Grief: Is it Okay to Feel Relief after a Loved One Dies?

BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
With our aging population, there are many of us who are grieving the slow dying of our elderly parents.  More and more of my fellow baby boomers are becoming part-time caregivers when our parents become less and less able to care for themselves. For some adults, this can be extreme, for others it is less so. It becomes routine for us to consider our parents’ needs before making plans. We make certain that they have food in the house and clean clothing.  We manage their finances and make sure prescriptions are filled and taken appropriately.  Juggling everything can be pretty complicated, but we do it because we love our parents and appreciate how they cared for us when we were children.

It is okay feel relief. When parents die after a long illness, many adult children feel relief. Grief is the expected emotion; relief often comes as a surprise. I have seen this time and time again in our bereavement center. Unfortunately, the bereaved feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit that their primary emotion is relief. This could lead to feeling guilty and conflicted. 

It is okay to feel relief. In truth, caregivers experience grief over the months and years that their loved one was declining. If the parent had dementia, they may notice in retrospect that mom or dad had been slowly disappearing for years. These caregivers have been grieving over the continuum of the illness. 

It’s okay to feel relief.  There are many other reasons to feel relief. In addition to feeling relief that the disease process and pain symptoms that went along with it are gone, one could feel relief from the caregiving responsibilities. For those who experienced abusive or domineering relationships, it may be feelings relief and independence.

Grief is a roller coaster of emotions. Feelings can include deep sadness, anger, regret, guilt and yes, relief. Please don’t beat yourself up for experiencing feelings. They are neither right nor wrong or good or bad. They are YOUR feelings. Many people find a group setting or working with a grief counselor helpful in exploring and learning from these natural grief reactions. Remember, you do not have to grieve alone.

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