Absent Grief: Why Am I Not Grieving Like I Expected To?
Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley/
Never have I ever heard a bereaved person exclaim, “Grief is just as expected it to be!” Grief is full of surprises, and usually not the enjoyable kind. We talk a lot about how unexpectedly overwhelming the grief experience can be. You think it will be one thing and then it turns out to be many many more things.
On the other end of the spectrum, many people are surprised by a grief response that feels far less intense than anticipated. Though this is relatively common, it’s seldom recognized, so when people experience it, they often wonder, “What’s wrong with me?!? Why am I not grieving?” Is this ‘absent grief’?
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines ‘absent grief’ as: “A form of complicated grief in which a person shows no, or only a few, signs of distress about the death of a loved one. This pattern of grief is thought to be an impaired response resulting from denial or avoidance of the emotional realities of the loss.” Many descriptions and definitions for absent grief place it under the heading of “complex” or “complicated.” So obviously, there are instances where absent grief indicates difficulties in coping that go beyond the norms.
However, we don’t want to pathologize the experience of (semi)absent grief on a whole, and, actually, we’re not going to talk about psychological disorders or complicated grief reactions today. If you want to read more about these topics, try these two articles:
- Grief and Psychological Disorder: Understanding the Diathesis-Stress Model
- When Grief Goes From Just Plain Miserable to Problematic
Ultimately, there are many reasons why a person might feel they aren’t grieving as much as they expected. Only some are related to things like avoidance, denial, and complicated grief. In this article, we’re going to discuss a few of the more common ones.
Why am I not grieving like I expected to?
Your Idea of Grief is Based on Assumptions vs. Reality:
A person’s idea of what grief looks and feels like begins to form early on. Even before experiencing personal loss, things like cultural attitudes, spiritual beliefs, family history, and family norms start to shape grief expectations. In our society, one of the most significant influences is what one sees depicted on television and in the movies. I’m sure we could come up with a handful of realistic and understated grief performances. However, much of what you see and, most importantly, remember, are highly dramatized performances. All this helps us to create a picture of what we think grief “should” look like.
Another way assumptions are shaped is something called “affective forecasting“. Affective forecasting is when we imagine potential future events and predict how we think we would feel and behave if these things were to happen. Affective forecasting is something we all do pretty regularly but, as luck would have it, we’re not very good at it. Though we are reasonably accurate in anticipating whether events will generate positive or negative emotion, we’re often way off in predicting the intensity and duration of our emotional reactions. All this to say, grief often feels far different than your expectations. However, just because it doesn’t feel how you thought it would be, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
You Experienced Anticipatory Grief:
Anticipatory grief is grief that occurs before a loss. Anytime circumstances lead loved ones to think that death is a real possibility, they may start to grieve aspects of the loss. As one might expect, this is common in instances of a terminal illness. Some other examples include having a loved one who:
- is elderly
- has a severe substance use disorder
- has a history of suicidal behavior
Anticipatory grief doesn’t mean that a person will grieve any less. It just may mean that they can process aspects of the loss more slowly and overtime. Anticipatory grief may also cause a person to experience thoughts and emotions that feel contradictory to grief, but which really are very common to the grief-experience. For example, the person may feel relief that suffering has ended. Or they may feel ready for the distraction and normalcy of work or school more quickly than expected.
The Loss Still Hasn’t Sunk In:
Perhaps after your loved one’s death, you braced yourself for a tsunami of emotion but found that it never came. It’s common to believe that grief will be something big, bold, and instantaneous. However, many times people find that it takes a while for their hearts and mind to catch up to what they initially know only intellectually. Here are a few reasons why:
Shock: At first, the reality of your loved one’s death may not feel real to you. On some semi-conscious level, you think maybe this is a dream I will wake up from. These thoughts and feelings are normal. So normal, that most major grief theorists have made room for it in their grief models. As we wrote in our article, The Role of the Acute Stress Response in Grief:
“Kubler-Ross spoke of denial; Worden discussed accepting the reality of the loss; Rando talked about acknowledging the loss, and Bowlby and Parks focused on coping with shock and numbness.”
Although experiences vary, it’s helpful for people to acknowledge that an acute stress response may be a part of their grief process. Or perhaps more appropriately, the thing that happens before their grief sets in.
Your Loved One’s Physical Absence Isn’t Real to You Yet: Many grieving people have shared with us that their loss didn’t feel real until they found themselves confronted with a particular person, place, or thing. For example, a gentleman who had been away at the time of his mother’s death told us, “I went home and expected to find her where I always did, in the kitchen. When I found the place empty, that’s when it really hit me that she was gone.”
You’re Focused on Secondary Losses and Stressors: In the days and weeks following a loved one’s death, there’s often so much to do. Someone has to plan the services, make sure the children are taken care of, learn to do the jobs your loved one used to do, etc. It’s common for people to feel as though they can’t stop to grieve their loved one’s death until all their basic needs, plus the needs of friends and family, have been met.
You are experiencing avoidance
As stated in the definition of absent grief shared above, it’s often the result of chronic avoidance and denial. We described avoidance in the article, Understanding Avoidance in Grief:
“When we talk about avoidance in regards to grief, we are usually referring to experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is an attempt to block out, reduce or change unpleasant thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations. These are internal experiences that are perceived to be painful or threatening and might include fears of losing control, being embarrassed, or physical harm and thoughts and feelings including shame, guilt, hopelessness, meaninglessness, separation, isolation, etc.”
Some avoidance during grief is normal, but problems arise when avoidance becomes a person’s go-to coping skill. Some examples of chronic avoidance that might contribute to an absent grief response include:
- Refusing to talk about the loss or acknowledge your grief to even to yourself
- Saying “I’m fine” and refusing to acknowledge the impact of the loss
- Trying to avoid all reminders and memories of the person (i.e. grief triggers)
- Focusing all your time and energy on taking care of others and never acknowledging your own needs
- Using substances to numb and forget
You Didn’t Have a Close Relationship with the Person who Died
You may feel like you should have a more significant grief response because you’re related to the person who died or because you were close with them once, and when you don’t, you feel bad. If we’re being honest, though, sometimes blood relatives are connected only by title, and sometimes people who were once close fall out of touch, lose contact and drift apart.
If this describes your experience, don’t feel bad. Just know that your grief for this person may look and feel different than you expected, and that’s okay. Also, know that in these instances, you may simply grieve different things. For example, you might mourn the loss of hope for reconciliation or the hope of getting to know the person better someday.
WYG has an upcoming post about connecting with your grief when you feel disconnected. Stay tuned by subscribing!
We wrote a book!
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for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:
51 Comments on "Absent Grief: Why Am I Not Grieving Like I Expected To?"Click here to leave a Comment
Meghan September 25, 2022 at 9:04 am
I lost my dad, my best friend, on the 11th of September 2022 to rectal cancer. It’s so recent and i feel like I’m not grieving right. The week before he passed I couldn’t get myself out of bed… but I was by his side when he passed and I felt calm as he did… I have been working non stop now and motivated… I feel guilty… but a part of me thinks it’s my dads presence that is pushing me to make my dreams come true…I don’t know, I’ve never dealt with a loss this close to me. So my anxiety set myself up for the worst and now that it happened, I just feel like this isn’t what I set myself up for…
Marianne September 14, 2022 at 1:36 pm
My boyfriend of 2 years passed away about 2 and a half weeks ago. We were in a very serious relationship, we lived together, he was planning on proposing in the near future. The first few days, I was very emotional. But now I’m fine, I feel awful because he’s the love of my life and I could never have imagined life without him, but I’m just not crying or depressed. I feel like a terrible person
Stephana August 17, 2022 at 10:23 am
My mother died 4 weeks after I’d visited her at the nursing home.July 21 2022,
My mother lived far from me because she refused to move closer to my brother and I. Mom was just shy of 95.
I took care of her for all her surgeries and illnesses for the past 21 years.(going 1000 miles to care for her) It was a pleasure..Mom always was a trooper and a great patient
I had a wonderful time with Mom recently, going to all the events and classes at the nursing home(a lovely place ,smal ,very pretty and wonderful staff)My mother went into the nursing home in March 2019, after suffering from a broken spine and dementia.Mom had very bad Osteoporosis and had many severe breaks that she recovered from due to HER WILL.
The year before when I ‘d gone to see her they stopped my visit due to Covid Outbreaks at the nursing home which broke my heart…I hadn’t seen her in a year and a half due to Covid.
Mom died 4 weeks after I saw her. A week before she died she refused to eat.She was put on an IV for fluids and meds..but sadly after tests..was diagnosed with severe diverticulosis ,was put on a morphine drip and died .I was able to talk to her multiple times .The nurses had me call their cell phones and I was able to tell Mom how much we loved her and it was OK if she wanted to go(she was in terrible pain until the morphine drip….
I have not been able to cry..I think it’s because I had prepared so many times or maybe I had a feeling..which I did..before I left Mom after visiting her..It was a feeling I can’t put into words but maybe it was preparing me. My father died when I was 14 and that was a very different experience because he was young ,47 and it terrible and big loss for our family.
I have been thinking of all the funny and nice things about my mom.We’d had our tough times when we were younger but that’s normal with mothers and daughters…By the time I was in my 30s we had bypassed those phases. Mom was 2 months shy of her 95th birthday.
She was beautiful, funny and strong…
I miss her scent…and can still find it on gifts she gave to me..She always smelled good and slightly perfumed. It’s a big loss but I can accept it because she wasn’t well in the end and I did not want her to suffer. Bye Mommy..I know you are in Heaven with Dad, your sister and Cathy our beloved cousin who passed away in January.
Natasha June 16, 2022 at 10:52 pm
My son passed on June 1, 2022. He had a short illness, and his death was tragic. He was 42, married, 3 kids. I have grieved I think, because I have cried, sobbed even. He is my only child and I love him dearly and I know he loved me. Mostly, I am mad at him for dying with so much unfinished. Leaving his family so helpless when they could have been stronger and self-sufficient as I had prepared him. He did not prepare his children. What do I do with all that? I am mad at my dead son, and I feel empty because he is gone. I don’t feel like I am sad enough. I have prayed for mercy and peace, and I believe I have it, but maybe I don’t deserve it. I’m confused and sorrowful.
Lace May 17, 2022 at 10:51 pm
I lost my grandfather, he was in great pain, dealt with hospice care for about 2/3 weeks, I knew he was going to be gone and I cried it out during that time. He was the only father image to me and basically raised me my whole life. He passed while holding my hand, but it didn’t hit me. I felt relieved almost, now I just feel numb to it and I’m unable to cry but keep him in my mind. What is wrong with me? Shouldn’t I be sad? I just feel empty and like it’s better this way.. when will it kick in, or will it ever. Did I already do so? I feel horrible being the one who shows no emotion to it as everyone around me is just a mess..
Isabella April 11, 2022 at 9:58 am
It had been over 3 weeks since my father passed away. The night before he went I said my see you later instead of goodbye. He died two days short of my 35th birthday. He had passed in hospice care. He had been sick with many health issues over the years but it was oesphageal cancer that took his last two years on earth. I’ve been pre mourning his death for a very long time but it doesn’t seem to be getting easier. I don’t always cry but when I do it’s deep. So much reminds me of him. I’m happy that he is no longer suffering but I can’t grasp he has fully gone. I don’t know how to make peace with that.
Lisa Taylor March 13, 2022 at 8:16 am
My son died suddenly he was hit by a car thankful he died instantly. I have abcent grief I just feel numb but I drink a lot to block it. So glad I read this as I don’t feel such a bad mum .
Jacob March 7, 2022 at 2:32 pm
So, while I kind of understand what’s being said here, is there a general timeline for when the grief might kick in? Because it’s been about 5 years since my brother passed, near 3 of which I had to walk past his empty bedroom before I moved out and got my own place, and I still really haven’t felt anything at all. I know he’s gone, I see pictures of him all them, even having a picture of him holding his son the say he was born as a phone wallpaper, and still nothing.
MCR sister December 29, 2022 at 7:43 am
It’s only been 2 months since my brother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away , it was traumatic trying to revive him , yet I knew he was gone , but I haven’t grieved, I watch my mum and sisters in so much pain but I’m numb . I can go over and over that day , my mum screaming he’s not breathing, i didn’t cry at the viewing or the funeral just comforted others . Why am I so empty
Ian January 31, 2022 at 9:19 am
Thank you for your article. I found it helpful. I had been considering why my response to my wife’s death last year has not been more. She had cancer for several years and there was plenty of time to prepare and I realise that much of the coming to terms with the loss took place before she departed. We also were not as close emotionally and in other ways over the last couple of years. My children are more impacted than I am. I consider that I am already at a place of acceptance at the loss, but people keep saying that I haven’t grieved. I have had moments of sadness and am not unfeeling, but I have experienced a wide range of losses in my life and consider I am managing it well. Instead of others waiting for me to get over it, I am waiting for others to accept that I am getting on with my life.
Jack January 28, 2022 at 11:18 am
Thank you so much for this article; it helped me a lot through figuring out what was “wrong” with me and how I experienced grief.
Litsa January 29, 2022 at 1:39 pm
I am so glad it was helpful to know nothing is ‘wrong’ with you! Grief is complex and so different for everyone.
Jackie January 29, 2022 at 3:21 pm
This article is excellent. I have finally reallized what is “wrong” and why I Cannot grieve the death of my father over 3 months ago. I grieved the loss of his inability to love and accept me over the course of my lifetime.
At first I thought there wa something wrong with me for not feeling anything but then I rememebered: I grieved (am still grieving) the loss of my mother for almost three years.
It gets better, but there are times, it is like it all happened yesterday. I am definitely able to grieve.
With her, I grieve all that WAS, and she is still in my heart. With him,Icannot because the “good memories”, the love, the acceptance & trust simply were not there. I wanted it, but it never came to pass. I tried, but it was a lost cause. Now my grief work is for what never was. It’s sad.
Izzy December 21, 2021 at 10:38 am
I lost my sister almost three years ago now, very sudden, happened in three days, totally unexpected. I was 13 she was 22. Anyway, I am so confused because my family get sad, cry etc. But I don’t. And I am fully aware that I don’t have to cry but I seriously don’t get sad, don’t think about her all the time, and we were super close. So I ask, is it possible for someone not to grieve? Or is it possible for me to have grieved within a week? I was sad within the first week after her passing but after that I kind of just accepted it.
Alison Wenman February 13, 2022 at 4:27 pm
I can really relate to your comment and it was good to know that I’m not the only person who feels like this – I lost my Dad a year ago and we had a really close relationship but like you I felt sad to start and I think of him a lot but I don’t get upset or cry over his death which made me think there was something wrong with me so your message has really helped
Laura February 14, 2022 at 8:34 pm
I lost my mom just about a month ago. She was my best friend, biggest supporter and confidant. I was at he side when she passed I knew it was coming but it also came on so fast. There was a lot of contention right after she died brought about by my stepfather. I feel like I should feel something but I have yet to cry and yes intellectually I know she is gone but just can’t seem to wrap my head and heart around it. I feel guilty about what I haven’t been able to feel. I feel stuck.
Amber July 20, 2022 at 10:04 pm
My mother passed away last August it’s almost been a year. I’m still not sure it’s really hit me she is gone. I’ve cried but not like I thought I would. I think about her all the time. Sometimes I think something is wrong with me because I’ve haven’t grieved like my sister has. I feel like sometimes my mind just blocks it out and I’m just numb with no emotions.
Jackie S December 20, 2021 at 12:36 pm
My father died a little over 2 months ago. He was very aged, so it was not unexpected.
My problem: I am not grieving and wondering why.
Me: I believe I am a loving person and when my mother died 2.5 years ago, I grieved for almost two years. It was very hard/still is at times, but it was borne of a very close relationship and so much love given and received.
My father and I did not have a good relationship at all. In fact, he was (and Ihate to say this) .. abusive. Not a monster,but enough physical, verbal and emotional abuse and it lasted a lifetime. When he could no longer hit me,he used cruel words. I kept contact
to a minimum and many times had to simply get off the phone because he would say something outrageously painful.
I spent/wasted a lifetime trying to get his love. It never came.
When he got ill, I was grateful that he was NOT in pain, thanks to Hospice and I pray he was not in fear. I told him I loved him (a lie) and I prayed for him (true).
But,I have cried very few tears. I cried all my life over the things he had doneand said and how it impacted so many areas of my life. I had done part of the work of letting go of the hope before he died and since then I am still letting go.
But grief? No. And I feel guilty
I know, and many have told me I am a compassionate person. I did not love him.He was not a good father.
Is this normal? Any responses would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Litsa December 27, 2021 at 3:45 pm
Jackie, this is very normal. The relationships we have with people in life are often mirrored in death. If we wanted to be close with someone, spend time with them, talk with them, etc in life, we will still want that when they are gone and feel deep grief being unable to have that. If in life we wanted distance from them and did not seek closeness with them, this will often be true in death as well. In these cases we may have, as you described, already grieved that loss. Or we simply don’t feel as much acute pain because we are not missing or seeking that closeness. This does not mean you are a abnormal and it is nothing to feel guilty about! It sounds very much as though the relationship you had when he was alive is similar to the relationship you have with his memory, and that is very common in grief.
erin January 12, 2022 at 7:38 am
Even though people seldom want to admit this but often it is a relief when a difficult person or relative dies.
When people grieve the loss of such a person, I imagine what we grieve for is the person we wish they were.
I believe that ultimately it is up to the parents to ensure they have a good relationship with their kids. If the parents are distant or abusive there isn’t much the sons an daughters can do.
Mark November 23, 2021 at 4:36 pm
I feel like I am going to explode I am so full of anger because I can’t grieve. (my opinion of what I should be feeling VS what I have felt) I lost my Dad when I was a kid of 8. I don’t remember anything except the flowers and the coffin in the living room. Fast forward a lifetime from the 60’s to 2000’s I lost my mom. I was designated the one to Executor of her estate, and my time was consumed with that and work and I didn’t have time to grieve. approximately 3 months ago, my wife passed and I feel like I should be sad and teary and unable to face the world. I was sad when she took her final breaths, but since that I have been fine, taking life as normal as you please. She was sick for a long time and I keep telling myself it is because I am happy her suffering is done. I really can’t convince myself that is true.
Frugal April 4, 2022 at 9:25 am
Mark, your experience is similar to mine. The fact of it is, you did your grieving before the death rather than after. I was puzzled at my lack of grief and inability to weep and it dawned on me that I had been grieving for years. When my father died unexpectedly and in good health, the experience was shattering and completely different and I grieved deeply for two years. Lucky for us we have this forum to help us understand these differences.
Tallulah Phillips November 15, 2021 at 4:25 pm
my grandfather died yesterday. and my parents wanted me to stay home from school. but i went in because i didn’t want to sit around and feel sad all day. i can hardly believe he’s gone. i don’t feel overly sad but i’m not happy. i’ve just felt numb ever since. i’m scared.
Litsa January 23, 2022 at 9:31 pm
I am so sorry – the feeling of numbness can be unexpected and scary, but please know that, especially early on, it is very normal. I am sorry I am just now seeing your comment, but as some time has passed I imagine your grief has likely evolved in many ways. I hope you are finding ways to feel connected to your grandfather’s memory and coping with the grief.
T August 29, 2021 at 1:06 pm
This article helped me make a little sense.
I lost my brother to suicide almost 7 days ago. He battled ptsd from military service. He lost that fight.
I felt like there is something wrong with me, I am laughing one minute crying the next but then have had days where I am showing no emotion and moving about my day. I feel like I should be in the fetal position on the floor, and I’m not.
This article helped me make somewhat sense and that this is my grief and I am navigating the best I can.
Thank you for writing this.
Litsa August 30, 2021 at 1:19 pm
I’m glad it was helpful and so sorry for the loss of your brother.
Erika December 6, 2021 at 8:13 pm
I’m so sorry for your loss. This is how I feel too. I thought i would become hysterical and then just lay down, go catatonic and never recover. Instead I choke and cry for no real reason, but mostly feeling like nothing even happened. I replay the whole thing in my mind constantly but it doesn’t always bring up any emotions. I blame my antidepressant but it is deeply disturbing to me. My pain is primarily from seeing how devastated my family is.
Marrilynne June 24, 2021 at 9:46 pm
Thank you for this info. My husband passed after a long fight with COPD and I am “Not falling apart like everyone expected”. He was sick for so long and maybe I was grieving for him before he passed? Does that happen to people? I asked the Lord for so long to heal him or take him…and when it finally happened…I am sad and miss him terribly…But almost feel releaved …..am I normal? Or should I see a counciller about my feelings? Thanks.
Jennifer J Peterson November 14, 2021 at 1:49 am
Merrilynne, first off, I just seen this and i’m very sorry for your loss.
Seems to me that you prayers were answered. You found relief knowing your husband is free of the pain, had known how much you truly cared loved him, take heart in that and hold his memory close. He found his peace, so you found yours.
I do not want to sound disrespectful to your husband by any means, but your life is not over so go on and live it! Sending hugs❤
Giselle June 14, 2021 at 12:21 am
My brother is in the ICU right now and it looks like he won’t make it through the night. My family is crying all around me and yet I’m sitting here fine and typing this with my eyes clear and tear-free. I don’t feel sad, I don’t feel grief. If anything I feel guilty because all I want right now is to go home and lay down on my bed and not sit on these uncomfortable chairs. I’ve felt this way before about my grandparents when they died and the only thing that is making me not freak out about this is the grief I felt when my cat died. I can feel sadness and grief and yet I don’t feel it for my brother right now. All I feel is worry for my family and how they’re going to cope with the loss of my brother. My grief truly is absent.
Lisa Moore June 14, 2021 at 2:18 pm
There is nothing wrong with you. Everyone processes in their own way. Perhaps you instinctively feel you need to be the strong one. Maybe you are feeling some other kids of ways. It’s okay to feel or not feel. I am however very sorry about your brother and how this will impact your family.
lepp May 3, 2021 at 3:30 am
I thought that there was something wrong with me. Because I wasn’t grieving that much after losing my mother. I felt guilty because I know I should be mourning and everything should feel numb. Everytime I think of my mother, I don’t feel pain, knowing that she’s dead.
Then 2 months later, I lost one of my friends to suicide. That’s when I truly grieved. I grieved my friend’s death more than my own mother’s. I felt more pain knowing that my friend had died. I was confused. I felt really bad because why am I grieving my friend’s death more than my mother’s?
Then I came across this article. My mother died of terminal illness… for the past 2 years, I’ve seen her deteriorate more over time, it was painful watching her suffer. She looked so fragile. Some nights I’d go to bed and imagine scenarios where my mom would die sooner or later. Maybe that’s where my grief started.. The worries and anxiety while my mom was still alive.. That’s where I grieved slowly. I was experiencing Acticipatory grief.
Unlike my friend’s death, which was very sudded, I grieved a lot, because I did not expect it, and I knew I could’ve helped her.
Lisa Moore December 19, 2020 at 7:43 am
My 40 something year old step-sister just died of suspicious circumstances and I’m struggling with my feelings. My brother, sister and I were “my dads kids” whereas my step siblings, the adopted children and the half-child were “their kids”. We definitely felt like intruders in their lives when we were included in family gatherings. Even though I’ve known my step-sister since her single digits (I’m the oldest), I don’t have any good memories of her.
My step-mother who is obviously grieving the loss of her daughter wants all the siblings to talk about said sister at the funeral but I have nothing to offer but memories of her drunk or crying or drunk and crying. 30 years and I have nothing. We had nothing in common, to me she had the personality of cardboard. We were strangers but in the same family.
I feel really bad and its also bringing up those long pushed down feelings of abandonment. I’m sad but not because of her death, I’m sad for her husband and the young children she left behind, I’m sad for her grieving mother, and the siblings who did know her. Why do I feel so guilty?
IsabelleS December 21, 2020 at 11:29 am
Lisa, I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through this. This situation sounds immensely complicated. I believe this article may be of some help to you: https://whatsyourgrief.com/grieving-someone-you-didnt-like/ All the best to you.
Donna March 12, 2020 at 6:40 pm
Hi – how strange it was to read your story, so young and faced with loss. When I was 12 my sister of 16 was killed in an auto accident, and I related to a child can bumble through it. In my own way, I did – believing that person in the coffin was a plastic model of her as I was shoved into the casket by my aunt saying you will never see her again, to it being Easter and the priest saying we must rejoice, “REJOICE” – I did not get it – especially in the months that followed, as my mother went into depression, and often said she wished I was dead over my sister, my father who would avoid home and come home drunk, as he was burying his pain, a family that needed taking care of and roles I assumed as caretaker for the siblings – and my deep deep anger at God – how could I rejoice. My sister and I smoked, and the last thing she did on her way out was give me (yes at 12) a 1/2 pack of menthol cigarettes. I honestly have to say I hated smoking, but smoked heavy. One day at the age of 40, I looked at the pack of cigarettes, and said to myself, this is why I smoke, they are the only connection I have to my sister. Upon leaving the nest at 16, finished high school, and as my mother drove me around to get jobs in banks, etc., I was saying don’t hire me, as I was planning to get away, and I successfully did. In doing this, little did I know at the time, but I had become the sole servant of the house, and in doing so – my mother was so angry, but she was always angry with me, from the time I was born, she told me I should have aborted you, I don’t know what her grief was, but she did not love me at all, and this I knew. But I didn’t know that then because I left all would be turned against me, I would be the scapegoat, the black sheep all of my life, except for my father, who just didn’t know how to deal with this situation. Years followed where it was come here, come, all will be okay, only for me to end up leaving having been psychically beaten or stripped down verbally beaten. My father was then killed in 1983 – I was 33 years old, and he was the only person I truly connected to. Much history in this. Regardless he is gone – my life is busy of course I am in a very abusive relationship, which resulted in two children, and a horrific divorce – and finally when I was on my own, finally that thought of the cigarettes came to my mind, and I started to think of all the nights I cried about my sister, about my grandmother, about my father – and then spent years trying to unravel where I was at. I had to identify with the fact, I had several very close deaths, and had no idea there was a process to grieving, and letting go in a loving way. Wow today I am 70 years old, and can say it is only in the last ten years, I have finally let go. I no longer buy things that remind me of, as I was never given anything to keep as a thought of, so I would see something that was what they had, and buy it – now I can let it all go. It is peaceful, and I wonder why I had to go through a lifetime of grief, which has way more complications to it than what I can possibly write here – to finally learn to let go. Letting go is letting go of the physical aspect they are not physically present in your life, but they are ever present in your memory, in the decisions you make, and you will always love them as deeply today as the day they passed. Impending is my eventual loss of life, and moving into the mystery of the life after, and now I more understand why the journey had to be so long, tho’ I suffered ever so deeply, I learned so very much, about love, and about loving myself as well. Today if I had a choice to be part of the perfect family, I would say no, and I would re-travel the very dysfunctional, narc nest, that I was born into, with the exception of those few people who were not sick, but caught by the evilness of it and died in it. I believe I brought them joy, I believe we created a bond, and I believe we will one day all hang ou again. So my journey into the next life of mystery will take with it a lot of knowledge and allow me to to be as I was on earth, loving, but not confused, naive, but rich with knowledge in dealing with diversity and difficulty. I would never believe there would be a day I would be grateful and thankful for the bullies, the narcissistic people that were in my life, but through them I learned so much, as I would not be them, I wanted to be me, and they made me learn to be me, learn to understand and mostly to learn how to love myself, and be able to forgive them for what they did, but not allow them in my life any longer. I also think what I am trying to say, is we can write about grief, but grief has it’s own timeline and indeed it could almost be a lifetime to truly understand it.
Anonymous March 7, 2020 at 1:47 pm
I don’t miss my dad as much as I “should”. He was a very kind person. We got along fairly well.
But I don’t like how he made such a big deal about racial pride. I wish I was of Anglo-Irish heritage, instead of being a W.O.C. So when dad fussed over his heritage, I got aggravated at him. We fought about that. He didn’t understand my aversion to the subject.
So over the years I don’t miss him all that much anymore. I miss my “honorary relatives” (friends that were like family to me) more than I miss anyone else that has passed. Especially Mrs. I (a grandmotherly neighbor I had who WAS of Anglo-Irish heritage, 3rd generation, I think), & Mr. JT (who was 2nd generation Irish). It bothers me that people think I grieve “too much” over Mrs. I & Mr. JT. But I wanted to be of either English or Irish heritage, so when I lose a friend that was in that category, it’s a doggone big deal.
So that’s why, for the last decade or so, I don’t miss my dad so much anymore. Blood doesn’t have to be thicker than water. I often say to my dad: “Sorry, Dad. You were exceptionally good & kind to me, but I just miss Mrs. I & Mr. JT (& even though I never met him, Sir Stephen Cleobury too) so much more…because of the ancestry/heritage factor.”
FYI: Even my newest email address pays tribute to Sir Stephen Cleobury!
Lynne March 3, 2020 at 10:26 pm
My husband had his first signs of dementia about 10 years ago. It progressed slowly for a while, but as it progressed, I could see that I was losing little pieces of him. He was an engineer and when I realized that he had lost his computational skills and couldn’t solve engineering problems anymore, or even balance a checkbook, I was nearly in tears. That was such a large part of him. He could answer people’s questions off the top of his head, but not anymore. He lost a lot of his long term memory and some of his short term memory. Then he began to get weaker and weaker. Our doctor finally put him in hospice home care. He died three weeks later. I was his primary care giver at home so it was somewhat of a relief to lose that burden. However, I was willing to take it on as long as was needed. The thing I regretted most was that his emotional center seemed to have been lost. He no longer thanked me for taking care of him. He quit saying I love you. Those little things would have made me feel better, so I grieved that loss. We were married for 58 years. There is a big hole in my life, but I don’t think I am avoiding grief. I think I have finished grieving for the most part.
Ruth December 5, 2020 at 7:15 am
Lynne, I’m very sorry for your loss. My husband passed away last week. Our story appears to be very similar to yours. We went through a very rough patch about three years ago when his dementia was becoming much more evident and very difficult to cope with – I now believe that is when I started to grieve. I too was the primary caregiver during a lengthy at home hospice period, and it’s these memories that are most troubling to me now. Thank you for your post.
Suzanne Utts March 3, 2020 at 6:49 pm
In reading this article, it seems that all the people in my life who have died were suffering before they died and I knew it. So much of my grief was anticipatory. Also I was usually the one who had to look after my family to the detriment of myself. (I’m being realistic here, not having a pity-party.) In addition to all that, they ALL loved the Lord, which is such a blessing, and I knew and am still comforted by the knowledge that I will see them again. I miss each of them, mom, dad, mother-in-law and my sweet husband who died of Alzheimers. (Anybody who has been the sole caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimers knows that horror and mind-numbing responsibility. I went on auto-pilot for so long.)
I believe also that our family culture has a lot to do with how we grieve. Absence of tears and wailing, isn’t absence of grief.
Lagatta de Montréal February 5, 2020 at 9:35 am
Another case is when we learn that someone who had been severely abusive of us has died, in my case my older brother. Fortunately not sexually (he would now be called an asexual) but extreme physical violence, destruction of my possessions, my juvenile writings and paintings and so forth. I’m not at all happy about his sudden death, but I feel nothing.
Patrick Cahill February 4, 2020 at 8:44 pm
We lost our 37 year old son and father of twin three year olds 7 months ago from a very unusual aortic rupture. As his dad I knew that at first I would try to help everyone else (3 siblings, his wife, my wife, and the twins) through the first several weeks. But then I became worried that I wasn’t experiencing the same kind of gut wrenching emotional grief they were and which I expected I would. There have been some tears and days filled with sorrow , disbelief and numbness but never the intense crying only intense depression. I suppose it just blended into the ongoing grief we regularly experience as parents of two sons with autism and Asbergers syndrome. We’ve seen most of our dreams for them, a normal life, and our golden years shattered over and over again. This article was very helpful and I’m not feeling as weird anymore.
Charmaine Tunn January 22, 2020 at 4:28 pm
You articles nearly always hit a nerve with me! I always look forward to them. My beautiful son died nearly 7 months ago at the age of 34. I was devastated and experienced pain such as I could not imagine previously. Absolute misery. Crying anywhere and everywhere. About 3 weeks before Christmas I broke down on the phone to my sister who lives in another state and she came up to stay with me. At the same time I saw a qualified Psychologist for the first time who gave me ‘grounding’ exercises and breathing exercises. Also that week I saw my GP and was prescribed anti-depressant medication. The change has been monumental. It is good to have the relief but now I am worried that I am numb and simply cannot , in my mind, apply the word ‘death’ to my son. So is this OK? Maybe I am overmedicated? It is like the emotional grief has just stopped in its tracks to be replaced with a weird disconnection.
Cindy Kaplan February 12, 2020 at 10:22 am
I lost my son 2 1/2 months ago. It was awful. I’m Jewish and we held a “Shiva” which is visitors to the home. I was busy letting people hug me and seeing old friends. Talking and eating. I didnt cry.
I worried about that. I worried about everything.
I still worry. And I’ve had tearfilled days since. Many. I sleep. I stopped working even part time because my life has been too filled with pain before this happened. It’s time for me to rest.
Your grief will be your grief. Mine will be mine. Others will have their own.
I went to a grief group for parents who lost their children. I felt warmth, connection and acceptance in these folks with the same loss I am suffering.
Dont worry. Just be. I’ve been on antidepressants for a million years. They balance things a little but dont numb pain. That’s my experience.
I’m sorry for your loss. I think you are where you are supposed to be.
I know that whatever I’m feeling now will keep changing. Not at the expense of the memory of my son.
I forget things and do very odd things. Like frantically look for my phone while I’m talking on it. I simply said thank you to a friend who wrote me a long email. In 45 years I have been writing, visiting and talking to him. He lives in Europe. It freaked him out and he got worried.
You just have to keep sharing and letting grief be organic. Sharing here helps to feel more ok.
We are sisters.
Itismoi January 21, 2020 at 6:51 pm
I had always expected to be completely hopeless and helpless when my mother died. She was 94 and passed away two years ago freeing her from pain caused by complications from diabetes and just old age. We were very close, and it probably had something to do with our personalities. It could have been that I was the youngest of five siblings. Although we had that closeness, I felt nothing when she died , and I did not cry. I had spent an entire afternoon years before writing the service. Her brother had died, and my siblings asked if I’d taken care of that yet. My mother did not want to participate, so I finally just gave her options like which of these verses do you like the best. I already knew the songs to include. The service was emailed to the funeral director who presented it to my brother years later when my mother died. He was ecstatic that our mother had such forethought! It was my responsibility to shop for an appropriate dress for my mother, make decisions about the color of the boutonnières for the pallbearers, and to design the program. I screwed that one up and left the obituary off the back cover. My brother also reviewed it and approved it, so I didn’t feel too bad. The pianist and backup pianist at the church were not available. I contacted a friend who knew mother, and she gladly accepted the appointment. The funeral director bypassed my brother and came directly to me. We had dealt with each other the year before, and they were more comfortable with me than him. It bothered me a lot that all of my siblings were seated beside me during the service, holding each other’s hands and crying. No one reached over to take my hand. I wasn’t crying. It bothered me that, after the service, none of them nor their children hugged me although they were all exchanging hugs. It bothered me that I felt nothing for a woman, my mother, whom I loved so dearly. I decided that there wasn’t anything wrong with me really. After all, the year before when I became acquainted with the funeral director, it was to prepare for the service of my 21 year old daughter. Yes, I am still bothered and don’t understand their actions, but I realized long ago that I do love my mother, I have finally begun to grieve her loss, but sometimes we cannot “do it all”. When one is faced with a tragic loss followed by one that is expected, the tragedy outweighs the other. Mama would understand.
Helen Hieb January 21, 2020 at 6:24 pm
My husband committed suicide just over a year ago. It’s still shocking to me when I think about the moment I found him and the complicated feelings that I had about it. I waited for the intense, soul crushing grief to hit me for weeks and then months. Now it’s been over a year and I still have not cried about it, lost my cool, felt depressed. I am sad occasionally and I miss him being there to talk to and share my life events and interesting happenings, but I don’t think I feel any grief. Sometimes I think he is with me in spirit when I see a beautiful sunrise or find myself talking to the news program. Is it wrong to feel almost nothing for this long? Am I a cold heartless person because I didn’t grieve the way I think I should have? Do I feel guilt over his passing? Yes, I really do because I think I could have done more to help him. (please don’t explain to me that I shouldn’t feel that way – it’s my feelings and I am going to feel it). It’s just curious – I have thought often that it will hit me hard one day, but so far that day has not arrived.
Lisa July 1, 2021 at 5:40 pm
I just read your story. I wanted to say because I’ve experienced suicide in a loved one as well, that the anger of them taking their own life instead of pushing through like the rest of us do counteracted the sadness for me. I’m over the anger now but still don’t understand why they killed themselves. I know I never will.
Jackie September 21, 2022 at 12:44 pm
Lisa, my mom passed away June 19 2022. I wasn’t real close with her. I’m sad but haven’t cried like I thought I would have. My brother killed him self July 17 2003. It was six days before my birthday. I thought what a way to spend my birthday. Then 2 years later my dad died. I’ve had people to tell me that it gets easier, well it don’t. It hurts me more that my dad’s gone than my mom. I don’t understand why
. It hurts me so bad that my dad’s gone. I guess because I felt like he loved me more. I don’t know. All I know is it hurts so bad. I don’t know.
Carolyn Bjornstrom January 21, 2020 at 3:11 pm
My 85 yr old husband died 4 months ago, not from one of his known medical conditions, but from a new and rapidly advancing illness that took his life. He was in Hospice care, in local facility that was well staffed, we actually had a private one bedroom furnished apartment. I was permitted to spend overnights with him. I went home briefly every day to handle mail, gmail, voice mail, and feed and water our cat. I kept my emotions under control. UNTIL I went in our home. Where I suffered intense flight or fight, actual physical feelings. I still have those feelings, except when I get behind the wheel of my car, even if it’s just a quick hop to the store. I believe this is #1, I’m taking physical action. Which flight/fight requires us to do. Rationally, I know I have nothing to fear. #2, I don’t associate him with grocery store, or the hairdresser, or the pharmacy etc, those were my “jobs”. #3, my/our home requires me to take on a lot of responsibility. For 45 years I swear we threw nothing out !! Either one of us. And this is too much for me. I’ve deferred the decision to sell, and go into an apartment, as right now I don’t trust my judgment. I want this feeling to go away.
Marie January 21, 2020 at 1:48 pm
Hello! It’s been a while since one of your articles hit a nerve. My Eric died almost four years ago. Recently, a friend observed that I seemed to have taken his death better than she thought I would. My husband and I were so close, I guess everyone expected me to fall apart. I did, too! So I’m not grieving like I expected to. But it doesn’t mean I’m not. It’s just so overwhelming (yes, still!) that when I feel that heaviness, I think of all the happiness we had. I feel quietly sad and then end up laughing about things he said. It works for me. Thank you for this web site. Marie
Hazel June 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm
hi. i lost my mother 10 days ago. she was sick for almost 20 years but the last few years were torture for her. specially the past 4 months, she had sepsis besides kidney failure and lupus and a lot of complications. she was my whole life, i was her bestfriend, i took care of her all the time specially the last 2 years. she left and i don’t know how i feel, i brokendown/cried for 3 or 4 times but inner me feels like it’s better for her and kinda releaved for her, I don’t how to act i feel guilty for not grieving or I’m avoiding grieving and I’m afraid to hit me suddenly. i don’t know anything but trying to move on and i want everything back to normal makes me a bad person or what i really don’t know..i miss her and i feel empty but i can’t grieve..
Lisa July 1, 2021 at 5:36 pm
Perhaps you’ve already grieved. I’m sorry that your mom was so ill and that you spent a large part of your life taking care of her but you must be exhausted and very relieved. And there is nothing wrong with that.