Help me miss my Dad
November 30, 2013 11:52 PM   Subscribe

My Dad died this week after a long illness. I don't feel a thing, except maybe tired. How do I get my feelings back? Are there resources for people like me?

I lost my Dad a few days ago and the funeral's on Monday. I feel terrible about not feeling any emotions whatsoever. I mostly feel tired, and relieved, and then guilty about feeling relieved.

My life for the past six months centered around Dad. The last three, I visited with him every day, often for several hours, just to sit beside him and hold his hand. He was depressed and angry and scared and there seemed to be nothing that would raise his spirits. I also worried about Mom who was caring for his increasing physical needs, and tried to be her sounding board. Then three weeks before he died, he was admitted to hospice where I visited with him every single day, usually for three to five hours. It mostly involved just sitting at his bedside and trying to help with the small stuff like assisting him onto the bedside commode, assisting with changing his diaper, holding the cup to his lips while he tried to swallow small sips of water without choking, wiping the spills, changing his shirts after the spills, and so forth. It was heartbreaking and emotionally exhausting.
I felt very sorry for him but often, as I was sittig there at the bedside, I was thinking of myself, of how tired I was, of how much I wanted a break, of duties and errands piling up, of cancelled trips I'd been looking forward to. And then when I wasn't at his bedside, all I wanted was to go back to the hospice, to see him again.

He died three days ago, after being unconscious for two days. I saw him last at 9 pm, and knew it could be the last time but I felt so tired, and had to work the next day. I wanted to come back early in the am, but he died at 4 am.

So, now it happened and I don't feel a thing. I cried for weeks when he first fell sick, I cried with each new symptom or loss, and now the biggest loss has come, and I feel nothing. I feel like this is the time for me to remember my Dad, to think of him, to pray and yet it's hard to make the thoughts of him real to me. Like he was a stranger who passed, not my Dad. I have no idea what to make of this, and how to become a feeling human again, and how not to feel like an unfeeling jerk.

So, for anyone who's been through this - is this normal? Is there a symbolic way of honoring my Dad while in this state of numbness? Is there a way to bring back the feelings, to bring back compassion, to make Dad real to me again? It's not that I want to feel pain for the sake of feeling pain, but I want to feel that connection to Dad that I used to feel and that seems lost, hopefully not forever.

I'd be especially grateful for book or blog recommendations.
Also, I wrote this question a few weeks ago.
posted by SecondSock to Human Relations (36 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
So sorry for your loss. Feeling numb for awhile is perfectly normal. When the pain is too much to bear, we shut down. This helps us get through making all the difficult arrangements that must be made.

The pain will come eventually and then the tears. Is there a hospice in your area? They can provide grief counseling or give you a recommendation.

Be kind to yourself.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:15 AM on December 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss. While I haven't been through anything similar to this, I have seen this reaction before. Don't torture yourself over it, it's pretty normal for some time to pass before your feelings realign with the situation after all the stress you have been through.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:17 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss, but here's what's happening to you:

You're exhausted. You're emotionally exhausted. That's why you don't think you feel anything. And you need to rest.

Rest now, that's what you need to do. You don't need to worry or worry that you're not worried or sad or whatever. Your Dad is still real to you -- he always will be, because even his passing can't change that. You just need to allow yourself to relax and rest.

Like you said, you're numb right now. The feelings will come. Sometimes they will be overwhelming. You need to rest to prepare for that.

Rest. Just lie down and rest.
posted by trip and a half at 12:17 AM on December 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

This is very normal. Your body and mind are tired from all the stress. The numbness in a way 'shields' you from the pain, so you can function somehow now. The other feelings will come, give it time and be patient and kind to yourself.
posted by Ms. Next at 12:26 AM on December 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: OP, this is so natural it's almost a cliche. Grief of varying intensities may come later - or it may not come at all, you may have done most of your grieving - and that's totally okay. Grief is an incredibly personal thing, and multiple studies have revealed how heterogenous it is, and also, that your reaction (exhaustion, relief, numbness) is actually very common.

Feel what you feel. Don't judge yourself on it, or be judged. You may find that different family members all react different; don't let their reactions make you question your own - or vice versa.

Anecdata: My dad died somewhat unexpectedly after being ill for about three months in March this year. I was extremely upset the night I head about. I flew up to QLD and spent the next week or so helping to organise his funeral, writing the eulogy, delivering it, etc.

I was not a complete mess - though it would have been fine if it was. I was, you know, quite sad, but not really crying or anything. There were many things that needed attention, which helped divert and distract me both on a physical and superficial level, but also, like, for me, the funeral stuff was so... not my father. Not really part of who he was or what he meant to me. So it didn't really rub salt into the wound, except where it was close to who he was (e.g delivering eulogy). It was just like... organising something kinda complicated at the last minute, and helping others who were struggling more keep it together.

I don't regret that at all. Grief is... well it's unpleasant to me, and definitely not something I wanted to share with people I didn't know so well. After the funeral, I flew back home with my family and started "waiting". Waiting for some tsunami of grief to hit me.

It didn't happen. Sure, I would get stabs of sadness, seeing dad's number in my phone, the note on the fridge from a letter he sent, when I did stuff I wish he could see. But I never really fell apart or anything. I thought I understood it all, and myself, and our relationship. I mean, it was sad, but for me, it was one of those things that happens to people.

You don't have to be like this, you may not be like this. But, I'm proof that you can be like this, and it doesn't mean you're repressing anything, that you're putting off a reckoning, that your love is somehow less pure or strong. It doesn't mean any of that. No one else can tell you how to feel, and no one else can understand or see those feelings but you. Don't worry about society's expectations of how you should grieve, just do it your own way.

PS I regularly checked in with my partner etc that my feelings of doing okay were not illusory.

PPS On talking to others who had lost parents, I discovered that this kind of progression is not as rare as you might think; lots of them reacted in a similar way.

My thoughts are with you, memail if you ever wanna chat.
posted by smoke at 12:51 AM on December 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

First of all, you are a magnificent child to have done so much for so long to care for your father. I am sure that he saw as much in his last days and that it was a great comfort to him.

Second, the grief will come. Maybe in largely manageable dribs and drabs, maybe as an unexpected 2x4 against the side of your head. It will come. And when it does, it is alright, and you can mourn on your time, and let it happen.

Peace be with you.
posted by LarryC at 1:25 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I found "A Grief Observed", C.S. Lewis useful during the process of a loss.

Part of your 'problem' may be that you've been grieving a long time, already. The event became a non-event because you went through the phases of anger, denial, negotiation, acceptance to some degree already? You've known this was going to happen, then it did. The shock many of us feel with an unexpected death brings everything at once, but for 5 hours a day, very recently, it sat in your lap.

Honestly, you honor your dad with your kind attention to his last days, not the tears you shed at the funeral. At a point, death is a calming thing for everyone.... His story is now over, except for the retelling. Your labors are done, lovingly and kindly....for the moment. The world will come to its conclusion now about your dad. The wheel and calendar will turn. A year will be here before you know it.

You may want to have the wound again. That is understandable. Pain is a tangible friend. The unknown has a fascinating quality. Now, it's known, and it's not as scary or horrible as you thought. Death is an event, and dying is a process. You are on the other side of it, now. Folks still breathe, have coffee, go for walks, grocery shop. Death for the second, is on vacation. You have scar tissue.

What comes comes when it wants to. You'll feel a wave when the pressures and tides conspire, at odd times at night and in the early day and when some trigger gets pulled. Can't really be done to a schedule. The calm you feel is natural.

Remember, too.... we all have our own reactions. Yours is yours, alone. It's right for that reason; the sum of your experiences and your relationship with him. How you do it is just a data point for the rest of us. The spectrum is broad and the goal is to incorporate this event into your ongoing life, as effectively and usefully as you can.
posted by FauxScot at 1:30 AM on December 1, 2013 [23 favorites]

Go easy on yourself... you sound very compassionate to me... but drained. I'm not surprised. Caring is incredibly intense on all levels. You're grief has been gradual, ongoing for a very long time. Right after 'the event' is a weird time anyway.. all the planning and being busy in a different way... who knows what happens next. Take a day at a time and turn some of that gentle compassion to yourself. Not easy for caregivers!
posted by tanktop at 1:39 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did most of my grieving for Dad during the year and a bit of severe incapacitation he suffered before he died. He'd had a stroke, and it fucked his beautiful brain right up and left him with severe motor and communication issues. He was miserable as hell, there was nothing any of us could do to make it less ridiculously hard for him, and when he died it was in fact a huge relief.

That was four years ago.

I still miss him like hell, but I never did seem to get around to the screaming and the wailing and the rending of garments.

Be kind to yourself, rest, and let your feelings be what they are. Do whatever you need to to unwind the guilt, though. Anybody who tells a grieving person they're Doing It Wrong is a perfect candidate for being told to fuck the actual fucking fuck right the fuck off.
posted by flabdablet at 1:42 AM on December 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your mourning will come when you hear a song, or smell a scent, or notice a man on the street who looks a bit like him, or walks like him, or wears the same kind of shoes he wore. The littlest innocuous thing can poke you in a raw spot you didn't even know you had. Maybe start carrying one of those little packets of kleenex.

You're not grieving wrong. Give your emotions a chance to decompress. Get enough rest and restorative do-nothing time.
posted by Lou Stuells at 1:53 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm terribly sorry for your loss. Yes, be kind to yourself.

I remember when my grandmother died. I was 15. It was my first experience losing someone really close to me. I felt really weird when I didn't feel anything through the entire process- being at her bedside when she died, at the funeral and even after several days of constant family visits.

I remember watching other people cry. But I didn't. And I felt really guilty about it. I didn't really feel anything. At all. But no one told me this was okay or normal. Which made me think I was a weirdo.

Then weeks passed. And I think a lot of natural processes beyond my young brain happened, and out of the blue I broke down.

Since then I've lost more people than I care to and the process is still the same. I am numbed for a while. I think it's your body's way of dispersing the pain. As if it knows that this is too much at once, so let's spread it out. First, mentally and objectively acknowledge that it's real, then feel it later.

I never lose my shit until weeks later. When I'm having a quiet moment on a lunch break or something.

Hey, be really nice to yourself. For a good while. Everybody processes stuff in their own time. You were an amazing kid to your dad in the end, by the way. Amazing.
posted by smeater44 at 1:57 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your absence of feelings isn't at all odd, they aren't 'gone', and they will return naturally. You're still in overdrive: going from a constant state of 'what is it I have to do now', its no surprise you are wondering what is it you have to do to get your feelings back etc etc.

Feelings, grief, etc, are all very non-linear processes. You don't have to do anything except for be kind to yourself and rest and accept your feelings when they come. For some people this will be weeks, some months, some- even years. There will be leftover unprocessed bits scattered about, upon which you stumble unexpectedly.

Some of your feelings will be noticeable, some you will have strong reactions to- and not understand their connections to your feelings for your father until a longtime later when you've had a chance to reflect.

I'm happy for you to have had the time you did, he was very very lucky to have you. It sounds a little bit like you feel like you didn't do the right things, or enough. YOU DID. and YOU DID THE BEST YOU COULD. What you did is really something to be proud of- (I know it doesn't feel that way- but others are proud of you, and for you).
posted by iiniisfree at 3:23 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

You're okay, what you're feeling is totally normal. The only problem is thinking there is a standard for grief, a single basic way that everyone shares to grieve. But there isn't one way, there are as many ways to grieve as there are people grieving.

You're emotionally numb and physically exhausted from taking such intensive care of your father; but there's one other aspect of watching someone go through a lenghty illness that you need to remember, and that's that to a large degree, you've ALREADY been grieving for him for the last several months..... ever since he received his final diagnosis, ever since you knew that he was coming to the end, you have in fact been grieving for him. All the sharp edges of your loss were long ago worn off.

I hate to use the word, but this is the one 'benefit' of watching someone go through a long final illness: we the survivors have a chance to say our goodbyes while they're still here with us. My own mother took fourteen years to go, inch by painful inch; when she died, I was numb, but mostly relieved..... her suffering was, at long last, finally over. My father died pretty suddenly, so there wasn't that numbness, it was a sharper pain than when Mom went.
posted by easily confused at 4:02 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When people are dying, it can seem like we can never do enough. It can seem like a betrayal to step outside and grab a cup of coffee or get some rest. But it's not.
You loved him and you tried to take care of yourself too. That's what we all do in healthy relationships. As time goes by you can honor the man he was by being kind to the ones he loved, by being kind to yourself. You did a good thing, both in the being there and in the not being there.
And your numbness honors him as much as all the other feelings you have had and will have.
I am sorry for your loss.
posted by SyraCarol at 4:33 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just chiming in with another vote of 'completely normal'; I've been through similar.
Having cared for someone with similar needs who was mentally intact - I wouldn't feel too guilty or worry about what you are or aren't feeling. My grandmother (who I was caring for) didn't feel that dissimilar than you or I did as carers: frustrated, tired, bored, exhausted (physically and emotionally) and so on. I know she felt relief in finally letting go; which made it more okay for us to be relieved too. It's okay. I think one of the last things she said to my sister, the day before she died, was something (actually quite funny) about how it was just so hard to keep going and she thought she'd grow a tail and come back as a house-cat. By then, I think that's what we all wanted: a chance to stop and sleep a lot, and have someone else feed us and give us a full body massage just for looking cute and...

Remember that with an intensive care situation, there's a loss within a loss; or a break up within a loss. You lost your dad AND you've lost the all-consuming 'hobby' all your spare energy (physical, emotional, mental) has been going to. Like a break-up, you've been putting all this energy into *this thing* and now you don't need to anymore. It's weird. You're schedule changes, your routines will change, habits, time...

I digress. Even though I knew it was coming (she was really sick), and it was time/for the best, my initial reaction was to be indignant that she'd do something like that to me! (I mean, how could she just DO that - die and all?). I still really really miss her and having that type of relationship. There are no good answers here.

You mentioned cancelled trips... I think a vacation in six months or so might really help. Really really. You've done a HUGE thing - you're epically tired, probably more than you realize. Something to do/plan, something to look forward to, a chance to kick back and reclaim a little of your life. Give it a few weeks, and see how you feel about that in January or February.

Molly Wizenberg wrote beautifully about her father and then about losing him in A Homemade Life. Lovely and elegant without being sappy or over-the-top: just really nice. She also mentions it occasionally on her blog, since as many people have said feelings come in dribs and drabs over what can be long periods of time (forever, really). There was a really nice post sometime in the last year where she mentioned how odd it felt that her dad would never meet her daughter (can't find the post). She recently lost a close aunt, which she talks about here.

Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:34 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just nthing A Homemade Life - Molly's dad died of cancer too. A lot of what you describe in your previous post reminds me of passages in her book.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:37 AM on December 1, 2013

What you are feeling is normal. My dad died this year and I felt nothing at all. I didn't even cry; the only things I felt were Post Waiting Exhaustion and a drive to get his affairs organised. It wasn't until the actual funeral service that my emotions came through.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:49 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I cried for weeks when he first fell sick, I cried with each new symptom or loss, and now the biggest loss has come, and I feel nothing.

This it totally normal. You have neen mourning for 6 months! I went through exactly the same thing with my dad many years ago. I started to mourn as soon as he was diagnosed with very advanced cancer because I knew what the outcome would be. I mourned for 10 months, grasping at little straws of optimism when a new treatment protocol was proposed, but then fell into deep mourning mode when it failed. When he finally died, we (immediate family) had nothing left in the tank so to speak. There we were, at the funeral, with dry eyes. Meanwhile, the rest of our extended family was emotionally distaught with lots of crying. I felt like a monster.

I feel like this is the time for me to remember my Dad

Don't worry. This isn't the only time you have. You have the rest of your life to remember him. My father died in 1989. I still remember him every single day. Its not.....OMG I am so sad because I just remembered isn't that at all. He just has a way of popping into my thoughts in random and mostly small ways every day. Maybe for the 1st year or so those thoughts will trigger sad feelings, but then those will slowly change to feelings of fondness and positive memories. You just have to relax about it and let it happen because it will.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:27 AM on December 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

this is absolutely normal. Give it a couple of weeks.

So sorry for your loss.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:56 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: After the death of my mother, I watched Dad decline mentally and physically - quite rapidly. He was unable to stay awake for any length of time, he had to use diapers due to prostate surgery, he'd tell you the same story several times a day. He could not work in his little wood shop anymore because his hands shook too much. The shop was his joy. My mother had been his other joy. They'd been married 65 years.

When I was young, after visiting my maternal grandfather in a nursing home where he was basically rotting with gangrene, my Dad asked that I never allow him to be put in a nursing home. He did try out assisted living for a little while. When they (the nursing facility) told him he'd have to move into the nursing home part of the facility, he decided to go home and check himself out.

He'd been preparing to do this for months, getting his papers (insurance/financial stuff) organized and out where we could find them. I had made my peace with him, had had him come to my house for an extended visit, etc, and invited him to come live with me. (I live in a different state). He did not want to do this.

I felt like it was his choice, he did what he wanted to do, and while I missed him, the "him" I missed had been gone for a long while. I did not feel any grief really, some sadness, yes, but no real grief.

I think fondly of Dad all the time - I inherited a bunch of his tools, I tend to thank him verbally when I use them. (luckily I work by myself).

Rumi wrote something along the lines of "When I die, do not grieve for me, for as soon as my mouth closes in this world, it opens in another." This brought me peace.
posted by rudd135 at 7:03 AM on December 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry. I don't think there is any right or wrong way to grieve, so long as you grieve. You seem concerned that you don't feel the emotions you think you should, but you've already been dealing with his imminent death for months.

I think my experience when my father died was similar to yours, in duration, and aftermath. It was about six months from the time i saw him and realized his liver was failing to the time he actually died. That first night, after I saw his time was rapidly dwindling, I broke down and cried like I haven't cried before or since. A few months later, I got word he was in the hospital, and I felt sick inside all the way across the country when I travelled to sit at his bedside. Dealing with his doctors, making arrangements for a nursing home, just drained me, and keeping in touch once I returned home took even more out of me. When I got word that he had become unconcious and admitted to the ICU, I booked another flight, and he died in the night before I arrived. It was a mercy, and a huge relief. I felt sad but mostly exhausted as we made arrangements for his body, and his estate, and wrote his obituary. I wasn't even sure I wanted to deal with a memorial. I'm glad we had one, but I felt a bit like a ghost myself as friends and family swirled around and celebrated his life.

That was over 15 years ago. I miss my father and I feel grief and sadness still. In the first months and years after his death, I felt a new appreciation for ghost stories because my father haunted my dreams. Sometimes, he was a wretched deficating ghost, but more often, he was just my father, there in my life as I slept, until i realized he was dead, and wondered why he he didn't seem to be acting like it. Those visits became less and less frequent. The last came years after the prior one. I was dreaming of him and when I awoke, I swear I smelled him, the smell of cigarettes, and coffee, and his musk.

I am sorry about your Dad. Your life has changed, but you are still human. You will feel again, just give yourself time.
posted by Good Brain at 7:07 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For me, losing my dad over a period of about ten years was an experience in waves of grief. You grieve every time they slip a bit more, even while you're consumed with and exhausted by their care. In my case, it also meant dramatically scaling back my business to allow me to spend a large part of every other month in another state as I helped with his physical care. For awhile, it seemed like this exhausting, expensive, emotionally draining process would last forever.

So when he passed about seven months ago, it was surprising how sudden it felt and how quickly our routine changed. The very same day, there was no more need for his part-time caregiver - and she was just - GONE - after being a daily part of our lives for several years. My mom, who is aged but mentally and physically quite capable, didn't want or seem to need us checking in with her by phone every day. The quiet, physical freedom, and lack of ongoing stress seemed jarring for awhile. We were all relieved that he was no longer in pain, but we. were. exhausted.

I never have felt overwhelmed by grief by his death. I believe we'll be together one day in heaven, so maybe that's why. But I am beginning to remember the fun, happy things about our life together and there is a lot of peace in knowing that the sacrifices I made to spend time with him and help in his care allowed me to let him go without reservation and to miss him without pain.

My business has taken a financial hit, however. I'm beginning to feel I should be getting back my occupation, but my heart isn't in it like it was before his illness. I take that to mean that it's time to have a good look at where I am at this point in life and what I want going forward. It may mean I need to make some changes. But I think it also means that my grieving process probably isn't quite completed yet. So I think being patient with yourself and accepting whatever grieving process works for you is important.

Blessings on you for sacrificing so willingly to be able to help care for your Dad. You won't ever regret it.
posted by summerstorm at 7:08 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

No two people handle major losses the same. I felt blank when each of my parents died, as I do with other major life changes. I work them out slowly, often over a period of years. My feelings toward my parents began to evolve only after a year, and continue, slowly, after 20 years.

The death of a parent is too big to deal with quickly. There are too many good things, and too many bad things to make sense of without long reflection.

The contradictions do resolve. You let it happen at its own pace. Confide in the people you know and love best -- in my case, my wife and my brother.
posted by KRS at 7:30 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It seems like you already mourned losing your dad when he got sick. And it does seem like it's a stranger who died because what was probably left of him when he passed was a very different version of your dad. This is all messing with your feelings. Plus, you are exhausted, your feelings are exhausted, your brain is exhausted. Don't try to force yourself to feel anything or to remember your dad. It will all come by itself with a little time you need to recover. In a way, you are also not your regular self right now. Months and months of caring for someone takes a lot out of you. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 7:43 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

These are complex emotional situations, and hopefully one doesn't experience them frequently. Anything you are feeling is alright.
posted by colin_l at 8:37 AM on December 1, 2013

Best answer: This might be a case of preparing for death and grieving in installments. The emotional debt, if you want to see it that way, has almost been completely paid by now. I am not surprised that you feel relieved.
My grandmother, who was a very important presence in my life, passed away a couple of years ago. It was after a long illness which demanded a lot of attention and looking after from her only child (my mother), and to a much lesser extent, from me. It was a long, gradual process of physical and mental decay which took around 8 years. So you can imagine we weren´t too shocked when we got a 2 AM phone call from the retirement house informing us about gramma's demise.
This was a person who, to a great extent, raised me up and who I loved very much. If she had died when I was a child, it would have been tragic for me. When she died I was already an adult, and I had witnessed her life slowly ebbing away. I feel that at some point, many people are looking forward to death. Of course this was a person in her 80s who, it could be speculated, had done all she had to do on this earth and who seemed ready to leave this existence. I understand things would be considerably different if the dying loved person was much younger.
In my opinion, it is a good thing that you don´t feel depressed about your loss. Obviously, you're going to miss your father and occasionaly feel healthily sad about his not being around.
I assumed from your description that you did all the things a loving child is supposed to do for a living parent. Feeling terrible about not being miserable about his death now does not sound to me like a very constructive way of looking at life. Although it is recent, you may be very near giving closure to this big issue. I wouldn´t rush it, but I wouldn´t prolong pain longer than necessary either. You might be ready to go on with the rest of your life.
posted by Basque13 at 9:24 AM on December 1, 2013

Best answer: I'm sorry. I agree that it is very understandable to feel blank, numb, exhausted, after all you've been through with him in the last months. This whole thing has a number of stages, and you've just finished one big stage, and haven't quite started the next stage yet. You're in limbo. It's ok; just try to take care of your body by eating and sleeping and so on, and the next stages will come in their own time.

The funeral may be good for reconnecting to others who will be able to help you remember some good stories or better times.

A good friend of mine advised me to try to speak at the funeral, or to take some time now to put together some written remarks that someone else could read (even if they don't actually get read). She said that speaking at her parent's funeral was a profoundly useful thing, even though it seemed impossible at first to say anything adequate. I found the same to be true.

Might be worth just sitting down and trying to put together a page or two of thoughts about him as a person, about good things he did for you, about what he valued and what you valued about him. Doesn't have to be the end-all be-all, but it's useful to take a little time now to sum up some of what you have probably been thinking about (or, the more positive side of what you've been thinking about!). Specifics are good. For me some of the things that came to mind are trivial little things, not particularly funny or moving, but even so they have served as little keys I can hold on to. (Do you remember any little conversations you had when you were a kid? Things he showed you? What he said at a time when he was proud of you? etc)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:23 PM on December 1, 2013

This little book was also passed along to us, and it's a short, straightforward read: Good Grief. It's written by a Christian minister but as an atheist I didn't find it to be too religious. It is basically just a bunch of short descriptions of how grief feels at different times, eg "When grieving, we may feel numb", with a bit of elaboration... it can be nice if you are wanting to hear "this is normal, and a common response" about something you're feeling.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:37 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found On Grief and Grieving hit home for me (and made me cry a lot, when I wasn't much otherwise). You are not alone.
posted by superfish at 12:34 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My father died somewhat unexpectedly a few months ago. He had been in hospital for about 18 months, and just when he seemed to be on the mend, he died from a heart attack which was totally unexpected. I'd been trying to mentally prepare myself for it for the first 6 months he was in hospital, but then things started looking up, we all had hope, then ... wham.

I haven't really grieved. I've shed a few tears, briefly. My main priority in the days and weeks immediately after he passed away was to look after the necessary arrangements, and do my best to support and love my mother. I am their only son and just have one younger sister. I just kinda went into "taking care of business mode" for a while. Then when it was all over.... I felt that sense of relief and felt guilty

I dunno. I guess I just wanted to say you're not alone.

One thing that has brought some emotion out, if that's what you want, is talking to a close friend. For me, it's not necessarily talking about his death, but more just some random thing about him that somehow comes up in conversation, then I'll be surprised to find myself wiping tears from my cheeks.

You can't force these things. Don't beat yourself up about how you're reacting.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by Diag at 2:44 AM on December 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, both for the comfort and advice, and the personal stories. It almost feels like I'd been walking through life with eyes closed, not noticing how many people were in fact dealing with this. The past few months, people started sharing with me their own grief, and man, I had no idea. Even though I am working in a caring profession, even though I'd been dealing with patients' deaths for years, even though I'd been making an effort to be compassionate - man, I had no idea.

I am so sorry for all your losses.

My brain is still too foggy to comment on specific answers but I was nodding my head so much reading through them. In fact, I'd been coming back to this thread every couple hours for consolation and encouragement. Thanks for the validation, too - yes, I feel like I didn't really do enough, and it helps to be reminded that it's a tough job no one can do perfectly anyway.

Today was my Dad's funeral and I just did my part, which was taking care of Mom, and dealing with relatives, and making sure everything went according to plan. I had dry eyes most of the time but I decided I don't need to feel more pain to make my love for Dad more real.
We had a nice meal at my brother's with the closest family, that a family friend so thoughtfully prepared for us. Seriously, she cooked a three course meal for a dozen people. I thought my heart would overflow with gratitude.
Now I am lying on a couch with my laptop, and wearing my Dad's old sweater that still smells a little like him. It's 8 pm over here, and I think I'll go to bed.

Thanks everyone.

The book recommendations are great, BTW. At least some of them are available for the Kindle so I can start reading while I'm still on leave from work.

Oh, and Flabdablet - your last sentence was immensely gratifying to read. I really needed to hear it.
posted by SecondSock at 11:17 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I hesitate to comment since I haven't experienced what you're going through, but in When Things Fall Apart, the author talks about how we sometimes reach for the emotions that fit the narrative we expect, because even if painful, we get comfort from having a story to lean on and knowing (or feeling like we know) what it all means and what comes next. Instead she advises just being with yourself and compassionately observing what you're actually feeling as you face what she describes as kind of the great unknown and even some possible discomfort of not knowing what comes next and what it all means. It's a good book overall (which I'm not doing justice) though not specific to grief.
posted by salvia at 8:36 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whatever you feel, whenever you feel it, however you feel it is just fine, and the right way to grieve. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself, give yourself the permission to feel whatever it is that you are feeling at any moment- and remember this weeks and months from now. There will be plenty of idiots you will encounter, with all sorts of statements, judgments, opinions, and suggestions on what to do/feel etc. Don't worry about what they say. Guilt and relief are very, very common, and very, very normal.

Here are some book recommendations-
On grief and grieving
How to go on living after someone you love dies
Life after loss
Orphaned adult
(religious, Christian) Stunned by grief
Healing Grief, finding peace

Please feel free to email anytime. *Hugs*
posted by xm at 9:16 PM on December 2, 2013

I decided I don't need to feel more pain to make my love for Dad more real.

Proud of you now.
posted by flabdablet at 9:55 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An article for you.
posted by mareli at 10:51 AM on December 4, 2013

Best answer: Late to this party, but just wanted to add:

So, for anyone who's been through this - is this normal?

Oh dear Lord, yes. Yes it is.

I had a similar response when my own mom died, and like you I was concerned that I wasn't reacting normally. The book that helped me the most in understanding my own feelings was The Farewell Chronicles: How We Really Respond to Death by Anneli Rufus. She writes about people in real-life situations whose response to the death of a close one ranged from laughter to not feeling anything at all, and she puts those stories in context so the reader can see how and why those reactions are totally normal for that person under those circumstances. And, most importantly, that those "non-traditional" reactions are much more common that everyone wants to think.

I decided I don't need to feel more pain to make my love for Dad more real.

Good for you. That was my reaction after reading Rufus's book.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:23 AM on December 5, 2013

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