Grief has many layers when a relationship is healthy, but even more so when you have a complicated relationship with the person who died, such as an absent or abusive parent, a sibling who caused constant conflict in the family, or an unloving spouse. When someone was the source of pain and dysfunction, how can survivors process and manage grief in a healthy way that brings closure and peace?

Handling Complicated Emotions

Your initial feelings may be ones of relief and regret. You mourn the way things were and you’re sad for what was missing, such as healthy boundaries and loving interactions. Other common emotions may include guilt over not trying harder to mend the relationship or avoidance of the person altogether. Additionally, this person’s death means the hope of reconciliation isn’t possible.

Some common responses might be:

  • Numbness, shock, or lack of sadness over the loss
  • Happiness or relief that the source of stress and conflict is gone
  • Regret over what was missing and lack of reconciliation
  • Anger and justification of your anger toward the person who’s gone
  • Grief even though others don’t think you should be sad

Moving Forward

When someone is the cause of heartache in your family, it’s important to recognize and process your complicated grief in a healthy manner to keep destructive thoughts and behaviors at bay. You can acknowledge the complexity of the loss without becoming a broken, angry person yourself. Seeking closure is important to your own health and peace of mind.

Consider these tips as you unpack your grief:

  • Be honest when processing and naming your emotions. 

It can be therapeutic to journal your thoughts without sugar-coating them. Write a letter to the person who’s died. Talk with a trusted friend, family member, support group, clergy member, or counselor. Don’t hold back and let them know you are processing out loud to get to a place of healing.

  • Allow yourself to mourn.

You are allowed to be sad over what was and what wasn’t – a lonely childhood, constant arguing, lack of expressed love. This article at Funeral Basics advises you to “turn anger at the other person into compassion for yourself.” Remind yourself that that child was worthy of love and affection. Tell yourself that you didn’t deserve the mistreatment. You are offering yourself the care and compassion that the other person didn’t give.

  • Choose forgiveness.

This may seem impossibly difficult, but this act is more for you than the offender. Bitterness can erode your peace and happiness; instead of letting resentment grow, accept what was and release the power that person held over your life. By forgiving, you are not condoning their behavior, but you are making a conscious choice to let go and move on. The act of forgiveness ultimately aids in your peace and wellbeing. Be willing to seek therapy or counseling to help you work through the process of complicated grief and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that takes time, so be kind and patient with yourself. 

Handling the Funeral of a Difficult Loved One

At funerals, family and friends typically gather to share fond memories of the one who’s died. This is especially complicated for the death of a difficult loved one. It’s important to remember a few things to help you handle the funeral. Not everyone had the same experience with this person as you did. They may have been universally loved at work or in their friendships. Accept this reality and don’t minimize others’ grief. 

When it comes to the eulogy, one grief counselor recommends giving an honest eulogy: “There are many colorful yet respectful ways to say the same thing without causing a scene or being disrespectful at the funeral.” Or you can simply decline speaking at the funeral and let someone else, like a clergy member, offer final thoughts. 

Finding Freedom and Closure

John Ochiagha, a chaplain with Heart to Heart Hospice in San Antonio, Texas, says he often affirms and commends the choices of caregivers in difficult family situations, who are often sacrificing greatly. “I simply listen and am present, guiding them to work out their own grief,” John said. “I let them know they can have peace, knowing they’ve done their best.”

At some point, caregivers probably felt love (or still do) for the difficult person who is now gone. You can recognize those complex, contradictory feelings as normal. Then make it a goal to work toward processing your grief and finding peace. By observing their hurtful actions, you can let them go and build positive, loving relationships in your own life. The peace you achieve brings lasting freedom and closure from a difficult chapter of your life.

If you need a trusted hospice company to guide you through end-of-life and bereavement support, discover if Heart to Heart Hospice serves your area of Indiana, Michigan, or Texas.