oday I will discuss grief and relief. I will answer the question: is it wrong to feel relief when someone dies? Spoiler alert, it’s not a mistake. It can be very natural and normal. I will begin by briefly defining sadness, relief, and guilt, and discuss how emotions do not change. We will then discuss some specific situations and relationships that could lead to relief after a death . And finally, we’ll look at ways to manage the complex emotions that can follow the death of a loved one.
Definition of sadness, relief and guilt
Grief is the complex emotional response to the loss of someone or something that is meaningful to you. The end of a relationship can cause grief. So can losing a job or graduating from school. But probably the loss we most often associate with grief is the loss of a loved one. This loss can lead to a wide variety of emotions: anger, disbelief, fear, sadness, shock. While many of these feelings may be expected, some others may be more surprising. This can include relief and guilt.
Relief is a feeling of ease, security, or release after stress, anxiety, or pain has been removed. We may not automatically associate relief with the loss of a loved one. However, many circumstances surrounding a relationship or associated with a loss can be associated with feelings of anxiety, distress, and pain. And if a death ends these feelings, a sense of relief may automatically follow. And while this relief is completely natural and normal and something that happens on its own, it can lead to feelings of guilt.
Guilt is the idea that we deserve the blame for some offense. Say that something bad happens, like losing a loved one. We may think that feeling any positive emotion associated with it is wrong. And then we feel guilty for having those feelings. But feeling relieved after the death of a loved one can be a very normal reaction. It doesn’t mean the person feeling the relief is wrong, or uncaring, or wanted to die.
Read more about understanding and managing grief.
Emotions don’t come in order
Now might be a good time to remind ourselves that feelings don’t alternate. One of the reasons why someone may feel guilty about feeling relief after a loved one dies is that they will think it means they are not hurting enough because of the death. They may think they don’t hurt enough if they also feel relief. They may think this means they didn’t love the person enough or even wanted them to die. This is absolutely false. The thing to remember about emotions is that they are complicated, especially the emotions associated with grief. They can be messy and stressful and don’t just appear one at a time.
You may feel completely devastated by the loss of a loved one and, at the same time, relieved that their pain is over . You can feel the deepest sense of sadness and relief that you no longer have to spend every day in the hospital with your loved one. We can feel more than one, two or seven emotions at once. That doesn’t make any of them any less valid, and it certainly doesn’t mean we didn’t love someone enough.
Types of loss that can lead to grief and relief
There are many reasons why someone may feel relief after the death of a loved one. We will explore some of these, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
When our loved one is elderly or terminally ill or suffering from mental illness or serious addiction, they may experience great pain and distress. This ends with their passing. Being relieved that they are no longer in pain and that we no longer have to see them in pain can naturally lead to feelings of relief. This does not mean that we wished them dead, but rather we recognized that their suffering was finally over.
When a loved one is terminally ill or elderly, we may begin the grieving process long before their actual death. This preliminary grief can be just as painful as postmortem grief and can last for a long or indefinite period of time. Often, when the anticipated death does occur, a sense of relief may accompany the end of anticipated grief as that particular painful period draws to a close.
Some relationships with loved ones can be particularly complicated or challenging. This complication can continue after death in the grief we feel. If we had a difficult relationship with a loved one, possibly involving abuse, anger, avoidance, or alienation, a sense of relief might accompany that death as we realize that the pain associated with the relationship may be over. However, we should keep in mind that these relationships could lead to many other complex emotions during the grieving process.
The time and effort often required to care for an elderly or ill loved one can leave many people completely drained, emotionally, mentally and physically. For some people, caring for a sick loved one can take more time and energy than a full-time job. When expected death arrives, of course it is painful. But as the stress of constant work is lifted, a sense of relief can be perfectly normal. In no way does it mean that the caregiver or carer loved the person any less, just that they were human beings with normal limitations.
Elderly or ill people may experience personality changes, especially if various mental health issues are involved. Personality changes can sometimes lead to painful changes in relationships with these loved ones, as they lose shared memories, forget our identity, or become suspicious or less friendly. Their passing can bring the turn to an end, allowing us to focus on the less painful memories before the illness, which in turn can bring a sense of relief.
How to manage grief, relief and guilt
After hearing all this, you might say, “Yeah, but I still feel guilty.” So now that we understand how and why we may feel relief, but still have the sadness and guilt possibly. So here are some things to keep in mind to help manage grief and guilt.
Remember: it’s normal.
Feeling some relief associated with the loss of a loved one is completely natural and something many people feel. It’s important not to be unfairly hard on yourself. Instead, give yourself the understanding and compassion you deserve as you navigate the complex emotions associated with grief.
Forgive the guilt
Think about the guilt you may have and practice the same compassion and forgiveness for yourself. Feelings are normal and do not prove that you did not care for your loved one.
Sometimes the guilt of relief we feel can be alleviated by really taking stock and reviewing everything we did for our loved one, especially when they were a caregiver. Making a list of all the responsibilities we used to have can help us understand why we would feel a natural relief when we no longer had to do them all.
Take your time
As I’ve said repeatedly, grief is an incredibly complex set of emotions and has no set timeline. Take the time you need to process it all and don’t try to rush it, thinking you’ve grieved enough. It can sometimes seem easier and then get worse again, and that’s normal too.
Contact your support team. You should always feel comfortable and ready to reach out to your own support group of family, friends, and loved ones so you can find people to help you navigate your emotions during these difficult times. You may also want to seek out a more formal grief support group.
Ask for help
In this regard, you should ask for help when you need it. Often after a death, the people who care for the bereaved do not know how to help them. Let them know what you need. They will be very grateful.
Finding the support and help of a mental health counselor, especially one experienced in grief counseling can be an invaluable tool in navigating the complex emotions you are feeling.
Read more about coping with grief and loss.
So, in conclusion, remember that grief can be full of complex emotions, including relief and guilt, and it’s all completely natural. Emotions don’t wait their turn. They can be in complex clusters and difficult to navigate. Relief can follow a death for a variety of reasons, all of which are normal and natural and in no way suggest that you cared less about your loved one. And after losing a loved one, it’s important to find ways to manage your grief and find support to help you through the difficult time.