How Do You Grieve The Death Of An Ex?

Photo: GC Images.
Ariana Grande's ex-boyfriend, rapper Mac Miller, reportedly died Friday at 26-years-old.
Grande and Miller were together for nearly two years before PEOPLE confirmed their breakup in May. In the aftermath of Miller and Grande's breakup, many were quick to blame Grande for breaking Miller's heart and, one Twitter user claimed, causing him to wreck his car while under the influence. Grande rightfully called the critic out for the sexist belief that Miller's actions were her fault. She called the relationship "toxic" and "scary" and said that she tried to support Miller's sobriety for years before they broke up, and always would.
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Grief is always complicated, but the kind of feelings Grande expressed over Miller can make it even more difficult, as does Miller's history with addiction, says grief expert David Kessler, co-author of On Grief And Grieving and founder of Grief.com. "A lot of times when we're in a relationship with someone who's actively using, it does turn our life upside down," he says. When "toxic" relationships end, you may say or think negative things about your ex or the relationship. But considering your relationship "toxic" is about your ex's behavior, not who they are as a person. There can be a tendency for people are grieving the death of an ex to reflect on what they said about their former love when they broke up and then blame themselves, Kessler says. But it's important to remember that you can love and grieve a person even though you didn't love their behavior. "All those negative feelings you had about the breakup were about the person's behavior," Kessler says. "And they don't minimize the things you did love about them."
Even if you're not feeling guilt, grief can be more complex when the person who died is an ex. "When someone dies that we love and everything is going well we're left with pure, uncomplicated grief," Kessler says. "When we're estranged or the relationship was complex, we're left with tangled issues that become harder to deal with in death." Those issues include thoughts like, "What if I had done things differently?" But those thoughts aren't productive, and it's important not to blame yourself, Kessler says.
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Being in a relationship with someone else when your ex dies (as Grande is with fiancée Pete Davidson) can also complicate grief, because you or your partner might feel that expressing your emotions for a former love takes away from your current relationship. It doesn't. Having loved someone before you started dating your current partner, and still caring about them even after you've broken up, doesn't diminish the love you have for your partner now, Kessler says. Just like everyone else, your partner should recognize that your grief is real and give you the support you need. "You want to treat it like someone they loved just died, because someone they did love just died," he says. "I always tell the new partner that if any feelings of jealousy come up, remember what your partner needs now is love and to give her freedom to have her feelings."
The same advice goes for anyone in your life, including yourself. When it's your ex who has died, you may feel that you're not really allowed to grieve, or at least to grieve publicly. It's called "disenfranchised grief," which is any kind of grief that gets judged or minimized. Because you've broken up with a person, you or others might feel that you shouldn't be as affected by their death as their current partner or family members. But that's not true. In many cases, if you once loved a person, you still care deeply about them, Kessler says. Your grief is real, and you deserve the same support as anyone else who is grieving this loss.
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