Sometimes death comes at the end of a long and arduous struggle with illness, addiction, or mental illness. Often, there is relief. Not always, because with grief none of the many emotions that people feel is something everyone feels, but sometimes mourners feel relief. Relief the pain and struggle have come to an end.
Relief is the grief emotion many feel, but few talk about. Sometimes people are silent because they are self-judging, and the relief generates guilt. Sometimes, they don’t share their feeling of relief because they are unsure how others will react. Relief is defined as a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress. It is a perfectly normal grief emotion.
Mourners who have also been long term caregivers may have grieved for the one they love over the course of the illness. They may have grieved every loss of function over the days, weeks, or years as they occurred. Caregiving, even when it is done with tender love, is taxing. It is difficult. Feeling relieved does not mean a person does not also feel sad, lost, or scared. It is not surprising that care givers often experience a mixed bag of emotions including relief when the person they cared for dies.
If you are uncomfortable with this feeling it might help to take some time and list the caregiving duties you have been shouldering. Look at your list. Step outside yourself. How would you expect your best friend to feel if they had been doing what you have been doing? Feeling relived of the stress of the illness or care is not the same as feeling relieved of the person. Be clear about your feeling.
If you are not yet keeping a grief journal, give it a try. All it takes is paper and pen, or a keyboard, and the determination to devote a few minutes to your own self-care each day. Your journal does not judge, offer advice, or tell you how you should feel. Your journal just listens. Most people who journal are surprised at how this activity helps them find their way as they journey through their grief.
Not everyone who dies was easy to love. If you are grieving someone who was addicted to drugs or alcohol, suffering from mental illness, or who was abusive, of course you will feel some level of relief. Remember the definition of relief: a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress. Feeling relieved is not the same as feeling happy. Allow yourself to feel all the complex emotions that come with death. Try to embrace the feeling of relief along with all of the other emotions you are experiencing.