Relief After A Death: The Unspoken Grief Emotion

Whenever we ask people about the emotions of grief, whether it is here on the blog, in a workshop, a group, or a class, the word relief inevitably comes up.  We’ve listed it off a time or two on WYG when discussing common responses to loss, but we’ll admit we’ve only touched on it in passing.  It really wasn’t until the other day, after we received a handful of comments about relief following our recent post about suicide grief, that I  realized the experience of relief after a death warrants its own discussion. It would seem we’ve been remiss for not discussing it sooner.

I’m going to pull a serious 8th-grade book report move here and start the conversation by defining relief.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are two definitions:

1. The act of removing or reducing pain, anxiety, etc.

2. The feeling of happiness that you have when something unpleasant stops or does not happen.

So, I’m not sure I would go so far as to use the adjective “happiness”, but based on this definition feeling relief after a death, in certain circumstances, does kind of make sense.  Death often comes after a period of intense and prolonged pain, anxiety, worry, fear, and suffering.  Although none of you wanted your loved one die, it’s only human to feel relief when their pain and suffering come to an end.  It’s also human to feel a tinge of relief when the distress you felt as a result of having to watch your loved one struggle has come to an end.

As logical and as common as the emotion of relief is in grief, it seems like grievers often carry it with them as though it’s a deep, dark secret.  For many, relief feels like something they should be ashamed of, it feels wrong, or as though it’s something they shouldn’t admit to.  This may be the case for a whole slew of reasons, many of which stem back to an interesting assumption about how emotions work.  Well, two assumptions really.

Assumption # 1: People often think they experience emotions one-at-a-time. Typically in any given moment if I were to ask you how you felt, you’d probably identify the most prevalent feeling – i.e. “I am scared”, “I am happy”, or “I am overwhelmed”.  However, in many situations, you can (and often do) feel multiple emotions at the same time.  You may even feel emotions that seem inconsistent with one another.  Ever heard of the phrase “mixed emotions”?

Assumption #2:  People often assume that feeling one emotion somehow detracts from or negates another.  So you may think to yourself – “If I am feeling relief, then I can’t possibly be as sad as I should be.”   When in reality you can be super sad and also a little relieved at the same time because emotions aren’t mutually exclusive.  You can have two emotions about two totally different aspects of an experience. You can feel relief that distressing emotions and physical pain have ended, but this relief does not lessen the devastation and intense sadness caused by the death of a person who you love very dearly.

So while we’re busting assumptions and misconceptions, let’s discuss a few common experiences related to relief.

1. The person was physically ill and suffering.  Caring for the person was mentally and physically exhausting and it was terrifying to watch the person lose their physical and/or cognitive faculties.

Myth: Feeling relief in this situation means you wanted the person to die.

Fact: Feeling relief in this situations means you are glad their suffering (and/or your suffering as a caretaker) has ended.  You did not want them to leave you, you would give anything for them to have been cured and to have lived pain free.  However, given the existence of ongoing pain, you wanted their suffering to end.

2. The person was suffering from addiction.  Addiction doesn’t just impact the person struggling with it, but the whole family.  It can create emotional, financial and legal issues for families.  It can keep families in a state of constant anxiety, guilt, shame, and hyper-vigilance, always fearing an arrest, overdose or death.  It can be a relief when these experiences end.

Myth: Feeling relief in this situation means you wanted the person you love to die.

Fact: What you wanted was for your loved one’s addiction to end so their suffering could be over and so that they could be the person they were before their addiction.  Your hope was for recovery, not death.  You relief is not because you wanted them to die, but because the toll of the addiction itself has been lifted.

3. The person was battling mental illness.  As many commenters mentioned on our recent suicide post, the strain of mental illness and the fear of a suicide death can be overwhelming for family members.  Like addiction, there can be a continuous sense of helplessness, loss of control, and anxiety.  The person’s death is devastating, but the relief from those constant feelings and experiences is undeniable.

Myth: Feeling relief in this situation means you wanted the person to die.

Fact: Much like with addiction, all you wanted was for your loved one to find manageable treatment for their mental illness so their suffering could end. Your hope was for stability, not death. You do not feel relief because you wanted them to die, but because the anxiety and constant fear has been removed.

4. The person was an abusive person or you and the person were in a problematic/unhealthy relationship. These relationships are often marital or parent/child relationships, but can be true of any type of relationship where a person feels constantly trapped and controlled by another person.

Myth:  Your relief mean you hated the person and wanted them to die.

Reality:  You wanted to escape the relationship.  In many cases, an outside observer may think you could have ended the relationship at any time, but you may have felt it was not possible for a number of reasons.  When the person dies, the death can cause relief because the painful and problematic relationship has ended, even though you may have wished it would have ended in another way.

This does get a little tricky when trauma or abuse is so severe that you may truly be glad they died because it brings a sense of justice, or because no matter what you would have felt fear and anxiety knowing the person was still in the world.  Such experiences, thoughts, and emotions can be extremely complex, so if you are struggling with guilt in these situations you may want to think about talking to a counselor.

If you have been struggling with guilt around feeling relief after a death,  you are most certainly not alone.  There is no magic way to resolve your guilt, but what we hope you will remember from today’s post, if nothing else, is that relief is extremely common and incredibly normal in grief.  Feeling relief about certain aspects of your loss in no way diminishes or minimizes your love for the person or your grief from that loss.

Keep the conversation going by sharing your question, comment thought or experience with relief in the comments below.  And, as always, subscribe over on the sidebar to get our new posts right to your inbox!

 

 

May 21, 2019

54 responses on "Relief After A Death: The Unspoken Grief Emotion"

  1. Hello. I needed this post as well. I feel so many emotions. My husband was bipolar, and he was abusive towards me, and the marriage had been over for years but he would not let me just leave peacefully. I also found out near the end that he sexually abused my daughter. When he committed suicide, I felt soooo much relief but being with him for 14 years, I loved him also. I think other people will hate me for being relieved, and I hate myself for loving him. This post made me feel like I’m not alone in feeling guilty about the relief part.

  2. It’s soo hard on me right now. I’m not the same person anymore, especially when I’ve given soo much and seen so little in return.

    I just want to be happy again. Death takes such a toll on your life, and mental state of mind, it just seams like I should be farther than this with my emotions.

    I’m so thankful that I NEVER told anyone, to just get over it….

    All of my life I’ve always been the one to encourage others, but I’m at the point where I need someone to encourage me. I pray that I’m not sounding selfish, however, if it had not been for God on my side leading and guiding me, I would not have made it through this painful time in my life.

    I pray daily to never treat anyone mean and hateful, because words hurt so bad and they can remain in your soul long after death.

  3. I truely enjoyed reading all of the post about feeling relief when a toxic, mean, manipulative, narcissistic loved one dies. This is exactly how I felt about my mother when she passed.

    All of the above mentioned PAIN STOPPED. Oh it was such a relief, but I did’t have anyone in my life to explain exactly how I felt.

    I’m so thankful that I ran across this site, just reading all of the testimonies brought so much joy to my heart, because I thought I was the only one that felt this way.

    Thank you so much for all of your good work.

  4. My mom had lung cancer. It came out of nowhere and we were told right away that it was stage 4 and pretty much they could do nothing but keep her comfortable. A little over a year after her diagnosis she had started to decline quickly after doing so well with her treatments. In and out of the hospital, seeing my mother struggle with pain and not even the strongest pain pills being able to take her pain completely away, countless nights spent at hospitals getting very little sleep, seeing my mom go from being able to do everything on her own to not being able to even make it to the bathroom on her own, having to use a wheelchair, growing weaker and weaker by the day as I saw her eyes sunken in looking like the life was being sucked from her body. It was my worst nightmare, but this was reality. I don’t know how I remained so strong during this time, I guess I had to. My mom was in so much pain the night she passed on. She was in ICU with a tube down her throat writing that she was in pain. I pressured the nurse for more pain meds, to do whatever they could to make her more comfortable. She wrote that she didn’t want to go through another night of pain. A couple hours later she was gone. Relief can’t even express what I felt. I was a sad, but a strange euphoria came over me as I realized that she didn’t have to suffer through another night of pain ever again.

  5. Jean KirschenheiterJuly 20, 2019 at 4:16 pmReply

    I am a gold star mother. My son served in the Army for 20 years. I lost him to the PTSD & Veteran Suicide Epidemic in 2016. I feel the guilt. I talked to him on the phone that very morning. It’s a long story. To post here. He was my pride and joy. I did not no he was suffering after 4 tours in Iraq/ Afghanistan. In some ways I know he not in pain anymore. But now he passed that pain to me.

  6. There is another cause if relief which you didn’t mention. Many LGBTQ people suffer because their otherwise loving parents won’t accept this important aspect of them. Or they are afraid to come out because they percieve that their parents will react badly.

    Six weeks after my husband died, one of my children, age 16, told me she was a transgender girl. I spent 3 days in a panic, and then I hopped on board with all my heart. Can’t see doing it another way.

    I used to say, “my loss, her gain”, because she clearly felt relief when her father died, that she could finally show the world who she was. (I never said that to her, of course!)

    We have different opinions about what her dad would have done. She’s convinced that he could never be supportive. I know he would have, just would have dragged his feet, and ours, on taking any action. In some ways it was definitely easier to be a single mom for this, so I could just do what I thought was necessary, without second guessing all the time. But it was more lonely too. I am sad that my daughter will never hear her father call her my her true name, and that I will never hear him say, “I’m proud of how you’re raising our children, Laurie.”

    I get great support from PFLAG, especially their Chicago based Parents of Transgender Individuals group.

  7. Thank you. I lost my dad 7 years ago due to illness and my pet just now due to illness. I have the same feelings of relief guilt. I love and miss them so much.

  8. Thank you . I lost my dad7 years ago due to illness and my pet just now due to illness, I gave the same feelings for each of relief guilt. I love and miss them so much. Thank you again

  9. Thank you for posting this. Always makes it better to know you are not alone in your feelings. I have had 2 of these experiences in the last 4 years. One relief from suffering and the other relief from abuse of family members. To see the years of suffering from disease end and to see the years of suffering from abuse end brought me a release. A burden I could now set down and not carry any longer.

  10. Thank you for this post..it’s really helped me.

  11. I was feeling incredibly ashamed that I described to a friend that I felt “relieved” after my brother died from a heroin overdose about a month ago. Thank you for your article, it had very good descriptions of the feelings associated with relief after a death. Of course I didn’t want my brother to die, I wanted so badly for him to do well. Wondering where he was, what he was doing, him begging for money, and expecting his death were all very stressful for myself. He also struggled most his life, and knowing that his struggles are gone and the absence of these stresses creates a sense of relief. If someone asked me how I felt about my brother dying, would I respond “relieved?” Of course not. It’s certainly not my primary emotion. And I can see how it’d be taboo to admit this feeling or talk about it, but thanks for doing so.

    • I lost my brother just a few days ago, and I felt oddly calm today. I thought seeing my other siblings would make me break down, but it didn’t. I had worried so much about my brother over a long period of time, that part of me definitely feels at peace that I don’t have to worry anymore. Feeling like that has made me feel a little guilty. I’ve definitely cried a lot, and I’ll miss him for the rest of my life, but I don’t want to he sad forever. Maybe that’s part of it too? I don’t know. I might also get really sad all over again next week, or whatever. Who really knows ? Sorry, that was a long reply to you, but I just felt a similarity in our situations.

  12. This article really helped me work through some of my grief. A former mentor of mine turned out to be abusive to her star student, and later was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I was able to mostly reconcile that after our contact was cut for legal reasons, but I thought about her often and even worked for her sister at a different organization for a while. My mentor recently passed away from a heart attack, and it’s difficult to reconcile all the negative emotions and memories with the positive memories and everything she did for me and my career.

  13. My relief came like a wind through me when I first looked at my Autistic son hanging by a rope after he killed himself. Everyone was in a panic and calling 911. I was swept with this “relief” and it stoped me for a minute. But I kicked in and helped cut my son down . We tried cpr but it was too late. He was 16. He had struggled a lot in the past year. He was an intelligent Autistic which they call Savants. IQ of 148. He felt his Autism was a curse.
    I often go to that door andcremember the wave of “relief” I felt that day.
    How can I explain this? It’s in no way how I feel now and it only lasted about 60 seconds.

  14. I hesitate to write because my situation is about the loss of my dog of 11 years who was recently put to sleep. My pain though is pervasive as that I experienced after death of family members. However, with my pet i feel sad, but also relief which I did not feel with family. Relief that I no longer have to put her in her hated crate whenever I went out or watch her pace if she thought I may go out; relief I no longer see her get confused due to diminished sight, hearing, possible onset of senility; relief she died before experiencing pain from pancreatitis, unresponsive to extended medical care. I feel such relief I can come and go without worrying about her, relief from the great financial cost. I do not feel guilty about letting her go, but so guilty about the relief I feel as a result of her death. This article, and reading that I am not alone in this journey has been tremendously helpful.!

    • You’re not alone. I’m right with you in all of this, having just had to put to sleep my barely five-year-old cat Stanley, and two months later, my 19-year-old died after a sudden and challenging decline. I spent about four months’ wages between January 2018 and last week taking care of sick kitties, and had 23 non-routine vet visits. Olympia survived an emergency pyometra spay. Jasper had three visits for urinary blockages (now under control). Tyler has constipation and possibly megacolon, and he was in and out but our new vet and the new meds seem to finally have that under control.

      Stanley was sick his entire life, first with herpes, then also stomatitis, then last year he developed a grade 3 murmur, HCM, severe anemia, and CKD. His treatment began with a vet visit every four months or so for maintenance shots and devolved into frequent visits, hospitalizations included, and at the end, he was on antiviral, antibiotic, two heart meds, three supplements, and had to be fed several times a day to keep weight on. It was brutal to watch him disappear on me, but the relief I felt when it was over… I have felt SO guilty about that. I want my Stanley back. I want my snuggler. But I can’t have him back without the rest of it, and I don’t want the rest of it, not for him or for me. I’d give anything to have a healthy Stanley back in my life.

      Jake’s end was very short–a week between diagnosis and losing him on Monday, but the care he needed to try to bring him back to “living” was intense, and the prospect of keeping that up for weeks, months or years was daunting. I’m exhausted from Stanley. That was five years of it, plus Tyler had his issues off and on; Zander (RIP) had his until 2016; and I lost Blue to CKD a few months before Stanley appeared, and Ophelia in 2015 at 21.

      Basically, for the past five and a half years, I’ve been a cat nurse running a hospice.

      Tyler still requires daily meds and occasional subQs, but if I miss them for a couple of days, he doesn’t die, he just maybe gets constipated. He’s not a challenge. Taking care of him doesn’t require “relief” at this point. But Jake and Stanley, and the ones before them, required a lot out of me.

      I’m realizing it’s natural to feel relief and it shouldn’t be criticized. Relief is a natural part of grief, and in no way does it diminish the sadness. It also doesn’t matter if it’s relief over the end of that struggle with a human, or with a pet. Life is life, loss is loss, and the stress of caregiving is the same regardless.

  15. Thank you for this article. I am on the other side of the situation now, where I have a brother (32 years old) that has been using narcotics for the past 10 years, most of the time living in our family home and being physically and financially abusive to my parents. A year ago he suffered a major heart attack and stroke from using, and has been inbetween a hospital and long term care facility since then. He is scheduled to be released into a less secure setting in a couple of weeks, but he’s already started using again, sneaking cocaine into the nursing home at least four times. There’s nothing I’d rather have than for him to be alive and healthy and happy. I’ve prayed for it for a long time. I know however, that he has no intention of being clean, and he’ll go back to using full time when he’s released. We’ve put it off as long as we can, but legally, we can’t keep him locked up there if he’s healthy enough to leave. I have accepted he is going to die, and I actually feel a degree of peace when I think about it. His addiction has taken over every part of our lives. I’m a person of faith and I believe that he will find complete healing when he passes. It will devastate my family forever, but having him alive and using will also devastate us and put others around him at risk. I don’t worry about him dying, I worry about him killing or injuring someone else with his violent behavior. I know that when he passes, I will be devastated at the loss of any more chances for him to recover, but I will feel relief that everyone in his life is safe from his abuse.

  16. Thanks for this. I lost my mum a fortnight ago. I loved her very dearly and I was very close, but her depression had got bad over the last two years and her drink problem too. She died in hospital to an unrelated issue and I have been feeling guilty for the small sense of freedom I have been feeling.
    I truly love her with all my heart and I hope she is at peace. I’m proud to have had her as my mum, she gave nothing but pure unselfish love.

  17. I lost someone to addiction recently. I feel relief on a few levels. The first, of course, is I’m so relieved that he doesn’t hurt anymore, that his addiction is over, and that he’s free of this thing that tortured him and that he hated. But the second, and this is the one I struggle with, is that I’m also relieved I don’t have to be around him anymore or feel guilty for not inviting him into my life. Someone above mentioned their loved one had alcoholism and there were two of him: the loving person and the abusive addict. That’s the case here, too. I would have given anything to take his addiction away. The person he was under that disease was truly remarkable. He was funny, caring, artistic, smart…simply full of life and love. But with the disease, he was scary, manipulative, dishonest, unpredictable, selfish, uncaring, and abusive. It was painful to be near him and I often didn’t have anything to do with him for long stretches of time and avoided him as best I could. I feel guilty about that, too. If I had invited him into my life, would the world have seemed like a friendlier place, a place he didn’t need to escape with drugs? It’s hard for me to separate the relief I have of not having to be around the bad behaviour brought on by addiction from a feeling of wanting him gone, though I know I never wanted him gone, just that awful illness. I am relieved that I don’t have to see the addiction anymore and that it no longer will trouble our lives…but I would give anything if just the addiction could have died and he could still be here—whole, happy, laughing, and free.

    • I lost my dad to addiction. I was blown away by your comment because that’s exactly how I feel. I read stuff all the time but your comment nailed it all to a T.

  18. Reading your information on Relief has lifted a terrible burden of guilt and shame from me. I can never, ever thank you enough.

  19. Reading your information on Relief has lifted a terrible burden of guilt and shame from me. I can never, ever thank you enough.

  20. I know what your feelin Sue, my sisters husband passed and it is a blessing. He was mentally and verbally abusive and (Im sure) at times may have physically abused her along with other family members. Having addictions to whatever came his way. It is a blessing he is gone and a major relief to many who had to deal with his problems. I pray for him but have no regrets he’s gone. For years, We were always afraid he was going to kill someone being under different influences.
    Life is so hard at times when things are going good… And then to add these negatives… At times can be unbearable. Dave is now at peace and so are we.
    May G-d bless you all.

  21. My dad passed away this February from cancer. My mom said he was in pain for 3 years, but I knew and saw that it had been many more years (10 at least). He told me when I was 12 that he was ready to die and also kept repeating the line “Life gets worse” over and over.
    To give you a background of it all, my parents are toxic (verbally abusive; my mom is worse). My dad loved my mom, but put her above all else and put up with her narcissism. She treated him terribly and of course that left him always angry and terribly miserable with life. However, despite it all, he stayed with her for 42 years.
    Back in 2008, he came home one day and told me he though he had cancer. I told him to go to the doctor, but my parents were bad about taking care of themselves and sadly he didn’t go until 2014 when it was too late and he was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer.
    The last time we had had a heart to heart, he flat out told me that he had died 2 years ago. I wasn’t sure what to think at the time.
    Also, my parents put me down all the time telling me that I wasn’t going to make it in life, or life would just stop when you get older because (according to my dad) it was going to get worse. I couldn’t cry in front of him because I got yelled at for showing human emotion.
    Fast forward to this year, my dad got worse, but the sicker he got, the more he realized that he was about to get what he wanted. Death.
    Love my dad dearly, but I have cried and been in emotional pain since I was 12 over his mental and physical anguish. I sought counseling, went to therapist, and even started to go to group therapy. I processed the situation, cried, and going through all stages of grief.
    I am 30 years old and now? Relief, finally good sleep at night. Yes. Relief isn’t bad at all. I love him, and miss him so very much and would give anything if he were still here but healthy and happy with life. But I am more relieved that he is no longer in pain and I no longer have to worry. So, thank you for posting this. It really helps.

  22. In 2004 I lost my youngest sibling to alcoholisim. I felt partially to blame because I am a recovered alcoholic and she often saw me drunk. But even though I sobered up, it wasnt enough reason for her to stop as well. At the last stages of her addiction she did some things I was worried would be a threat to my parents, so I was often mad at her or try to help her. When we lost her I did feel some relief, but I of course miss her greatly because I had wished she would had sobered up like I did. She was a wonderful sister and close friend when she was sober.
    But now I am about to lose my mom. She has been battling cancer since 2006. At times they claimed she was cancer free. only to find more cancer somewhere else. I feel greatful we got to keep her since 2006. But I still cry my eyes out at times. This past Monday she spoke to me and said she is ready to go. I told her not to give up, but she told me that even though so many were Praying for her, that she couldnt escape cancer. I didnt realize that was our last good conversation. Being that she had cancer spread in her liver, it was now talking hold. That evening she started sleeping alot and now 2 days later she is now unresponsive. She makes noises with her voice while snoring which indicates she is feeling some pain. The nurse said she will probaby be gone within 24 hours.
    A huge part of me is still in unbelief this has happened. Just last week she was so takative and now nothing. A part of me wants her suffering to end but yet I just dont want to lose her. I know I have no choice. Please Pray I get through this ok

  23. Thank you. This has given me the permission I needed to kill myself.

    • Sarah,

      I don’t want to presume that I know what you’re thinking or what you’re going through, but I promise you that if you harm yourself it will bring pain and sadness to others, not relief. I am sure that there are many people who love you and care about you and these people would be hurt deeply and profoundly if you were to take your life. This article talks about relief as an emotion that people sometimes feel in grief, but this type of relief is small and minuscule when compared with the intense feelings of pain these same people feel because their loved one is gone. After a loved one’s death most people feel that they would trade anything to have their loved one back and I am certain this is the case for those who loved you.

      Please reach out of someone for help immediately. You can walk into your local emergency room or call the suicide hotline 1 (800) 273-8255 (if you are in the US) and +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (if you are in the UK). If you are elsewhere just google suicide hotline and your country name. It is so common to feel as if there is no way out other than suicide, but please know there are ALWAYS other ways.

      Sincerely,
      Eleanor

  24. Eleanor, That is right. For some reason I am not getting the regular posts. I miss them! Thanks, Kathy

  25. I somehow dropped out of the list to

    Receive this invaluable blog. I miss you and need you now in my second year of grief over my son’s suicide. I have told many about WYG.

  26. I am so glad I ran into this article on feeling relief. The night we found our 25 yr old son dead from an overdose, I felt a moment of relief. I have been so ashamed of feeling this emotion, but finally came to understand it wasn’t for his death but for the hyper-vigilant state of fear, worry, anxiety, etc. about the known risks of being a heroin addict that I was living. Your article completely confirmed that for me and I feel even better now about that emotion of relief. Unfortunately this feeling of relief in my case was quickly filled with shock, trauma, and pain so unbearable I didn’t think I would survive. The definition of:The act of removing or reducing pain, anxiety, etc. fit the emotion I felt that night, even though it was a fleeting emotion.
    I have watched my mother now for years go through the stages of Alzheimers and have already grieved over the Mother I once had. With this situation, I wish that something takes her before she goes into those very last stages of this disease. It will end her suffering. Also wanted you to know how helpful this site has been for me in the last 41/2 years since my loss. I share it to every parent and parent groups that has lost a child. Thank you.

    • Oh Melinda, I am so sorry for the death of your son but so glad the site has been of support. Relief is an emotion I think many do feel ashamed of, despite how common it is. We are glad to give a space for people to share that they can relate to this feeling. Thank you so much for the kind words about the site. Knowing that it has been a help is what keeps us writing!

  27. When I read this posting on relief I was so grateful that your wonderful blog was dealing with something weighing so on my heart. Today I re read the posting and decided to read all the comments as well. I had determined not to comment myself because I did not want to upset my beloved husband. And there he was, the last to write! This is a good example, I think, of why this site is so valuable. Yes, we are talking to each other and walking through this together, but it is sometimes so hard to tell someone even as close as a spouse that one of my grief emotions is relief. Thank you for the way you are helping us all.

    • Oh my gosh Kathy, thank you SO much for commenting. This just made me so happy and a little teary. It is a reminder of exactly why we wanted WYG to exist when we started it. Wishing comfort to you both.

  28. This posting spoke so directly to me as the first anniversary of my son Steven’s suicide (June 6th) approaches.
    Steve suffered for over twenty years from alcoholism and bipolar disorder. When he was sober and stable, he was a sensitive, loving, happy poet. When he was drunk, he was an abusive monster. He and we often spoke about the “two Steves.” I deeply miss the “real Steve.” I cry daily wishing that I could walk with him, laugh with him or go to a ballgame with him.
    Yet I feel relief that I don’t have to see the alcohol ravaged Steve, to endure his abuse to our family, or to cringe when the phone rings wondering what new crisis was happening.
    Thank you for your post about feeling two seemingly contradictory emotions at the same time.

  29. My husband passed away on May 29 after a very long illness which caused him to have to spend the last 3 years of his life in a nursing home. I prayed that he would just not wake up one morning and when I got a call from the nursing home at 5:30 In the morning I knew before even answering the phone. It’s hard to describe the intense sense of relief I felt, yet so many people could not understand and still expected me to cry and carry on. I couldn’t do it. So when I opened my email on June 1, just 2 days after his death, and saw your article I was so pleased. I felt like you were speaking directly to me. Thank you.

    • Oh Jo, timing is an amazing thing sometimes. I am so glad this post came just when you needed it. We will be thinking of you and hope our site is of some support in the months to come.

  30. Thanks for validating my feelings of relief, though you are not the only ones. I have not had the feeling yet that I had to apologize. I truly am one of the lucky ones. After my husband’s cancer diagnosis last July, he was given weeks to months to live. He chosen no treatment but continued to go on living as if he was going to live much longer. He lived til May 9, recording music in his studio , doing projects around the house and visiting with friends and family. Hospice care was incredible and helped me so much along the way to be prepared for having him die in my arms. Since that moment I have not hesitated to tell anyone that I, and everyone who knew him, have grieved since the moment we learned of his illness and now it is time to celebrate him and his life well lived. Sure I miss him and cry sometimes and will continue, but I feel joyful in knowing that he is no longer in pain and suffering. And I feel so blessed that he was not ripped tragically from me with no time to even say goodbye, nor did he linger in prolonged illness in an altered state of mind or body. To those of you who have had to endure those experiences, my heart goes out to you and I sincerely pray for your healing and that one day you may feel relief and the ability to rejoice in the peace that now enfolds your loved one and allow that peace to enfold and mend your broken heart. Peace and love be with you.

  31. I was relieved when my father passed away. He was chronically ill for fifteen years, and increasingly difficult as his mental and physical abilities withered away. My mother stayed home and cared for him until she literally couldn’t do it any longer (physically or emotionally), when the effects of his Parkinson’s were complicated by a stroke. Was I sad when I got that phone call? Yes, of course. But that day was a long time coming, and preceded by a ton of heartbreak and worry and the continued mourning that people do when someone is alive, but has a disease that will kill him or her. For a long time I was mad at the universe for delivering this unto my father; he was a good guy, he didn’t deserve to be so profoundly debilitated, but generally, who does? There’s no use in shaking your fist at the sky. I think feeling a sense of relief that it’s over, and that now, finally, we can start to move on, is natural, and normal. Selfish? Maybe. But also healthy. It means we’re still here, and we know that life goes on.

  32. The only “relief” I’ve ever felt was when they found Osama bin Laden, one of the jerks responsible for planning the operation that killed him and thousands of others. I’ve certainly never felt any relief for how the death occurred and having ghastly last images (and now sounds from the tape) in my mind of his last moments hasn’t helped me. Nothing before or since has sounded even remotely like his last moments, least of all how people react in fictionalized accounts of what it’s like to die in a structure fire.
    I can’t find relief bc I can’t find any sense in what happened – not even “in reverse.” That’s what a spiritual person called Faith – trusting in advance something that will only make sense in reverse. I agree with Richard, my daughter’s godfather, who said that certain things “won’t make sense in reverse, forward, sideways, up or down.” He was referring to his two sergeants he saw die in Vietnam and he said it on Memorial Day.
    I feel relieved Osama bin Laden is dead for several reasons but the main one is that he was going to live out the rest of his life being like Hitler and just having had killed anyone he didn’t like. He was worse than Lord Voldemort that way.

  33. Deanna Clark WillinghamMay 31, 2016 at 1:17 pmReply

    Thank you for this post. I’ve felt a lot of guilt over the relief I have felt at my husband’s passing. I have worked through much of it but it still jumps up at me once in a while.
    He was ill for over 30 years, the last few were increasingly stressful and the caretaking was intense. I was blessed to be able to retire early to care for him full time the last 3 years, but it was very hard. Soon after he passed someone asked me if I felt relief and I said yes, and we were both shocked.
    I have found a lot of education, support and understanding in your blog and appreciate what you do very much.

  34. There was more than one occasion when I counseled a friend or family member that it was OK to feel relief that “X” was over. Even though it meant that it ended in death.

    That didn’t stop me from feeling that a horrible person feeling relief when my husband passed from an accidental overdose. I have described him as being ‘passively suicidal’ for the last 3 years of his life–when a MRSA infection started complicating chronic pain, mental health and addiction issues. Each reason you listed above was a check mark in my head. There was a relief on all 3 fronts – 1. chronic neck injury and recurring MRSA infections, 2. Pain killer addiction, and 3. Bipolar disorder.

    I felt so selfish that I was so relieved I didn’t have to take of or worry about him anymore. But that relief was also married with a relief that he was no longer in pain – mental and physical. It felt like I was not only marring my grief, but also marring what the relief I was feeling “should” be. (And don’t we all love those “should” statements when it comes to grief?)

    It’s six years later and I feel like I’ve come to grips with a lot of it. I’ve really been forging a new path in life for myself–but a majority of the grief landmines I run into come from the relief I felt. As much as I know that guilt is not healthy or fair to myself, I still feel it a lot.

  35. Loved this post and how “relief” is framed here. It’s what I’ve been saying myself for many years now. I’ve worked through many types of relief regarding several, very different kinds of losses, and can attest to the fact that, as you say, all these feelings are not “mutually exclusive” to one another.

    Re: #4, yes, I’ve felt GREAT relief over a couple of family members’ deaths. They were both highly abusive people, ruined many people’s lives (and even caused other loved ones to die prematurely), AND were a menace to society at large. To me, it seems a logical conclusion that in light of all that, I’d feel relieved, and personally, not even sad that they’re gone. In fact, I was glad that I and the world were finally rid of them and their destructive actions. There was much relief that at last, they then couldn’t hurt ANY more people.

    Most people don’t want to accept that’s how I feel, however, to which I inwardly respond, “Too bad, you don’t have to like it. It is what it is, and with good CAUSE.” That doesn’t make me a bad person, but more of a realist in this situation. There may be a bit of regret that over the course of everyone’s lifetime, things turned out this way, but given the huge length of time these people were so highly mentally disturbed and wreaking such havoc, I have an overriding compassion for myself for feeling as I do, and am not about to apologize for it. I also view it as having “saved” me more grief, as I’ve had far too much of that already, and largely because of these family members.

    • Deb – My father was a pedophile, so even though I loved him on some level, I was relieved that he would never abuse another person. Talk about mixed emotions.

      • Sue, I imagine mixed emotions is exactly the term for it. It makes sense that there would be a tremendous sense of relief with this loss, but that doesn’t change the pain that comes when someone close to us, and someone we care about, dies.

    • I am reading this article because my aging divorced parents have caused me a lot of unhappiness in my life. My mother is now very unwell and I am so burnt out trying to be empathetic to her although it continues to haunt me how disinterested and detached she has been as a parent to me.
      I do feel I will be very relieved when she dies. I had other older relatives I felt a huge amount of sadness and loss when they passed. My only sense of relief was that they were in heaven.
      I can’t say I have those feelings about my mother. Only will feel enormous relief to be free of this very difficult and unhappy relationship. I do wish her well but know her death will release me from a lot of stress and pain. She was “unwell” in so many ways for so many years. I tried “mission impossible” to
      create understanding and peace. Rationally I know I have given it my all at can to
      free myself personally. She is not a bad person. Just painfully destructive and I don’t think she even knows it. When she eventually passes it will be over and that will give me a sense of relief. I know it already.
      Thank you for this very insightful and honest article. Most people will not admit they are relieved when a family member dies

  36. I lost my husband in the floods in Houston tx April 18 2016 I am having a lot of flashbacks of his death please help me

    • Deanna Clark WillinghamMay 31, 2016 at 1:20 pmReply

      Deborah, I’m so sorry for your loss. I will keep you in prayer and hope you are comforted by friends and family in this stressful time.I hope you have a faith community to lean on, if not, know there are others praying for you and your well being.

    • Deborah, this site is not meant to be a substitute for local supports. When someone dies suddenly in a situation like your husband’s, it is common for people to experience trauma themselves. Please contact someone locally and get some help for what you are experiencing. If you are in the Houston area, here are a couple of places to start…https://crisishotline.org/http://www.legacycommunityhealth.org/services/behavioral-health/
      If you aren’t in the Houston area, doing a web search for crisis services in your area and making a call to find out what resources are available would be a good idea. Please take care of yourself.

    • Deborah, I am so sorry for what you are dealing with. Have you connected with a counselor or a support group? I would strongly suggest that as a first step if you have not done so and it may be helpful specifically to look for someone who works in not just grief, but also trauma. If you have not read it, we do have a post about traumatic loss here. If you need help locating a counselor please let us know.

  37. Thank you. I didn’t know how much I needed to see this until it was laid out in front of me in this post.

  38. Most beautiful n needed email in a while <3

Leave a Message

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer

WYG provides general educational information from mental health professionals, but you should not substitute information on the What’s Your Grief website for professional advice.

See our terms and conditions here

See our privacy policy here

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255

PhotoGrief

Share Your Snapshot

Grief In 6 Words

Submit a Story to Us

What's Your Grief Podcast

Listen to our podcast