So, your abuser just died. Holy shit, right?
I'm here to tell you there is ZERO guide book on what to do next. And because so few people (if any) people talk about it, we're not even able to chat with each other and compare notes.
My experience is really fresh so I am still knee-deep in trying to figure out what freedom feels like.
But in the tradition of sisterhood, here is what I've learned so far:
1- The only way out is through
Very few people knew about my abuser or the years I spent living under siege. I had to be discreet for my own safety and the safety of those around me. Maybe you told everybody and your neighbour. Maybe it was on the downlow for you, too. But the second you tell people "That guy who just died? He terrorized me", people are going to have thoughts and feelings.
I've endured a lot "Wow! You must be so relieved!" And I know people mean well. I really do.
But girl, this shit is complicated.
Sure, there's the realization that "OMG. It's over." But even that takes time. You're going to keep looking over your shoulder. You're going to keep having nightmares. You're going to mourn the years of your life that were wasted living in fear. You're going to feel sad that he wasted years of his life hurting you or that he chose the path of violence instead of getting help.
Hurt people, hurt people. So, simply throwing a bunch of confetti in celebration of someone's death is too simplistic.
Whatever you feel, you are entitled to feeling it. And when/if people tell you to "Get over it", "Stop dwelling" or "See the positive!", tell those people to go eat a bag of dirt. Because they're gastlighting you and guess what? Your abuser did that shit so you don't need that in your life. BYE.
And if some days you feel super relieved and buoyant with the vibes of freedom, live it.
And if on other days, you feel really heavy and drowning in flashbacks, live it.
The only way out is through. You know that because you're survived this long.
2- Make it real
Whether that means printing out his obituary, visiting his grave site, going over the evidence you've collected over the years, or getting 'I'M FREE, BITCHES!' tattooed to your butt cheeks, do whatever you need to ground yourself in the reality that "It's over. He can't hurt me anymore."
3- Write the obituary you wish they'd published
This one comes to me from another survivor who read about my story and who reached out to me. We've become internet pals and send each other support whenever we can. She found this little gem of advice and I can't sing the praise of this enough. It feels so validating to put down on paper the complexity of a person's life. Yeah, my abuser was someone's husband, someone's son, someone's bestie. He liked sports and the outdoors. He was also a rapist, a manipulator and a stalker. He terrorized another human being with complete disregard for her wellbeing. He is all of those things.
Burn your obit. Frame it. Do whatever feels right.
4- Document then set that shit ablaze
My abuser's name was forbidden. I didn't use it and not so subtly asked folks to avoid using it. My friends and I alternated between calling him Voldermort and Dickwad.
I've carried around a folder of evidence for over a decade. I've moved countless times and dragged that thing with me every time.
I never looked at it; shoved it into the back of my filing cabinet lest I ever need to call the police again and show them that "No, this is definitely not the first time this has happened."
He didn't even get a capital "D" because fuck that, right?
I'm not a hippie dippy person but that folder felt like bad vibes, man. Carrying around a folder full of handwritten notes, threats, explicitly sexual e-mails, photos and my own handwritten documentation of times and places my abuser did things is the ultimate albatross to be carrying around.
I am not prepared to get rid of everything, because in the back of my mind, I still think "I'll need to prove this to someone someday." There's always the niggling feeling of "Maybe his family will try and come after me" or some other heinous thought.
But having the physical copies in my presence, pieces of paper that he's touched, is gross and I'm over it.
So, take your evidence folder to Staples. Sit down with a pal and scan the whole lot of it. Then, do whatever self-care looks like for you and when you feel ready, set that shit on fire. In a coffee can in the parking lot of your apartment; at your friend's cottage; over your toilet. Whatever works for you. But burn every single shred of evidence that he ever hurt you.
5- Know your legal rights
I don't need to tell you that we live in a cruel world where gender based violence goes unpunished, which also means I don't have to tell you that the estates, families and colleagues of abusers are not above suing you for defamation/libel. They clearly never cared about you because they supported his behaviour after all those years, right?
Putting his name in lights or flying behind a small engine plane would feel SUPER nice but it's not recommended. Avoid using his real name or any major information that people could tie back to him.
Or not. Go for broke if you want. It's your story, not mine.
Lastly, never, ever forget that you survived. You beat the odds and YOU survived.
When stalking goes on as long as my experience did, it usually only ends in death. And typically, it's the death of the victim.
My abuser was young and his death was sudden and tragic. Statistically, the 11 years I endured were but the beginning. At the rate we were going, I should have endured another 50+ years. If he didn't stop after 11, he clearly wasn't going to stop at all.
Remember that you survived. The skills that you used to survive years of violence; the years of people propping up someone you knew was a terrible person; the years you spent having to "play nice"; all those years were not in vain. They gave you an arsenal of skills that are going to help you survive this next stage.
You survived and you are not alone, 'cause sister, I'm here with you.