real life

'When my dad died, all I felt was relief.'

This story mentions emotional abuse and suicide.

I still remember that day. A long lanyard swung from my neck as I stepped into the car – my body swamped in a baggy blue shirt and a pair of flared black pants. It was a Sunday; a regular afternoon spent working in retail. 

And yet, as I crossed the threshold from the dimly lit carpark into the backseat of the vehicle waiting for me, everything changed. Because on that day, I found out my dad had just died. "Suicide," said my mother.

"He's gone."

At that moment, I went into shock. Tears spilled across my ugly blue checkered work uniform, and I kept shaking my head in disbelief. This isn't real, I thought. This isn't happening.

But as the hours went by, a new feeling rushed over me. 

Relief. Overwhelming relief

Because after almost 10 years of living in fear – almost a decade of wondering just how far my dad's coercive control, threats, and emotional abuse would go – I knew that my family and I were finally safe.

Watch: What is complicated grief? Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube.

No more secrets. No more moments where I curled up inside the darkness of my cupboard, or spent my birthday in a safe house. No more having to decipher the sounds of his footprints on the floorboards or watching on hopelessly as he told police I was the abuser, and not him. No more being told I was stupid or that I belonged in a 'Girl's home'.

But the year was 2004, and no one understood these kinds of nuances; so it was here, at age 18, that my complicated journey with grief began.


Whilst relief was instant, it morphed quickly. In the days afterwards – as hours bled into weeks – I was overwhelmed by a new sensation. Guilt. Layers and layers of guilt. For a decade, all I'd dreamed of was being free from Dad's abuse, but now that it had happened, I found myself stuck. Questions ran through my mind constantly; an endless loop of thoughts that started with, "This is all my fault," and ended with, – "But I don’t miss him. Why do I not miss him?"

Every time my phone beeped – every time another "I'm so sorry for your loss" came through – I wanted to scream. 

How could I tell people I didn't miss someone who'd traumatised me for most of my life, causing me to develop severe anxiety and depression from the age of 11? How could I stand in front of people at his funeral and lie publicly about what a great dad he was?

I couldn't. 

Yes, my feelings were completely natural given what I’d been through, but as an 18-year-old Millennial, I didn't have the self-awareness, psychological support or maturity to make sense of this sticky web of trauma. As a result – like so many others – I carried these thoughts silently inside my body and mind, pushing them down in case I was judged, rejected, or condemned for not grieving in the 'right way'.


For me, it was people's well-intentioned responses to our family's trauma that made it hard to process my grief. It's a conversation I couldn't have in 2004, but one that we need to have as a society now because while the loss of a partner or parent can be one of life's most devastating events, it can also be another person's freedom. 

Especially when that person is someone who caused immense trauma or pain to those around them.

Whilst it's natural to want to offer our sympathy to someone who has lost someone close to them, and the phrase "I'm sorry for your loss" generally feels the easiest way to do so, those five words can be incredibly distressing for many people – especially if we don't know their personal circumstances. 

So what can we say instead? 

According to grief and loss expert Marie Alessi, there are better ways to express our support, and it begins by embracing empathy.

"I'm not a fan of phrases like 'my condolences' or 'I'm sorry for your loss' because they come from a place of sympathy rather than empathy," she explains. "They also tend to carry the assumption that it 'shouldn't have happened' – when we don't know the situation at all. 


"Often, hugs are better than words," says Alessi, who – after losing her beloved husband Rob suddenly in 2018 – founded The Grief Revolution to help people reimagine a life worth loving, and adding more lightness to grief.

"One phrase I'd rather use is, 'My heart goes out to you,' or 'I can't imagine what you must be feeling right now,'" she says. "It's more neutral, and I truly feel it when I say it. All of these [phrases and actions] are coming from a space of empathy."

The grief language. Image: Supplied.


For those who want to support a friend or colleague who is grieving, it's also important to understand that you don't always have to know the exact 'right' thing to say. In fact, it's far more powerful and meaningful to listen.

"People often feel the need to 'fix' grief, where there's nothing to fix," adds Alessi. "It's all about holding space." 

As a teen in the early 2000s, I'm sure my friends did the best they could with their limited understanding of grief, but it wasn't their words that made the greatest difference; rather, it was their actions.

It was my friend Rachael, who sat on the phone with me for hours and stuck by my side, even when she didn't always approve of the choices I was making from my trauma. It was the friends who sent me handwritten letters from overseas, sat up late talking over MSN or invited me out to parties. It was my high school friend Steph, who drove me to my dad's funeral in her own car; understanding that I couldn't bear to be part of the Funeral Procession. Couldn't bear to be anywhere near his casket. 

As I shared in my book The Stories We Carry, which shares my journey from shame to strength, these friendships – these moments – were like a bandage. They patched and comforted and held me together. They helped me to walk bruised and wounded through each day. And most importantly, they helped me feel less alone; that the burden wasn’t on me to always reach out.


Over the years, through my work as an anti-domestic violence advocate, resilience speaker, author, and book coach, I've heard from many people who have wrestled with the stigma of their own personal response to loss, compared with the 'fall on the floor and cry hysterically' Hollywood-kind-of-grief that we typically see in movies. Mothers, who struggled under the weight of their shame; the relief they felt that their abusive child was no longer alive. Rape victims whose abuser was a relative, and had since passed away. These truths were too much to share with the world, and so, they kept them silent; carrying secrets within their bodies, as I once had.  

Once upon a time, I only heard these stories in private. It wasn't until 2022, however, when former Nickelodeon actress Jennette McCurdy released her debut memoir I'm Glad My Mom Died, that I saw a true shift in public perception. The title – intentionally confronting – explored McCurdy's relationship with her (since-deceased) mother, and the conflicting emotions she felt after this person – a woman who had emotionally, sexually, and financially exploited Jennette from childhood to adulthood – finally passed away.

Listen to The Quicky where we talk about coercive control. Post continues after podcast.

Though many were initially wary, the book was enormously successful, and gave a voice to thousands who – like myself – had battled the juxtaposing feelings of relief within grief; stories that, once upon a time, survivors may have carried to their grave.

For me, I'm thankful to have healed much of my trauma, and my emotions and feelings about my dad are no longer a source of shame; they are simply my reality. My life has moved on in wonderful ways and the anniversary of his death is just a passing thought, not a date that triggers sorrow.


In fact, when his 20-year 'anniversary' rolled around a few weeks ago I almost missed it, and when I did realise, there were no big, overwhelming feelings. No anger. No sadness.

Just joy, for where I'm at in life. 

Relief, that my story turned out the way it did. 

Gratitude, that I now spend my life helping other advocates and female survivors to speak out, and transform their stories into books that will leave a legacy for future generations. 

Do I wish that my dad had made different choices? That he'd taken control of his life, sought professional help to deal with his own suppressed trauma, and been the father I needed? Yes, of course.  

But he didn't. He couldn't – or, more accurately, wouldn't. And for that reason, I'll always be glad that my dad is dead. 

Jas Rawlinson is an award-winning speaker, anti-domestic violence advocate, and best-selling author of the thriller memoir The Stories We Carry. Order her books here, or connect with Jas via Instagram or her website.

If you or someone you know is at risk of violence, contact: 1800 RESPECT.

Feature Image: Supplied.