How Do We Mourn the Death of a Difficult Person?

If grief is the result of love for a person who died, do we grieve for those people with whom we had a relationship but we’re not sure we loved?  What about the person we didn’t always like?  What about the person in our lives with whom we had a love-hate relationship–that person we cared for but always fought with?  What about the person we loved who was often abusive?  Do we still mourn their deaths?

Every person with whom we have a relationship has an influence on us.  Some affect our lives in a positive way while others can have a negative or destructive impact.  Many of these people we can be emotionally tied to in our relationships may not be loveable people.  Still they did and do have many times an enduring effect on our lives and who we are.  We find ourselves missing them despite our questionable relationship.  We also sometimes find ourselves feeling guilty and regretting that the relationship never changed for the better.

Grief provides us an opportunity to deal with the death of someone we love or in whom we have an emotional investment. That grief also allows us to take a personal inventory to determine how the death impacts us.  The resulting grief impact inventory can permit us to see the person’s life in the context of how they shaped who we are and what we can become. Grief slows us down to become reflective and to determine what this person’s life, influence and death mean for us.

Often the deaths of difficult, not very loveable people in our lives can cause us to go through regrets, guilt or a longing for the ideal relationship that we had always wished for with that person.  With his or her death, the hope for an opportunity to resolve our imperfect relationship has died also.

Another troubling feeling that many mourners dealing with the death of a difficult person in their lives can have is a sense of relief. Maybe for a long time the relationship with this difficult person who died made the mourner feel like she or he was trapped or under some overwhelming emotional burden. The mourner is shocked at the relief he or she feels after the death and immediately feels guilty.

In evaluating a troublesome relationship with its many troublesome emotions we have to determine whether forgiveness is called for: forgiving the one who died or forgiving ourselves for our perceived faults in the relationship.

It is only after taking time to mourn and to complete a grief impact inventory that we can determine how we will make sense of our relationship with the one who has died.   That grief impact inventory can also help us determine what we want our lives to be without that person physically present.  The ultimate goal of mourning for either someone significant in our lives that we loved or did not love is to accept the losses involved and adapt in a healthy manner to life without that person in our presence.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Casey B says:

    Wow, Larry. Thank you for this post. It’s strangely helpful for me, because I think it describes the relationship I had with the person I lost most recently to a tee. I felt on many occasions as though I was given too much information about the state of my friend’s health, and have been dealing with some quite incredible anger…but your post has put all that into perspective. May I ask what a ‘grief impact inventory’ is?



    1. Thanks for the good question. Grief slows us down to become more reflective and to remember. Sadness in fact has been shown to improve mourners’ scores on memory tests…at a time when memories are important. Healthy mourners review the loss; evaluate how it has impacted them spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically and socially; take inventory of what the loved one gave them that cant be taken away; and begin to prepare for the next step which is moving from the “Why”questions to asking “What now?’ That is briefly what I was referring to. All of that review or inventory needs to take place to help the mourner make wise choices in moving on in grief.

  2. D' Marie says:

    Thanks for sharing sound advice on a difficult reality!

  3. Angie B says:

    Hi Larry,

    Does this book you wrote focus mainly on dealing with grief after someone you have had a difficult relationship passes? My ex passed away a couple weeks ago and we have a 5 year old daughter together. We haven’t seen each other in 3 years because of how negative it was, but all I can do now is think what if? I have so much guilt and regret and just cant seem to deal with it. I am looking for some reading that can help me through, and everything you said above describes me exactly. If you know of any other resources for such situations I would be appreciative for any help. So far, finding any resources about this topic has proved impossible.

    Thank you,

    1. My book focuses on grief after a death in general. Insights are mine and those shared with me by other mourners.

  4. traveler says:

    thank you so much for posting this. an ex-friend of mine that i had been planning to reconnect with committed suicide yesterday and i’ve been a little lost on how to cope. it’s just… so surreal that he left just as i thought i was getting enough courage to rebuild our bridges. thank you again.

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