“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.