Questions I get asked: “Why aren’t I reacting normally to my dad’s death? I feel numb. Why am I not feeling it like everyone else is?”

“Why aren’t I reacting normally to my dad’s death?  I feel numb.  Why am I not feeling it like everyone else is?”

I was asked this question the other day and thought is would make a good blog.  Because if you’re one of those people who seems to feel almost nothing after the death of your parent or someone close it can be easy to worry that you aren’t behaving as you are supposed to, aren’t dealing with it, or that you’re ‘cold’ – the word used to describe herself by the woman who asked me this question.

I’ve written quite a bit before on why you shouldn’t set certain expectations of what your experience looks and feels like and not to feel guilty about any of the way you are feeling, but I’d like to touch specifically upon this particular feeling – this numbness.  It’s not denial or disbelief – there is almost a quiet acceptance in it.  And it’s not that you necessarily feel fine about it….it’s more that you aren’t really feeling anything.

And at this time one of people’s biggest worries for themselves is a) that they aren’t behaving as they should and b) that maybe they aren’t dealing with what has happened.

So let’s talk about that…

What should you be feeling?

I won’t write a lot here as I’ve written this blog before on exactly this topic.  What I will reiterate though is that anything you are feeling or not feeling is fine. I don’t care what you’ve read, heard, or been told – there are no rules, no required process or pattern that you must follow.  What you feel is what you feel.  Try not to judge and decide what you should be feeling or what would be a better or more appropriate way to feel. You’ll help yourself (and others) a heck of a lot by being able to just honestly feel what you feel.

So why do I feel numb?

 The first thing to know is…don’t worry that you aren’t dealing with this.  The knowledge is in your head.  The questions are being asked.  Your mind is working on it.  If you worry that you aren’t grieving or  ‘letting it out’ – there is probably another outlet happening for you, even if not a big or obvious one.  Unfortunately this is often your body i.e. your emotions may be numb but stress and pain may be building up in your body and you may be getting aches and pains.  You might be getting angry or upset about other, seemingly unrelated things instead. (I had an ex who caught the brunt of this from me after my dad died.  He mas a much easier, safer, and less painful target for my pain.)  You will be letting it out – maybe just in little ways – but you will be.

 So why the numbness?  Our brains are pretty clever little machines and though I have little knowledge of the inner workings (despite using one every day of my life – ok, so there are probably plenty of times I haven’t….) I do understand that my brain will protect me from more than I can deal with in one go.  I always say that we can hide anything at all from ourselves (though never permanently) – this is very often a protective measure.  Something like a death of your mum or dad can be just too big to get your head around in one go, so your mind pops the idea somewhere safe. You’re well aware of it – just not quite ready, for whatever reason, to take it all in and try to understand and deal with the meaning and the repercussions right now.

You don’t need to fight this numbness – it’s obviously where you need to be right now and your head is stopping you from biting off more than you can chew/handle.

Because you aren’t feeling much or crying at all it doesn’t mean you are cold or don’t care.   Of course it doesn’t!  All children love their parents and all parents love their children – no matter who you or they are, no matter what you or they have done, and no matter how much you’ve sometimes hated them.  You love them .…whether you want to or not. There is an unbreakable bond there.

If you feel numb, don’t try and force emotions that aren’t coming.  Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up and don’t concern yourself with what doesn’t, give yourself the opportunity to cry (as it’s very healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually to do so) by popping on a sad movie if you feel like it.  And just know that when you are ready you might start to notice some different thoughts and feelings.

Your numbness is often just a bit of a bubble protecting you from trying to get your head around too much too soon.  And though you don’t want to stay in this bubble too long, for now it can be incredibly useful.  If it wasn’t helping you out right now you wouldn’t be doing it.

So in answer to “why aren’t I reacting normally to my dad’s death” the answer is……you are.  You’re just doing it in a different way and in a way that suits you far better for now.

If you are feeling numb try asking yourself why it’s useful to you, just so you don’t feel guilty about it.   In my case, and in the case of many (though not all) of my clients, the numbness made it possible for me to process things in my own time and a bit more privately, but also allowed me to hold myself together while I had to do all the funeral planning, phone calls, helping rearrange the finances that I probably couldn’t have done had I been feeling all my emotions.

If you’ve been through or are going through this I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.  And for all your questions or blog topics you’d like to read I’m just an email away.




About Kristie West

I'm a Grief Specialist and I help adults who have lost a parent. I am known for positively changing people's experience of the loss of a parent in less than 4 hours.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Looking after yourself, Loss of a parent, Questions I get asked, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Questions I get asked: “Why aren’t I reacting normally to my dad’s death? I feel numb. Why am I not feeling it like everyone else is?”

  1. shirley says:

    Hi kristie,
    I really like this blog, and totally relate to yourself and the lady who asked about this. Not too long after my mum died I remarked about these same feelings to a friend of mine, I could not feel a thing and I was totally numb. I then compared my reaction to my mums death to that of my grans some years earlier, which I felt immediately and cried every day on waking for weeks, I was crushed and had no problems feeling it!
    I was worried because I thought this somehow meant I felt my grans death more?! I now realise of course this is not so, and although I love and miss my gran dearly, the pain of losing my mother is something else, something my mind has to take its time over, for to feel it all at once would stretch my limits.
    I really feel that my subconscious is only letting in a little realisation at a time, and that I should just go with this and trust my ‘ self ‘ to know how much I can handle. I dream about my mum every night, I believe this is my minds way of slowly processing and making real for me what I dont want to be true. For me, right now I would say the numbness is still partly there ad that i need it (3 months later) however, it is fading. To help Myself with this I write down a lot of how im feeling, or just take time to myself to think it over (Im not big on face to face conversations about how I feel) I find this helps a little in making sense of the many different emotions you start to feel all at once. But thats just me, others like to talk! 🙂 Anyway, this reply is going on a bit so i’ll just say to your client, I know where you are and its normal, necessary even, you will get there in your own time xx

    • Kristie West says:

      Hi Shirley, writing down what you’re feeling (especially if you aren’t a big ‘talker’) is a fab idea – so you can stay in touch and be honest about what’s going on or you and just acknowledge everything that is coming up, whatever that might be. Don’t censor any of it.
      After I posted this a friend wrote to me describing how when she seemed fine after her dad died someone at the funeral commented that she mustn’t have loved him. This is one of the biggest problems with grief (and why it’s so easy to get stuck there long-term) – that we have expectations of what it looks like, how people should behave and that the more you loved them the more (and longer) you should be hurting. When we believe it has to be like this we ensure we will hurt for much much longer than we necessarily do.
      Just letting yourself experience whatever comes up, no matter who says what, is so healthy right now.
      It makes perfect sense that your Gran’s death felt like it hit you harder if it was a much easier loss for you to handle.
      I wouldn’t always say trust your brain (they can be tricky gadgets)…but this time trust your brain 😉 – it’s just helping you digest slowly and also manage all your other responsibilities at the same time. 🙂

  2. Celia says:

    Great post Kristie, it describes exactly how I felt for weeks after my dad passed, until I came to see you in fact! xxx

  3. Mike Stephens says:

    Very interesting Kristie. This will be my first acknowledgement of this, but I’ve yet to cry since my dad’s death three months ago. Was I sad when he died? YES! I’ve thought a whole lot about something else you and I talked about, that being that he would not want me to be grieving over him. I loved him, I miss him, and I wish he hadn’t suffered the last couple of months of his life, but I’m in a better place than I would have ever thought possible if you had asked me how I thought I’d be under these circumstances before it happened. Although she’s better now, my sister cried a lot at first. Thanks for making the point that we are all dealing with the death of our loved one and that there is no norm, and no right and wrong way, and we should not focus on how we think we should be acting and reacting.

    • Kristie West says:

      Hiya Mike,
      you’re so right – that everyone deals with it differently and, as long as we don’t have expectations or guilt about what we are feeling or not feeling, the experience will be that little bit easier.
      Stopping ourselves from crying or forcing ourselves when we don’t feel like it – neither are very useful.
      As long as you don’t physically feel stress building up then I wouldn’t worry about not crying. When people are holding it in or feeling all the stress building up in their bodies (from holding all the emotions in) then I would be recommending sad movies etc, to get the emotion out of the body.
      But everyone releases stuff in different ways. I was told over the weekend that laughing is just as therapeutic, releasing, and healing as crying.


  4. elisabeth says:

    Thank you so much for this, it helped me a lot. my dad died two days ago, and while there have been times in the last couple days where i’ve sobbed, ive felt numb for the other times. I felt so guilty because i didnt know why. But thank you

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