Question: My dad was abusive when I was a kid, and my relationship with him was strained and distant until the day he died. I never forgave him in person, and now I’m struggling with feelings of anger, bitterness, guilt and remorse. How do I resolve this issue?

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

Write a letter

One way you can begin to work through your "complicated mourning" is to sit down and write a letter to your father even though he’s no longer alive. Try to express the full range of your emotions. You’re obviously in touch with your anger and bitterness, but chances are you have other feelings about your dad as well. There’s probably a sense of deep sadness and irretrievable loss connected with your awareness that you never had the kind of relationship with him that you really wanted. You may also be frustrated about your inability to "fix" things now that he’s gone. Put all this down in writing as clearly and as thoroughly as you can. After composing the letter you might even want to visit your father’s grave and read it to him there. It’s a purely symbolic act, of course, but some people have found it unexpectedly liberating.

Develop empathy

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 his attitude toward you was distant or unaccepting, try to discover why this might have been the case. If your mother is still alive, talk to her 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 even realising what he was doing – a pattern you’ll want to recognise and break in your relationship with your own children (if you have any). Sometimes a knowledge of another person’s background can give us empathy for that person. In turn, empathy can grant us a new perspective on that person’s behaviour towards us and help us heal our own psychological wounds.

Give it to God

Above all else, we would encourage you to turn your anger and grief over to your Heavenly Father, who loves you and values you more than you will ever know. The Bible tells us that God is a father to the fatherless and promises that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5, Psalm 27:10). If you would like to discuss these issues with a compassionate and caring professional, find a local counsellor at Christian Counsellor Association of Australia

© 2010 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at

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