When someone dies, it’s usually assumed that their family and friends will grieve for them with affection and remember them fondly. However, if you have had a difficult relationship with the person who has died, you may find that you have conflicting feelings about them which can be difficult and upsetting. This can be the case if the person was abusive or unkind to you or others, if you’re estranged from them or if you simply disliked them. 

In such situations, you can be left with lots of unanswered questions when someone dies, maybe even feeling regret about things you said or did or wanted to say or do, or maybe feeling angry about unresolved issues. Their death may even cause you to revisit uncomfortable or distressing feelings and memories that you may have suppressed, and you may need time and support to help you to cope with these feelings.

You may feel cheated of the opportunity to improve your relationship, or grieve for the relationship you wish you’d had, or you may not feel sad about the person dying at all even though others around you are upset, which may make you feel guilty or judged for your lack of upset. All these difficult feelings are normal and can be particularly acute at pivotal points in your life, such as if you start a new relationship, become a parent, or reach the same age as the person who has died.

Why don’t I feel the same as others about the person who has died?

When someone dies, others may have different feelings about the person or may even idealise them which can be difficult if this isn’t your experience of the person. This can cause friction within a family, and you may feel resentful, angry or guilty about not sharing their views.

It is perfectly normal to feel differently about someone to how other people feel and even to feel no sadness that the person has died. It’s important to accept that everyone had a different relationship with them and will grieve differently. There will always be a range of emotions around someone dying and your emotions are equally as valid and normal for you as they are for anyone else.

How can I resolve my feelings about the person who has died?

After someone dies, we usually maintain some sort of bond with them through remembering them and the relationship we had with them. If you thought fondly about the person, this can eventually be comforting. However, if you did not think fondly of the person, it can be more complicated: you may never fully resolve your feelings about the person who has died and may grieve the relationship you wish you had - you may need time to accept and come to terms with the relationship you did have with them.

It can help to express how you feel in a way that is safe. You could write an unsent letter to the person who has died saying how you feel about them. You might want to keep it or you may wish to destroy it afterwards - the purpose of the letter is that it gives you an opportunity to write honestly about your feelings. Or perhaps you could try doing something creative to express your feelings such as writing a poem or doing some art or playing music.

If there are parts of your relationship with the person that you feel comfortable with, you might find ways to remember these, such as by looking at photos or writing a journal.

However, if you don’t want to remember them, that’s OK too. 

Can it help to talk to someone about my feelings?

Talking to someone outside your family can help you to have an honest conversation about your relationship with the person, grieve in a way that is right for you and help you to accept the reality of the relationship you had. 

Our bereavement support practitioners will provide a safe space for you to talk in confidence about your feelings without judgement.