I’m wondering what is it about dying that turns few people into saints? They could have been an evil person while living—terrible, uncaring, abusive—but the second they have no pulse they become this wonderful person the world won’t be the same without. There is that old adage, “Don’t speak ill of the dead,” but what if the “ill” that’s being spoken is the truth?
A friend of mine recently buried their parent, and when I say “parent,” I use the term to only mean that they created another human life form. There was nothing parental about this person. Other than being a narcissist, they couldn’t ever find the time to bond with their children. There were no trips to the zoo, no homework help, no words of encouragement or comfort. Their parent drank excessively and was both verbally and physically abusive to their spouse and children. But when this person died, their youngest child gave a eulogy that seemed to be meant for the parent they wished they had, rather than the one they actually had.
It was almost more than my friend could bare, as they watched their youngest sibling share anecdotes about the person who was very much a villain in my friend’s life. My friend had mixed feelings—they didn’t want to cause more suffering by expressing their feelings about their parent to their loved ones, especially when they were in deep mourning. But my friend also had feelings that were real and needed to be expressed.
Confrontation and Closure
When someone passes away, the hurt they have caused doesn’t get buried with them—unfortunately. Real people, with real feelings are left behind and now they feel like they no longer have an opportunity for confrontation and closure. But the alternative is not to swallow or bottle up those feelings. They shouldn’t be hidden away. They also shouldn’t be allowed to fester. It’s best to work through them. If you’ve ever been in this situation, consider these actions.
1. Review the Relationship
Take some time to review your relationship with the deceased—from your earliest memories to where you left things right before they passed away. Can you name one good thing about the person who has passed away (other than the fact that they have passed away)? Do you have any positive memories of them? Is there one defining experience that caused you to have negative feelings towards them? How has knowing them shaped your life or how you see the world?
2. Start a Conversation
Think about someone who may be receptive to your feelings. It could be a family member, friend, therapist, religious leader or psychic—just pick someone you feel safe being honest with. Don’t hold back or sugarcoat! Did anyone else connected with the deceased let you down? If they enabled them, don’t forget to mention them too! You’re doing this to get the validation and closure you need.
3. Write a Letter
Some of us are better at expressing ourselves through the written word, and if that’s you, you can write a letter to the deceased. The good news is, they can’t interrupt you. Say whatever you want; include your account of your relationship with them and how their actions impacted you. Also express what kind of relationship you would like to have had with them. When you’re finished you can bury the letter near their grave, tear it up into little pieces and drop it in a body of water, or you can burn it. These are all symbolic ways of releasing the negative feelings you’ve been feeling all these years.
4. Take a Conscious Step Forward
Consider the relationship closed and take a conscious step forward. This means that you will actively keep those negative feelings and that negative relationship from impacting your future. This may be difficult at first, but as time goes on, it will get easier. It’s a healing process after all. Go forward and love—yourself and others—and give what was not given to you.