By Isabella Simantov

Grief has many layers when a relationship is healthy, but even more so when you have a complicated relationship with the person who died. While all grief is hard work, dealing with loss following a difficult relationship can be particularly complex to process.

Feelings and emotions

Following the death of someone who you had a strained relationship with, you might have contradictory, negative, or unexpected emotions. When someone was a source of pain and distress in your family, the remaining family may find it extremely difficult to process and manage grief in a healthy way that brings closure and peace. You may feel alienated because your experiences and your grief do not match the other stories of grief you see in your community,  however, it is important to remember that you are not alone.

Your initial feelings may be ones of relief, which can also lead to feelings of regret for feeling this way. You might mourn the way things were in the past, or feel sadness for what was missing. Other common emotions may include guilt over not trying harder to mend the relationship or avoidance of thinking about the person altogether. Perhaps you feel that the person’s death means the loss of hope for any reconciliation.

Common responses

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 toward the person who’s gone or anger towards yourself
  • Grief even though others don’t ‘think’ you should be sad or because you feel you should not be sad

Remember that this is not a complete list. You may be feeling something entirely different, but know that whatever you’re feeling is normal.

Tips to manage your grief

If you’re faced with such a loss, here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Put away ideas of what you “should” be feeling. Every relationship is unique, and your grief will be unique too.
  • Find someone you can talk to openly about these difficult emotions. Sometimes those closest to us have the hardest time supporting us in grief. A mental health professional may give you the help you need to unpack and make sense of conflicting emotions.
  • Remember that it’s not too late to take care of “unfinished business” to move forward. Seek help with rituals or activities that promote healing. Journaling, letter writing, or another ritual of release might be helpful.
  • Know that it’s okay to remember the good and the difficult parts of the relationship as you grieve. Most relationships are a mixture of both.
  • Be gentle with yourself by eating well, moving your body some each day, and getting plenty of rest. Self-care goes a long way toward healing.

Grief can be an emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting process. In order to best support yourself through this difficult time, self-care needs to become a priority. Click here to access resources for parent self-care in our Grief Resource Hub.

For more information about the bereavement programs, activities and support we offer at Feel the Magic, click here.