Dealing With the Memory of a Deceased Abusive Father

How can I forgive my deceased father for his cruel words and behavior? He treated me horribly when I was a kid, and as a result 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. How do I resolve this issue?

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 you can begin to work through your “complicated mourning” is to sit down and write a letter to your father. Address your thoughts to him just as if he were still alive. Try to express the full range of your emotions. You’re obviously in touch with your anger and bitterness. Chances are you have other feelings about your dad as well. You’ve stated that you never had the kind of relationship with him that you really wanted. There’s probably a sense of deep sadness and irretrievable loss connected with this aspect of your story. You may also be frustrated about your inability to “fix” things now that he’s gone. Put all this down in writing. Be as clear and thorough 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.

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 find out why. 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. He may not even have realized what he was doing.

This is a pattern you’ll want to recognize and break in your relationship with your own children (if you have any). Sometimes 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 behavior towards us. It can also help heal our own psychological wounds.

Above all else, we would encourage you to turn your anger and grief over to your Heavenly Father. He loves you and values you more than you will ever know. The Bible tells us that God is a father to the fatherless. He has promised never to 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, call our counseling staff.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Total Forgiveness

Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers

Other books on Forgiveness/Overcoming the Past

Hart Institute

Learning to Forgive Others


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