection to my living death. She was the hands and feet of Jesus to me. She allowed me to mourn, but most important, she taught me to rise.

Mary Lou had spent her life with a man who for decades had not helped her with the housework or gone to church with her or even given her sex or affection. Her husband had lived many years without getting out of his bed while his muscles wasted away from a debilitating disease. Mary Lou, in essence, had mourned the living every day for forty years. She never gave up because she knew the value of the man she married. Her example of unconditional love is the opposite of narcissism. For decades Mary Lou continued to care for someone who could never meet her needs. Mary Lou knew love. She was love. She knew how to suck the marrow out of a life and marriage that many would have abandoned.

What Mary Lou taught me that day is if you want to live, you need to gravitate toward the light. Jesus once told someone to “let the dead bury the dead.” It’s okay to mourn our losses, but keep moving toward the light. Where there is light and love, there is life.

18 comments

  1. This is so touching and beautiful and sad all at once. I am so glad you were blessed with a Mary Lou. What an amazing woman!!!

    I also deeply relate to this paragraph…
    A relative once told me, “We will never be able to live until our parents are dead.” I cried because I didn’t want my parents to die, but I wanted to live. Recently my friend’s narcissistic mother died after years of estrangement. She said, “I grieved her loss years ago, today I grieve what could have been.” A mutual friend replied, “This profound statement beautifully articulates what we all are going through or will go through when our “narents” pass.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is spot-on. Mourning the living dead makes every day a trial. And, very few people understand just how difficult this is.
    I love your example of Mary Lou. What a blessing! Would that we could all be blessed like that. Or better yet, be such a blessing!
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Evan,

    Totally agree to pray for them and pray for us too to deal with the grief. The empaths are the ones who hurt the most and many victims and survivors are empaths while the narcs are apaths. I like how you said “let these persons live under their own shadow.” I hope they too can find the light!

    Peace and freedom to you!

    Cherilyn

    Like

  4. Really super post. I think no-contact and low-contact are excellent means of not thinking so much about people who’ve already robbed you of so much time. I think you’re right about the shadow crossing your heart at certain times never totally going away. It’s funny though how the triggers and emphasis can change: These days, that shadow crosses my heart when I read about people doing craft projects with their children, or having real conversations with them, or wanting them to grow up resilient and loved, or any other healthy kind of parent-child interactions which I personally didn’t have as a kid. After waking up, I realise that the kid I was actually deserved a hell of a lot more empathy than my parents who wanted me to parent them emotionally. I started seeing the childhood I had, instead of the childhoods they’d had, and I started seeing that adults have responsibilities that they should not foist off on their young children instead. And that adults do have choices. Thanks for your blog’s part in that and hope it helps lots of others now and in the future! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Andrea,

    One way I deal with those shadows is being a different kind of an adult myself. One of my nephews arrived at my house at bedtime with his parents and said he was hungry. He was about five at the time. He ate some cereal and milk and looked up at my circular candle holder above the table and asked if I could light those candles. His dad wanted to go to bed–heck, we all wanted to go to bed, but I realized my nephew might only be at my house for a short time and I decided to light the candles and give him a memory. Who knows if he remembers it today, but that is one way I have found to lighten those shadows by giving and doing for kids what I didn’t have.

    Thank you for your thoughts and another little part of your story! Your story is as important as mine.

    Peace and freedom friend!

    Cherilyn

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  6. God bless Mary Lou. Thanks for writing this piece Cherilyn. I needed this message as I have just recently started this journey. Burying the dead is definitely harder than I thought, but it’s the only way for us to heal, at the end of the day. Be blessed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Cee,
    Oh wow! I sure hope and pray you don’t have to bury the dead. Maybe the love you have will shine out to your loved ones. Since you are just starting this journey, you might want to keep as many options open as you can until they reveal to you that they are not interested in a relationship. On the other hand if you are being abused and put down and talked about or lied to then it might be time to walk away if you try to talk to them and they do not care what they have done to hurt you.
    May you have your healing!

    Peace and freedom!

    Cherilyn

    Like

  8. Oh haha sorry I meant “mourning the living dead is harder than I thought” not burying them. I don’t plan to bury them 🙂 Indeed as Jesus stated, and as you stressed, we need to “let the dead bury the dead”. Thanks for your comment and support!! Much love ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am so glad you had this wonderful woman to lift you when you needed it most. I feel these people are the angels sent to help us. I too have been lucky to have a few such angels in my life. When I was struggling alone with my little son, there was this grandmotherly woman who took time to offer her suggestions for my son, gave her grandson’s tricycle which he had overgrown. Told me what to give my son to eat. Because of her, my son has good eating habits. Sometimes just a tiny act of kindness can change our lives forever.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Cheryl,
    You re so right about a simple act of kindness. Kindness matters and when I look back on my interactions with narcissistic people, I see a huge lack of kindness and people who twist my kindness to say things I never said. I think this is in part projection, if they would do something out of revenge, then they assume that is what I am doing. It’s very sad really. We never know what a simple act of kindness will do to aid someone else along their journey. Thank you for this reminder.

    Peace and freedom to you,

    Cherilyn

    Like

  11. Mary Lou sounds like a gift. Thoughtful post Cherilyn. It makes me think of a concept I learned from Clarissa Pinkola Estes about letting the ‘good mother’ die, she was my intro to healing unsafe relationships. It’s hard but so helpful to mourn the loss of a parent, partner or family member we hoped for and come to see and accept them for who they are. In the case of true narcissism, you said it best: mourning the living dead.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes, Mary Lou was an angel sent to me! I still hear her voice in my ear and it’s been a blessing even though she is gone.

    I would welcome to have a loving relationship with my parents just as I did with her, but it takes two to have a relationship. 😦

    Thank you E!

    Peace and freedom to you!

    Cherilyn

    Liked by 1 person

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