Mixed Memories

When your relationship with the person who has died was not always positive, grief can be additionally challenging. The last years of an otherwise happy marriage may have been dominated by difficult and challenging caregiving responsibilities. Relationships between parents and children may have included resentment, conflict, or even abuse. These ambivalent and conflicted relationships can complicate grief in many ways. If you are experiencing this, you may be grieving not only the person who has died, but also grieving what might have been. You may grieve the relationship could have been better, or struggle with difficult feelings of anger and guilt.

There may be unfinished business, things you would have wished to say or regretted saying. Even if the difficulties in the relationship happened many years ago, the death can bring back the old conflicts and feelings, at a time when energies are already limited by coping with grief.

Social support may be more limited. Others may not know what to say or how to respond, or may even question why you are mourning the loss. Yet it is necessary to grieve such losses. People grieve the loss of attachments no matter how negative these attachments may have been.

Some self-help activities can be useful. Going through old photos or telling stories of happier times may bring a balance to the negative feelings. You might write a letter to the person who has died, expressing your complex feelings and your wishes that things might have been different.

When relationships are complicated and memories are bad, counseling can be useful. The journey of grief is hard enough, particularly when the terrain is difficult. You do not need to go it alone.

Developed from Journeys with Grief: A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv., copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2012.