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Grieving the Death of An Abusive Parent: Geri “Tookie” Anderberg is Dead
My stepmother, Geraldine “Tookie” Anderberg, died on April 21, 2008. She was a horribly abusive parent, and it has really been a mixed bag of emotions coming to terms with her death. It seems odd to celebrate someone’s death in the way I feel it right now. I am not celebrating the joyful, productive, amazing life of my stepmom, Geri, in her death. It is more like a Nazi camp prisoner might feel upon hearing word that a Nazi officer that tortured him died. I am trying to figure out how to process the loss of an abusive parent. My *most* abusive parent.
Grieving the Death of An Abusive Parent: Geri “Tookie” Anderberg is Dead
By Kirsten Anderberg
Written April 25, 2008
My stepmother, Geraldine “Tookie” Anderberg, died on April 21, 2008. She was a horribly abusive parent, and it has really been a mixed bag of emotions coming to terms with her death. Usually when someone dies, you at least show some obligatory respect and lie about the people, just talking about their good parts. But this woman was so abusive to me and my sisters that I literally have *nothing* good to say, so I am not supposed to say anything at all. But then that keeps the cycle of silence about criminal level child abusers hidden, and I am really not comfortable with that either. I am sure many other kids who were severely abused at home can relate to what I am going through right now, trying to figure out how to process the loss of an abusive parent. My *most* abusive parent.
First of all, this is a rite of passage in ways, as I have never had anyone I have ever called “mom” or “dad” die. And in that way, it is really striking on a deeply emotional level. And those names are special names reserved for very few people in my life. I have very intimate relationships with anyone I have called those names, as those are names that imply a level of trust, in ways. But I could *not* trust my parents. Not at all. Their adult shenanigans put me in life-threatening danger repeatedly as a child, teen, and young adult and it is really hard to figure out whether I should celebrate or grieve, if I am to be perfectly honest.
It seems odd to celebrate someone’s death in the way I feel it right now. I am not celebrating the joyful, productive, amazing life of my stepmom, Geri, in her death. That is not it. It is more like a Nazi camp prisoner might feel upon hearing word that a Nazi officer that tortured him died. It is almost indescribable in ways. And a unique situation I will not be in again, as I only have three parents: my mom, my dad, and my stepmom. I have many good memories amidst the bad of my mother and father, but not a one good memory of Geri, my stepmom. I got some good things from my own parents, I was only bullied and dehumanized by Geri. With my parents, they showed love at some times in my life. But as soon as my dad hooked up with Geri, he was all of a sudden implicated in a lot of really despicable actions against his own flesh daughters to please my maniacal stepmother. I have to say that Geri, herself, orchestrated *most* of my own father’s most abusive and violent actions against me as a teen. She is unquestionably responsible 100% for me being a homeless teen over and over again. She seemed to create an unsafe, violent, drunken, cold environment everywhere she went, even with her own children. So grieving her death is totally different than grieving my own parents’ deaths, as I do not have *anything* good to say about this woman as she never did anything decent with or for me as a child in her care. She actually tried to kill me, throwing me violently onto streets endlessly with no conscience or morals whatsoever. In addition, she traumatized me watching her abuse her own kids.
Yet I still feel guilty for being happy she is dead. But I would be lying if I said I was actually grieving in sorrow at her getting off this planet. I actually feel safer with her gone. I feel like the most frightening, cold, mechanical, maniacal human I have ever met is dead and that really is not a bad thing at all! Yet still, societal norms say I should be silent if I have nothing good to say about Geri at her death, and also there is some implicit obligation to respect Death, itself, by not talking badly about the deceased. Yet if I am silent, she just got away with murder. If I am silent, I am now doing her bidding, yet again. In some twist on Rev. Dr. M.L.King’s comment about in the end remembering not the hurtful words of his enemies, but the cowardly and dangerous silence of his friends instead…I think that for me to stay silent, and to join in on the myth of Geri aka “Tookie,” somehow being a “loving mother,” the myth that my alcoholic father wants to build in the wake of her death, would somehow implicate me in something not honest on a spiritual level. I feel it would tie me to Geri even from the grave and I want this to be the time when all ties with her are cut free!
I feel like being silent about Geri’s criminal level child abuse makes me involved with the whole family spider web of lies and shameful secrets, something I want no part of. And for me, the term “breaking the silence” actually has some relevance here. I feel that I should be allowed to “break the silence” about my stepmother as the rights I earned being abused at her mercy as a child. Thus I *do* feel I not only have a right to be honest about Geri Anderberg’s abusive past as I stand on her new grave, but actually an obligation to speak out about what she has done this lifetime. I wonder how many other survivors of serious child abuse have felt this consternation over these issues? I am sure this is something others have been confused by too. Death of an abuser and the issues of silence are huge, as another feeling I have is I do not think it is right that she did all that abuse of kids, then just dies and the secret dies with her. Something about that is not right.
“…Ever take a minute just to show a real emotion, in between the moisture cream and velvet facial lotion? Ever tell your kids you’re glad that they can think? Ever say you love them, ever let them watch you drink? Ever wonder why your daughter looks so sad? It’s such a drag to have to love a plastic mom and dad.” – Frank Zappa
As I think back on our house where Geri was married to my dad and she ruled like a dictator, in Granada Hills, I realize that I never once saw any of Geri’s kids do homework. I never heard her ever ask any of her kids, or me, “Did you do your homework?” Now, as a mother myself, that is one of the hardest parts of every day! The homework fight! But she never had that consternation in the house since Geri had a don’t ask don’t tell policy around homework apparently when we were kids in school under her “care.” And only one of her daughters got a college degree, and Geri was livid, out of her mind enraged, when her daughter got accepted to college. And never went to the graduation of her one daughter that defied her and actually got a college degree. Geri never took us to see any of her kids, or me, do anything extracurricular. We did not play on sports teams with family members cheering us on, I never went to even one team sports event of one of my sisters. I do not remember going to *any* of Geri’s kids’ school events or any other events where one of them was shining in a spotlight showcasing their talents and the family was supporting them. I also have noticed that Geri and Geri’s girls don’t cry. And I realize I hid when I cried from Geri as she was a monster if you cried near her, she would bully and disgrace you for that. She was not loving in any way that I can discern, even with her own daughters. I remember her telling one of her teen daughters to go get a job as a pole dancer, bringing her the want ads, when she was 18.
I have some serious issues with Geri’s ex-husband Jimmy Hopper who was a pedophile in my experience and opinion. I lived with Jimmy and Geri, before my dad had an affair with her and married her, in 1969 when I was 8. Jimmy sexualized all girls, no matter what age, in front of everyone without shame, talking about even little girls’ “titties,” as well as other completely inappropriate public (and private) sexual behaviors with minors. And he was a drunk, which made things exponentially worse. He was the first person to French kiss me. At age 13. At his house. It felt like rape and I still remember it vividly. When I told my dad that Jimmy had French kissed me, I was never forced to go with my sisters to Jimmy’s house again, but they still were dropped off there! I do not think it entirely appropriate to talk about all of his sexual abuse issues in addition to his alcohol issues here, but he was dangerous to children and Geri was FULLY aware of this. And yet, long after leaving Jimmy to live with my dad, she would drop her girls off with a man she knew was not safe in any way, a man dad had deemed too unsafe for *his* girl to be near, but not Geri. Her kids she handed right over to him without any conscience at all. I can only attest to the sexual abuse I witnessed myself with Jimmy, I am not saying anything about anyone else. I am just saying he was doing pedophile things next to me, and to me, and that my sisters were alone with him for years after Geri divorced Jimmy, due to Geri’s non-parenting style.
So, I used to think that Geri just abused me, and was just terrible to me, not her own kids, due primarily to their fear of breaking the silence of child abuse and some internalized shame about abuse. But as years have gone on and drug and alcohol problems have been identified among them, and small utterances of our abuse as kids trickle out of the kids that were present, I have begun to connect the dots. And granted, she was especially viscous and demeaning to me and my dad’s kids. But she was no picnic for her own kids either. And I realize now with age, looking back, that I saw her and Jimmy abusing her own kids and it was actually traumatizing to me too, to watch her do that to her own kids too. I had never seen a grown man fondle young girls like that. I, myself, had never before had to fight a grown man’s hands off of touching me in ways I was absolutely not comfortable with. And it was really weird to have no adult intervene even though adults such as Geri were present. Thus is the non-parenting model Geri presented. Geri in turn encouraged her girls to look sexual. Now, *that* I saw her doing. I saw her teaching her girls how to wear push up bras, wigs, color their hair, etc…but I never ever saw her doing one thing academic or artistic with them such as my mom did with me. Geri and I fought endlessly about her wanting me to look sluttier and me resisting, sticking to academia and music for virtue instead.
I never felt safe with Geri around. She was always creating soap operas, and everything was always so negative as soon as she came around. She was well-known for being “fake.” She was “phoney on top, and phoney underneath,” as Zappa would say. Fake everything - fake hair color, lots of makeup, cosmetic surgery, push up bras, etc. I would have to say if there was one thing that Geri had a talent for, it was “fakeness.” In college, she was named “most polished,” but that could have many connotations! Sometimes I wonder if she even had a soul, to be honest. She is sort of an enigma to me in ways, as I wonder how on earth you could live with yourself being the woman she is, but then I remember my mom teaching me to be glad when you cannot understand how people like that work.
So I have mixed emotions here today. The woman who abused not only me, but her own kids in front of me as well, has finally kicked the bucket. I know I am supposed to care. But the only reason I care is it means good riddance. Then I feel guilty for saying or thinking that. Then I get pissed and say I have a “right” to break her silence. And then I get sad, thinking “why?” Why did Geri have to make life a living hell for me and my sisters? Only ONE out of her own 6 kids, made it to age 18 at home with that level of abuse due to her behaviors. If she had just been healthy and not so twisted, all of us could have had a safe home, gone to college, been supportive and loving family, but Geri was like some kind of anti-gelling agent! There would be no success, no health, no bonding…instead everyone in the family was under her dark cloud and put into SURVIVAL MODE, always watching our backs due to Geri. And now the sky has cleared, and she is no longer blocking the sun.
I would actually like to hear from others who have had these sorts of “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead!” celebratory feelings about their abusers dying. You can email me at kirstena [at] resist.ca with your own stories about this confusion and maybe if I get enough emails, I can write another article on it with new information! I have also posted a long list of personal memories and stories of specific instances of child abuse by Geri online at http://resist.ca/~kirstena/pagegeri.html if you would like to know more. I have posted a poem or two about all this there, as well. You have to have done some pretty bad stuff to actually inspire someone to list your child abuses in the wake of your death, but Geri “Tookie” Anderberg actually did do some pretty bad stuff and I just cannot be obligated to keep her silence, to protect her guilt, at this late stage of the game. It is the end of an era, and it feels quite good. The names *will not* be changed to protect the guilty.