When The Death Of A Parent (Or Thinking About It) Brings Relief

Do not judge yourself for this feeling.

woman relieved after parent passes Pavel Danilyuk, Изображения пользователя Yauhen Akulich | Canva

Many clients I treat are ashamed of their feelings about the death or the prospective death of a parent.

They know they are "supposed to" feel grief, sadness, and anger at the world, or a feeling of abandonment. Instead of these "normal" emotions, many of us feel the opposite: relief.

When clients feel relief at the death of a parent or the prospect of their death, it obviously indicates a significant problem. However, this problem is with the relationship between parent and adult child, not with the adult child themselves.


I have never met a person who feels relief about the death of a parent who doesn’t feel terrible about feeling this way. It is shameful to them and they keep it hidden from everyone, and even try to push it out of their own consciousness. Most clients never verbalize this feeling at all until far into the course of therapy.

RELATED: My Mother Died And I Feel Nothing

We are trained (by society and pop culture) to believe that our parents are supposed to love us and treat us well. In spite of this, so many of us experienced a warped or deficient version of parental love.

People with personality-disordered parents, or parents with their own deep-seated attachment issues, never experienced a normative, stable and reassuring feeling of love when growing up, or when interacting with their parents as adults. This may be in spite of the parent’s best intentions; certainly, nobody intends to be disordered enough that their children cannot stand to be close to them.


While other people seem to derive a sense of comfort and security from talking to or spending time with their parents, this is markedly absent in adult children of dysfunctional families. Instead, interacting with family members makes you feel angry, anxious, sad, regretful, burdened, fearful, stressed, depressed, bitter and/or lonely.

Is it any wonder then, that thinking of a time when these parents are no longer alive brings a sense of relief and a burden finally lifted?

RELATED: 3 Steps To Mourn The Death Of A Loved One Who Hurt You

There are many positive things that I have seen occur in my clients’ lives when they make peace with their relief over their parent's death. Here are a few:

  • A person who was terrified of their mother’s disapproval of divorce finally leaves her husband and is much happier
  • A person is finally able to try and publish short stories without fear of their parents’ denigration of writing as a stupid hobby
  • A person who spent every week getting berated by her mother in a nursing home is now able to freely live her life without what felt like an inescapable punishment
  • People can choose their own life paths in every way without their parents’ condescension or overt disapproval
  • Perhaps most importantly, you can finally stop wishing that "next time," your parents will act more lovingly, or that one day they will have some sort of empathy epiphany and realize how they have hurt you.

RELATED: When There’s Death In A Dysfunctional Family

Of course, the existence of relief does NOT mean you will be insulated from other feelings, like sorrow, grief, and anger. The co-existence of relief with these other emotions is typical for adult children who have not fully resolved their ambivalent feelings about their parents. (This will apply to people with preoccupied attachment the most.)

Whether or not you have experienced a parent’s death and feel relief or secretly are waiting for it to occur, do not judge yourself for this feeling.

Therapy can help normalize this feeling, as well as process and understand where it originated. If your parent is still alive, you may also be able to figure out how to create both internal and external boundaries that allow you to live more freely despite your parents’ presence in your life. (Even if you have severed contact, the existence of your parents and hearing about them in any way from others often is very difficult for adult children of dysfunctional families.)


Many adult children of dysfunctional families feel similarly and you can find some comfort that you are not alone. 

RELATED: My Father’s Death Was The Happiest Day Of My Life

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.