Even in our supposedly liberal culture there are still things we find impossible to talk about, or even to admit to ourselves. One of them is the fact that we sometimes feel relieved when a partner, spouse or parent dies. We feel that we should be sad or at least be seen to be sad when an unloved family member passes away.
If we secretly do feel relieved we usually feel very guilty about it. It's not allowed, not acceptable. "Do not speak ill of the dead!" we learn. Why is that? Because if we do they might haunt us? This could be one possible, unconscious fear. Or is it because so many who live in unhappy families or relationships still do everything to keep up appearances because they feel ashamed and embarrassed.
The collective expectation is still that we live in happy families and relationships even if reality is so different. An old friend of mine who allowed me to tell this story had a very difficult relationship with her father who was a violent and volatile alcoholic. She grew up in fear and never knew what disaster was going to happen next. She left home very young and after many years felt that she was over it and had forgiven her father. But when he died she didn't feel loss but huge relief. She realised that her whole life she had been waiting for this day.
The night before the funeral she couldn't sleep and noticed that all the old anger and hurt was surfacing again. Unexpected words formed in her mind, saying: "If there is a heaven and you are in that heaven, then I will never want to be in that same heaven with you! I never want to see you again in all eternity!" She was shocked and surprised by this and realised that she hadn't made her peace with her father after all.
At the funeral she shed some tears but not tears of sadness but tears of rage. After the funeral she went home and called a therapist to help her to work through and get to terms with her overwhelming anger and hurt that she still carried with her. In therapy she finally felt able to express what she really felt without being judged or condemned.
She learned that there was no need to feel guilty about her feelings and that to express her anger, her pain, and her grief for what she never had in her relationship with her father (love, warmth, security, encouragement, praise, play, laughter) slowly healed the wound in her heart. She emerged from the process with new energy, zest for life and peace of heart. Finally her father didn't haunt her anymore.
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