Q&A: Forgiving deceased father

Question:

How can I forgive my deceased father for his cruel words and behaviour? He treated me horribly when I was a child, so my relationship with him was strained and distant until the day he died. I never worked things out with him in person, and now I’m struggling with feelings of anger, bitterness, guilt, and remorse.

Answer: It’s always difficult to lose a family member, but it’s even harder when we have unresolved issues with the person who has passed on. Psychologists call this “complicated mourning.”

One way to begin working through your “complicated mourning” is to write a letter to your father as if he were still alive. Try to express the full range of your emotions. Besides the anger, bitterness, and guilt, there may be a sense of deep sadness and irretrievable loss, along with frustration that you can’t fix things now that he’s gone. Put all this down in writing, as clearly and thoroughly as you can. After composing the letter you might even want to visit your father’s grave and read it “to him” there. That’s purely symbolic, of course, but some people have found it liberating.

Once this is done, it may also be helpful to see if you can gain some insight into the workings of your father’s mind. If possible, talk to your mother and other relatives who knew your dad when he was younger. What kind of relationship did he have with his parents? Did he feel loved and accepted as a child? If not, it’s possible that he was simply passing this legacy on to you without fully realising what he was doing. Sometimes knowledge of another person’s background can give us empathy for them. In turn, that empathy can grant us a new perspective on the person’s behaviour towards us, and start to heal our own psychological wounds.

If you need further help sorting out this, call our Family Support Services at 03-3310 0792 or write to support@family.org.my.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

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