Why Don't I Cry When Someone Dies?

General / General : Eleanor Haley

If ever there were a time you'd expect to cry, it's after the death of a loved one or other significant loss. You're sad as hell, and everyone around you is weeping, so you probably should too, right?

For some, yes, their tears could fill the deepest canyon. But for others, their tears are like a sneeze that won't come. Though they may feel the precursing sadness--and perhaps a pit in their stomach and a lump in their throat-- their eyes remain dry.

We receive a lot of questions about crying--or rather--not crying after a loss. People want to know, why don't I cry when someone dies? Though there are many variations on this question, they usually fall under one of two categories.

Category # 1: I'm usually a crier, but I can't cry now. What gives?

Many people are distressed at not being able to cry because they typically can and do cry when something upsetting happens. However, now that something truly devastating has happened, they suddenly find themselves cut off from a means of emotional expression that usually seems second nature.

Though this is a common experience, it's normal for a person to worry when something deviates far from their baseline (i.e., what they're used to). So, if this describes you, we've written about the experience of "feeling nothing" here and discussed why a person might feel numb after a loss here.

Category #2: Even though I'm not a crier, I expected loss to make me cry, and it hasn't. 

For many other people, their baseline is that they hardly ever cry, if at all. Some people rarely shed tears, and they don't know why. Others admit they avoid it because it makes them feel ashamed or embarrassed. This shouldn't be surprising when you consider how many children are raised to believe tears are weak, wrong, bothersome, or attention-seeking.

It's not okay that we as a society have made many people feel ashamed of a natural human experience like crying--but we have. And knowing this is the case, it's then equally unfair that we turn around and tell grieving people that if they're not openly weeping, they're somehow doing grief wrong. So we're mainly here to say it is okay to cry, and it's also okay not to cry if you can't or don't want to. 

We aren't saying that crying isn't a helpful outlet for many people--on the contrary--it certainly has its potential benefits, and if you're curious about those, a Google search will turn up many articles. Instead, we want to reassure those who aren't crying that it's okay. Crying isn't a required step in grieving a loss; it is not a measure of how much you love the person who died, and you can still grieve healthily even if the tears don't flow. 

But don't grievers need to "let it out"?

People often tell grievers that they "need to let their emotions out" by crying, which sets up the expectation that they would feel better if only their tears would flow. As a result, those who can't cry may worry they don't have access to a necessary emotional release valve. But, it turns out that the idea that crying is some essential form of catharsis during emotional times isn't entirely accurate

Crying does have self-soothing benefits; it's thought to release oxytocin and other helpful pain and stress-reducing hormones. But, crying is only one of many activities that can help in this way. Other activities that may have similar effects include physical and emotional intimacy, bonding with a pet, massage, music, exercise, artistic expression, meditation, etc. And with regards to emotional expression, there are countless ways beyond crying that people express their emotions (journaling, art, talking, etc.). 

The most important thing is that a person has tools for self-soothing, stress relief, and emotional expression, but those tools do not need to include crying to be healthy. 

An important catch: non-criers may receive less support

I think it's important to note that scientists don't really know why people cry emotional tears. Ultimately, there are many theories and many potential explanations. But one pretty solid theory about why people cry is that tears signal to others that the person crying is experiencing distress and needs help. 

Dating back to our baby days, we used crying as a way to get our needs met. As adults, tears help us send SOS signals to others that we need support. So, in this regard, non-criers may be at a disadvantage after experiencing loss because they might not get the help that others receive.

Though the grieving person may be experiencing a hurricane of thoughts, emotions, and physical responses on the inside, their outside looks calm. So well-intentioned family and friends may triage their support and assistance away from them towards others who are more outwardly struggling. 

Those who don't cry after a loss may also worry that not crying will signal that they're doing fine or aren't that bothered. And, not to scare you, but this is a legitimate concern. People often judge or stigmatize grief expression that looks different from what they expected (see our discussion on disenfranchised grief). Perhaps worse than the judgments of others is self-stigma, as the grieving person themselves may wonder if not being able to cry means something's wrong with them or if they're grieving less than they should (it doesn't).

So all this being said, if you feel that your lack of tears is impacting the support and care you're getting, you may need to deliberately tell people how you feel (instead of showing them). If you don't feel comfortable doing this, another option is to seek out more formal outlets for support, like a support group or therapist.  

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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:

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24 Comments on "Why Don't I Cry When Someone Dies?"

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  1. Chris+Albe  February 26, 2024 at 10:38 pm Reply

    My husband died suddenly in 2020 from a heart attack at home. I came downstairs and he was gone. I was in shock, but also I was told not to cry as a child and was punished and berated if I did. I am also a chaplain. So when the EMT’s and police came, I went into don’t cry you need to do this, this and this. After they finished a detective came to speak to me and said “ You don’t seem very upset about your husbands passing.” By that time my pastor and a dear friend had come. I looked at them and said”Tell them who I am.” Which they did.

    Due to Covid we weren’t able to intern my husband for 3 months, and a week before my daughter had a routine scan for a cancer she had, had 9 yrs earlier it was found that it had metastasized to her liver. I couldn’t grieve my husband then 22 months later she passed away, then I was able to grieve both together. Such a hard time.

  2. Gabe  June 15, 2023 at 12:55 pm Reply

    I lost my father about three weeks ago, he was my hero, my best friend, and we spent a lot of time together. I promised him I would be the strong one when this time came, as he needs me to make sure my step mother is financially sound. I have cried very little (I’ve cried more when i lost a pet) and its making me think I need to let it out. I think I am still in business mode and maybe after the estate is settled (months) that will be the closure that I need. I just feel depressed and numb now, wish I could let it out, but it wont happen. I find myself constantly doing something to keep my mind off from it.

  3. taffy  February 16, 2023 at 11:11 am Reply

    my really close friend died on valintines day 2 days ago. everyone was crying but i wasnt i cry alot though but its only when ppl judge me, so when im reading this i think that some kids where judging me for not crying and that makes me want to cry not seeing him in the casket though and that makes me hate myself. hearing my friend wailing and wimpering made me so sad bcs us 3 were the closest but one of them in crying and im not even though it seems i would. my hands would sweat but thats all that happened on the outside. my other friend grabbed me by the arm while buring him and was conforting me but if anything she needed it more she was the saddest one there and i felt guilty for not being on her level. i feel like when my friends saw me they questioned if i even cared for him, the teachers patted my back but in my mind i asked why me? like im not showing any emotion towards this so why me? but one thing is that i dont forget after this class went normal sometimes even laghter but i didnt laugh every time i heard them laugh i thought of him i cant do anything without thinking of him its drinving me crazy

  4. Wallace Patricia  January 23, 2023 at 11:15 pm Reply

    To all people here…I decided to consult a grief counselor/therapist. The best thing I’ve ever done for me and my family. Please consider.
    You are not alone…your family and friends care but can’t be objective or have professional experience. 🌸

  5. Dora  November 13, 2022 at 8:14 pm Reply

    when my only child (54 yrs) died suddenly. I was at the hospital where they brought him. His girlfriend was there and was crying so so very hard, I was crying but I had no tears, was it because I was in shock? I always have a lot of empathy, feel others’ happiness, hurt, pain, and loss and get very emotional. I just keep wondering why. I was very upset, I wasn’t angry.

  6. Christal M  October 12, 2022 at 3:33 pm Reply

    My adult son died November 2019. I was at work. I was taken to a room where my husband and the FBI (my son’s employer) told me he was gone. In my head the sound of screaming was deafening. Outwardly, nothing. Aware of the looks, I know they were judging me. The chaplain for the hospital, my employer, arrived and I heard him say snarkily, let’s go we’re not needed here. I honestly couldn’t breathe. Even some family believe I must not have loved him because I stayed “strong”. My concern was and will always be, first and foremost, the support of my husband who relies on my strength. I’ve learned it’s ok to cut ties with those who can’t be supportive of that. Thanks for this article and the place to voice this for the first time.

  7. Brooke McKearn  May 6, 2022 at 8:49 pm Reply

    I really felt this article because I find myself emotionless often with loss at this point. My son died 3 years ago and I cried so much that when I cry now, it literally exhausts me for the entire day and the next day. So I stay as busy as I can..I’ve had some very close losses since my son died but the tears do not come. There are times when I am caught up in grief still and I see a picture of think of a memory and it makes me sad and I’ve cried.
    I honestly think I cried every tear that I had left when my son died. Nothing will ever hurt that bad. Thank you for explaining that in this article.

  8. Michael Van Burger  April 30, 2022 at 1:35 pm Reply

    April 30 2022

    Hello, I came across this today 4/30/2022 & I currently am after reading your words in a shock bc every single thing you have expressed I can say soon to be 51 have for 10yrs hidden from PGS. All my DNA are alive but one by one they took turns and may as well just used a gun bc I was estranged for becomjng depressed after my partner of 15yrs left me without a conversation. Depression was used as a weapon less than 3 months from
    the day he left bc my sister in law said to my brother with home I was as close to my niece and nephews probably more than their parents and my brother told me in a 2 bottle whiskey black out when I asked why his wife was so cold to me today? ”you want the truth?” I said yes and I my intuition knew that whatever he was about to say needed me to hit record bc I knew Whatever he is about to say needs to be recorded.
    “maureen doesn’t want you around the kids anymore bc of your depression, she’s afraid you will hurt or kill the kids, not so much the 12 & 9 year old bc they can run for help but shes more worried about the baby” 3yrs old Valentine’s Day night 2012 He was my best friend as well and I haven’t seen them since. I became from even my parents whom I was closeted to estranged with non-stop abuse bc not 1 even in my extended family believe in #mentalhealth. I at 6 have NEVER been allowed to talk about being in a clinical trial weekly to beat the sissyboy out of me by a “leading sexologist“ who wrote a book, The Sissyboy Syndrome so weekly at Stony Brook University my mom took me in 1977 and I never experienced innocence from then on. The drive I knew by turns and the closer we got the more I was terrified bc it’s etched on my brain 🧠 bc I did not understand but what they all made sure I understood I was bad bc they told me over and over the nurse and the doctor but he got to hit me bc I walked and talked like a girl. Repeating, talking deeper? That was harder taking so I would be hit more for that on the back and he would make me walk and told me to stop shaking my behind side to side like a girl. I told my mom I felt like a girl inside at 6 and my first grade teacher also called to tell her I was being teased by the boys for playing with the girls so my mom said that she then took me to the pediatrician whom set up the trial. I didn’t know anything that was going on until arrival at the hospital. I leaned he was given a million dollar grant and recruited schools and pediatricians and told how lucky my mom and dad were for having a world renown sexologist right in our backyard.
    The first time the nurse came to get me thru those big plastic swing doors while sitting on 4 connected hard plastic bucket chairs and I just remember thinking the what the nurse was wearing.
    A white folded hat, a white uniform jacket, white skirt, white legs (stockings) and white socks and white shoe/sneaker to a “playroom” one nurse per one boy. She dumped out blocks and asked me what my favorite color was, that may have been the only thing I knew bc I gave her red instantly. She then took all blocks and told me that was a very bad color bc im a boy and that is a girl color. She then displayed boy blocks of colors and said today you will pick a new favorite color that is for boys. I only felt commected to red but she said so what is going to be your new favorite color and I handed her a BROWN block. Oh how happy she was and then to tell me now I can tell everyone my new favorite color. You do as told & my mom brought me so when she said I was bad for wanting to play with a stove I was taken to the boy toys, cars trucks planes dinosaurs and she too said I have to stop picking girl things bc you are a boy.
    Parents were informed to remove all girl colors toys and not to play with girls anymore. From then on I knew I was born bad bc no matter the day from me memory I was always scared bc people liked to hurt me and laugh no matter where I went or was. School bus religion store home bc my brothers too were the mean kids too and I was to be like them. BOYS so forced to play baseball every year and just lived in constant fear.
    I’ll stop but it wasnt until 2012 after the hell that I asked my mom the doctors name, she said she couldn’t remember just then and did call and tell me the next day. I goggled it & learned the year prior Anderson Cooper did a 3 part series on him and a colleague in CA but Anderson titled it The Sissyboy Project to learn most committed suicide. I turn 51 soon and this I have NEVER been allowed to talk about or being it up bc “we don’t talk about things” and “we don’t ask for help” also “I didn’t know what happened as a kid would effect you as an adult” that was the most I got. Still. Until now.

    Im sorry I wrote so much bc It’s a lot probably and maybe not the place to write it so I apologize if it is.

    I feel right now just as I did when I learned his name and the flood gates opened after I googled it, this tho I can only hope is a better shock that I will have to keep dissecting bc it is to me exactly 100% this time on your side.
    Stunned and it new so Thank You 🙏

    I have to point out the irony of today as the sister in law who decided my fate with full support from my family, today is her birthday. I know from memory not a party. So wow… Happy Birthday Maureen. Maybe now I can feel at least it’s out what happened and not being blamed and shamed into isolation living in fight and flight 4 10yrs as an urban nomad if you will trying to find help but “therapy” never helped, Thank You from the bottom of my heart ♥️ bc I am all heart. I feel before I think and that’s how I’ve always been so in decades of trying to change me they succeed in their intentional harm but as an adult I will never NEVER conform to them at all. Although they all are living I fear them all so much that I have severe PTSD from that day in 2012 from one persons control and not one person was by my side and I only was ever there in absolute love, didn’t think at 41 it could happen again.

    Thank You again,
    Michael Van Burger

    • Myrna  February 29, 2024 at 1:15 pm Reply

      I am so sorry you had to go through all that. I hope you, at some point, were able to get into a support group so you could be with others that identified with the opposite sex.. I can’t even imagine the emotional pain you went and still are going through. My heart goes out to you.

  9. cathy warth  April 28, 2022 at 4:19 pm Reply

    I lost my husband 2nd march 2022 this year. He died with bladder cancer which had spread to his brain and not diagnosed till far too late. He was having radiotherapy after an aggressive tumour was removed but started losing his appetite and balance . Doctors were seeing him but though he had scans they never scanned the brain where the cancer had spread to. Had himm admitted to hospital when he very quicckly became so ill. Was too late and though i saw him briefly 2 days after he was admitted was not allowed after he went into a ward due to covid. He was given 3 months and lasted under 2 weeks. I spent 5 days with him. So angry and hurt so much. Most wonderful guy and cannot get over him missing from my life. Just want to die and be with him. His children from previous marriage miss him so much too. I cannot move on

  10. Shawnee  April 28, 2022 at 6:24 am Reply

    I’m sorry to hear about all of ur losses and God Bless each of y’all! It’s very hard, sometimes it seems like the pain won’t ever subside. I lost a very dear person to me on April 17,2017 He was my daughter’s Dad. We weren’t together but we still had that love that never did go away. I just wish that I would have spoke up because I feel like if I would have, things would have been different and he would still be here. How crazy is it to just remain as friends with a love that strong for 28 years? CRAZY! I believe with all of my heart that he is with me a lot. I can’t say that it will ever stop hurting but I can say that if it gets unbearable just take some alone time and just have u a memorial of ur own to remember all of the good things and I promise, u will most likely start busting out laughing and crying like a psychotic person! I hope this gives a little inspiration to u guys that are really having a rough go! Talk to God and Jesus too, they really help big time!

  11. Marcea Pardus  April 25, 2022 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Thank you thank you for this explanation of not crying. My husband died in June 2021. I was his caregiver & I worked outside the home too. I realize that I had to “white knuckle” & stuff my feelings soo much to get thru the next situation at hand or to make a needed decision. I am “defrosting” now, but I realize not crying was/is a survival strategy. Blessings to everyone on a grieving journey one step, one breath at a time.

  12. lee  April 22, 2022 at 4:40 pm Reply

    I blame myself

  13. Olga Wallace  April 19, 2022 at 12:34 am Reply

    I am sure why I can not cry

  14. Lj  April 10, 2022 at 11:37 pm Reply

    Oh my where do i start first off my deepest sympathy goes out for all the great people for sharing your losses and feelings . In ways my feelings are like everyone in group. I’m a older gentleman live alone and have been health issues lost 44 lbs and haven’t felt like myself since my mother died april last year. It’s a concern of mine I feel broken inside and unorganized in my every day life. I feel better just Locke in my apt I only have one friend I call brother my adult children only think about them selves , but there busy with there own lives so no prob.gor me. My mother was my last relative every one of both sides have died . If I’m honest I feel very alone with no one to share feelings with. My one friend doesn’t wanna hear me share .I’m not sure if I’ll recover mentally and physically. I don’t feel like I’m totally in my body have bad time sleeping. Dies anyone else feel any of my weird life is there hope thank God I’m retired because im not.healed yet what can I do.to fix myself inside i. Have no feeling or emotions I’m just living day after day like the movie grounds hog day plz share. I’d love to hear from you and would like to find a group of people like me . I’m a great listener I never judge and here for anyone.l needing some where to share your ideas.

  15. Olga Wallace  April 8, 2022 at 11:37 pm Reply

    Grieving without years. Still not understandings why

  16. Sherrie  April 7, 2022 at 4:40 pm Reply

    I lost my father about two years ago to Cancer and Dementia. Was so very hard to deal with watching him go through all of this. I have found that during the funeral I could not cry, but the minute I was alone it was a full blown bawling. Then I learned that also am a little different at looking at their death than most. Especially if it has been a very hard time for them. I look at them and smile (and yes I have had many get a little upset with me) because I know that they are peaceful and they look happy.

  17. Thorpuppy  April 7, 2022 at 12:21 am Reply

    I lost my 71 year old mom at the end of June 2021. She was here, and then gone two months later from a very unexpected illness. I cried and went through the grieving process, I still tear up when I look at old pictures. However my little brother, my only sibling who is 8 years younger than me….I am 46 and he is 39….never shed a tear. Which is fine by me. I totally understand people who do and people who don’t. It doesn’t mean you are any less sad. This article is great.

    My good friend just lost her 72 year old mom in January 2022 due to Covid. She was with her mom until the end at the hospital. She didn’t cry at the funeral at all, some of her other siblings were…..and one of her cousins from out of town came up to her and accused her of being “cold” among other things….it really hurt my friends feelings because like me she was so close to her mom. I am sharing this article with her for sure! Thanks for all you guys do!

  18. Mary Lou  April 6, 2022 at 5:02 pm Reply

    My mom died 4/9/2021. I did not have time to grieve for her because I was overwhelmed with planning her funeral and other responsibilities. My disabled brother lived with her but was in rehab at the time she died. I had to find assisted living for him and arrange to sell mom’s house. I was fortunate to have two brothers and a sister-in-law who were very involved in all of this.

    We sold the house in November and my poor brother died 12/24/21, days after we got him into long term care. This was emotionally and physically exhausting.

    I didn’t have time to truly grieve my mother’s loss before I was grieving my brother’s. I didn’t cry much from April to December, off and on. I did have many sleepless nights, nightmares, dreams, palpitations in my sleep.

    MY daughters begged me to see my doctor for the sadness that overwhelmed me and I did. Medication and counseling followed.

    After we planned Jack’s funeral I went away for a week with my dog to a cottage in Maine at the suggestion of my husband, to get away from the work of the estates and trusts I would now have to settle. I took books, art materials and my music to comfort me.

    I created playlists for the funerals when we planned them and this is what i played for the week. I cried every day for hours and hours. I felt like a dam had broken and the music was a cathartic tool for me. My sweet dog was my loving companion and never left my side. She and II went for walks on the beach and long drives.

    My husband and daughters were texting me to make sure I was OK and I assured them I was trying to get past my sadness so I could function again. I came home early and have continued to process it all. I am no longer on medication because I hated the way it made me feel, I didn’t feel anything. I would rather feel pain or sadness when appropriate than nothing.

    I continue with a counseling program for depression and a nutrition program to take care of myself. I still play the music for mom and Jack, but now it soothes me to be able to take the time to remember them.

  19. Jane Lepold  April 6, 2022 at 1:38 pm Reply

    I have cried buckets of tears since 05/26/2017 – the day my son died by suicide. Since then, I have lost my mother-in-law, my brother, and my dad. I barely cried for them. Nothing compares to the loss of my son…especially when the subsequent losses are nature in the correct order of things, such as a parent. You expect and prepare yourself to lose a parent. Nothing can ever prepare you to lose a child.

    • Yvonne  April 28, 2022 at 4:18 pm Reply

      I agree, I lost 2 of my children and no pain compares. I lost my Mom a year after my 14 year old daughter passed and I didn’t cry. I felt numb, but no tears.

      • Ciaran C  October 21, 2022 at 5:31 am

        I’ve spent a lot of time and energy since 2016 caring for and looking after my elderly dad, mam and aunt, while also being there for my wife and kids. Not so unusual at my stage of life (54 years old). Dad died in a nursing home in 2018. While I mulled over the ways in which my caring wasn’t enough, I’ve come to accept that this is a perennial issue: the care I gave could never be everything he needed it to be. It was never going to stop him from dying, nor make his quality of life as good as I’d like it to be. I cried when he died. My tears were tears of relief (that all of the effort of caring for him was over) as much as they were tears of sadness.

        Mam needed more care and attention than she got during those years. While I saw her regularly, I didn’t have much time or energy to give to her, and we were probably a little bit distant emotionally. Mam died at the start of this year. Beyond just a general and superficial feeling of sadness that she’s gone, I’m not really feeling anything. I’ve shed no tears for her. But I can’t say I’m coping particularly well either. I’ve tried taking time out for myself, and spending time with siblings. It helps but I don’t feel like I’ve really connected with grief at all.

        My aunt died last month. That brought up some feelings of loss and anger, that I’ve done all this caring and now they’ve all gone. And it feels wrong that I’m not really sad or missing them. It feels selfish and self-centred.

        It feels like I’m waiting for whatever is next in the journey of bereavement. I’m trying journaling, which helps a bit, and I did some counselling after dad died. I’m just surprised at my lack of emotion.

  20. Trish  April 6, 2022 at 11:53 am Reply

    This article was appropriate for me today and much appreciated, as well. It has been over five years since my husband left me here alone, without him. I know he didn’t want to leave and he fought it so hard. I didn’t want to be left behind or for him to go anywhere without me. But it happened anyway. I haven’t cried much at all. One time about six months after he died, I returned from a road trip I took on my own for a couple weeks. When I got home and started to get out of his truck, it really hit me that he wasn’t inside waiting for me. And never would be again. That broke whatever had been holding me back and I cried and sobbed and screamed in the driveway for what seemed like forever. But that was one of very few times I fell apart. Now I’m “anhedonic” I guess: numb and empty and kinda lost inside; watching life but not really participating. My oldest son said “you’re handling this much better than me” but it just doesn’t show, as you explained in your article. I lost several others in the past five years including my mom a year ago. It does feel additive. I’m trying to be patient with myself and am confident the feels will return someday. But for now, staying mostly to myself makes me the most comfortable. Good luck, everyone. It’s rough. ❤️

    • Dorothy  January 5, 2024 at 1:10 pm Reply

      My last sister passed 3 weeks ago
      The home going service was 15 December 2023. I cried and cried saying so long
      A niece said she was going to lay down and cry I’m still feeling very sad and I want to cry and cry and cry but the tears won’t come

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