I feel bad about not grieving for my father's death.
June 8, 2017 10:30 AM   Subscribe

My dad died rather suddenly about a month ago. He did have terminal cancer, but his death was from something natural but unrelated. However, I'm feeling guilty that I haven't grieved for him, or really felt significantly sad. More details below the fold.

As I mentioned above, my dad died about a month ago. While we had a relationship that was distant in some respects, I genuinely did care about him, and we had been getting closer over the last couple of years and told each other that we loved each other. I was able to write and deliver a pretty good eulogy that I meant wholeheartedly, and I got a little choked up while giving it, but no tears.

One of the things that has made me feel less sad about my father's death is that it was so sudden, as opposed to facing a year of slowly dying of cancer. However, I feel like I really should have felt more at the funeral and between then and now. People have expressed their sympathies and I find myself acting more broken up than I am since that's what people seem to expect, which makes me feel even more horrible. I guess I just feel that death is a natural part of life, and in some ways and for some people can really be quite welcome. My father, as he grew sicker, expressed a desire for his life to end, which seems like a very rational and pragmatic desire when a person's quality of life has diminished past a certain point.

My childhood was tough, as we were very poor, and while they provided food and shelter, my parents didn't really demonstrate much in the way of emotional connectedness or nurturing from what I can recall. I think that living in that environment for my first eighteen years really developed within me a me-first survival mode that I haven't been able to get out of, which I think clouds my ability to have much care or concern for others, although I genuinely do care for other people and their well-being. I know that my family, especially my younger brother, was really upset about what happened, although I think that I part of that stems from being there when my father died, which I was not, as I live six hours away and didn't make it home in time.

Generally speaking, I have a tough time expressing my emotions, although I'm trying to be better about this. It's not that I don't feel things; I get choked up at symphonies and almost cried while watching a season finale of The Great British Baking Show. I don't recall breaking down into real tears since a girl broke up with me in the 3rd grade, so perhaps I just have a problem expressing myself, but honestly I've never felt much of an impulse to weep for my father. I know that it's one thing to not cry when someone in your immediate family dies, but to not even feel the compulsion to?

Am I a monster? A sociopath? I understand that this is probably something that I should see a therapist about, as it undoubtedly suggests a whole host of emotional cobwebs that could use some cleaning, but before I do so, I'd like to see if any of you have experienced something similar and get your perspectives on this perplexing and troubling lack of emotion. Thanks.
posted by Fister Roboto to Human Relations (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You are neither a monster nor a sociopath. To be seriously cliche, everybody grieves differently. Sometimes that means you don't feel the emotion of it. Sometimes it means the emotions comes later, at a big life event, or maybe completely out of nowhere.

My mom died suddenly last year (a year ago tomorrow, in fact) and for the first while I wasn't even that upset. I mean I cried when I found out, and I cried at her funeral, but for the most part I wasn't "broken up" about it either. I really handled it differently than I thought I would. Hell, my siblings and I were joking and laughing a lot of the time while we prepared for the funeral. And that's ok.

Don't force yourself to feel something you don't feel, and don't deny it if it does happen. But it's ok if it doesn't.
posted by aclevername at 10:36 AM on June 8, 2017 [18 favorites]

The same thing happened to me. I didn't cry when my father died and I don't cry when my pets die or are euthanized. I'm a woman and people often expect us to cry more, but I don't. I, like you, feel it's part of the natural cycle. My father had chronic health problems but died unexpectedly. I also happen to be a Christian and so I believe he has received a new body and is very happy in Heaven. Were I not a Christian, I would be happy he was out of pain. In either case, I am at peace. I have feelings of sadness and I do miss him.

As aclevername said above, everyone grieves differently. You are not a monster and you are normal and healthy, as am I.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 10:45 AM on June 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

My own father died of cancer very quickly - over the span of two months - while he was also clearly dying a long slow death from alcoholism. It's difficult to explain to people who haven't been through it, but while I felt sad about many aspects of my dad's life, I did not feel sad about his death. He seemed to feel the same way even himself, that the cancer had saved him from years of lonely pain and suffering.

Being thankful that your father had a quick death rather than a prolonged and painful one seems to me to be a quite rational response.
posted by something something at 10:54 AM on June 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Am I a monster? A sociopath?

Nah. Grieving is weird and it can be difficult when you are surrounded by a community of grievers who may be dealing with things in a different way than you. I am like you, a sort of zipped up personal emotionally who will, occasionally, cry at pet food commercials or how lovely the light through the trees is. I connect much more with things that are not people, if that makes sense. And so yeah, to me death is a part of life. I mostly feel sad for other people's sadness. When my father died, quite suddenly, about six years ago my first thought was "He would have appreciated that, going so fast, in a non-shitty way" I was lucky, though, in that my sister shares some of my traits and so I have someone to talk to about these feelings who views them as within the range of normal. I never cried for him. He does sometimes come back in my dreams in good and bad ways. I, too, frequently worry that I am a monster. The worry it its own thing, really, not evidence that there's something wrong with you. Like ... monsters don't actually worry that they are monsters. That is what makes them monsters, among other things.

I find therapy helpful for a number of reasons, but I don't think you need it for this.
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on June 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

1. Are you taking any medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors? Because these can flatten your emotional affect and also make you less likely to cry. (Source: my partners psychiatrist, when they were discussing with them that they hadn't cried about their fathers death.)

2. You could still be in shock. It may not have sunk in, feel fully 'real' yet.

3. If your father was uncomfortable with you crying or expressing emotion, that could also be playing a role.
posted by Murderbot at 10:56 AM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Am I a monster? A sociopath?

Nthing definitely not. My dad dies 3.5 years ago and I'm still not really sure if I "grieved". He was diagnosed with incurable cancer 2 years before he died so in one sense I did a lot of grieving before he died (I think I cried a lot more before than after). Because of my own previous experiences I was more afraid of him suffering before he died than I was of him actually dying so in a sense his death was a relief because I no longer had to be afraid for him. He also seemed to feel very tired and in the last week or so he just wanted to go.

For Reasons I couldn't afford to take time to grieve at the time of his death and I kept waiting for it to catch up with me and to "grieve properly" - I never did and I also felt guilty about that. I also felt awkward about receiving sympathy because I wasn't sure I felt enough grief to warrant it. I've largely come to peace with it now - I loved him and he knew that, we didn't have anything left unsaid, I AM very sad that he died and if I could do something to bring him back (in good health) I would do that. I think that is in the end what matters and the lack of a defined period of grief is not relevant.
posted by *becca* at 11:09 AM on June 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nthing the comment that everyone mourns differently and that you might still be in shock. Give yourself some time.

A very, very close aunt of mine passed away suddenly in 2008. She had cancer, but died from a stroke. I hadn't seen her in three years at that point because I had been studying on a different continent.

When I wasn't devasted at the funeral, and when I was totally functional carrying on afterward I had the same questions and feelings you do now. It wasn't until a full year later (maybe more), when my running shoes fell apart and I thought "I'll go shopping for runners with aunty when I go home," that I fully comprehend her death. It was completely random, and I was inconsolable for a month after that.
posted by redwaterman at 11:17 AM on June 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Grieving is not only different for each person, it can be different for individuals each time someone dies. I was not nearly as broken up and teary when my father died as when my mother died, and I had an excellent relationship with both.
posted by JanetLand at 11:19 AM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing a friend told me after my (mostly estranged) dad died suddenly was "You don't need to know how you feel right now. You don't need to know what you'll feel six months from now." And that was a tremendous comfort because I didn't need to feel -- or not feel -- anything in particular. I could just feel whatever I was feeling from moment to moment, day to day.

So just feel what you feel. It may change. It may not. But there's nothing wrong with you.
posted by darksong at 11:27 AM on June 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'll share my story here too: my father died in December 2015, of complications from Alzheimer's. I had a reasonably good relationship with him, but hadn't always; at one time we had a very difficult, conflicted relationship. He deteriorated slowly as people with Alzheimer's do, and I didn't really feel all that broken up when he finally died. Sad, but not really grieving. Like you, I felt bad when people came up to me to express sympathy, because they were acting as though I was about to break down when, really, no, I was fine, thanks. I didn't cry at all at his funeral, not even when we buried him. I think about him and talk about him all the time, but I wasn't devastated when he died.

I'm pretty sure I'm neither a monster nor a sociopath. My feelings just come from the nature of the relationship I had with him, that's all. I imagine it's the same with you.
posted by holborne at 11:27 AM on June 8, 2017

My younger sister died ten years ago from alcoholism. It still tears me up. Let yourself feel what you need to feel. There is no time limit.
posted by jtexman1 at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2017

You are not a bad person. Do not judge how you should, ought, could have, were supposed to react. You may find that later on you will grieve, think more about your father. We often think we have not done the right thing at the proper time. What we have done though is react as WE ARE and not how later we think we should have.
posted by Postroad at 11:31 AM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Grief is a strange emotion. It can be difficult to identify when you are feeling grief. Let it take its course.
posted by My Dad at 11:32 AM on June 8, 2017

Wait six months and see how you feel then.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:37 AM on June 8, 2017

Give yourself as much time as you need to grieve. My dad died in 1994 of cancer and it wasn't until 2012 when I binge-watched the first season of Breaking Bad - which focused on Walt's cancer diagnosis - that I finally felt that I started to grieve. I'm just now starting to feel the anger stage.

On Death and Dying is the classic book on understanding death. I see now that K├╝bler-Ross has a newer book called On Grief and Grieving that could also give you some perspective.

All the best. It's fine to go at your own pace.
posted by bendy at 12:03 PM on June 8, 2017

My experience with the deaths of loved ones has helped me to understand a few things about grief:

+ Everyone grieves differently. You've heard it before, but it's true.

+ The ceremonies around death give us some sense of structure around death, and a framework in which to grieve. That framework is very helpful for some people, less so for others. Some people demonstrate their grief, some internalize it.

+ When my dad died, the grieving timescale was way off. The time most people expected me to be grieving was spent mostly numb. I don't think the real grieving began until 6-9 months after his death. The second anniversary of his death was harder for me than the first. (I think because it was obvious his death was not part of a very bad year, but something permanent.)

Please go easy on yourself. Give yourself time and space and a break. Give yourself many breaks, for that matter. Seeing a therapist/counselor isn't a bad idea. You don't sound like a monster or a sociopath to me, not at all.
posted by Cranialtorque at 12:29 PM on June 8, 2017

As so many others have already said, grief is different for everyone. Just because someone else might have broken down in wild sobbing at their parent's bedside doesn't make that the right or wrong way to grieve, nor does your stoicism --- whatever you feel, whenever you feel it, that's what's right for you.

And too, with his terminal cancer diagnosis, you were probably already moving into the first stages of grief. It doesn't matter that your father died of something else entirely: what matters here is that, with that diagnosis, you and he had already been given a time frame for how much longer he had to live --- his lifespan was no longer open-ended, there was an end to it in sight; by the time of his actual death, you had already been forced to accept that his passing was imminent.

Your father's death was expected, but as a long and probably debilitating year, not this swifter less-painful reality. So there might even be a bit of relief mixed in there for you, knowing that although you had him with you for a shorter time than you expected, he didn't have to suffer the worst the cancer could do to him. That's okay too, to be relieved that neither of you will have to go through that.

So sorry for your loss; take care of yourself.
posted by easily confused at 12:32 PM on June 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

My father died of cancer almost 14 years ago. I didn't cry at the funeral or anything. Then one day about 7 years later I was driving my car and a song came on the radio, a silly little song about driving a JCB with their dad as a child & I remembered doing the same thing with my Dad. I had to pull over I was sobbing so hard, took me about an hour to get my act together enough to drive home. I realized while adult me didn't miss my Dad much as we'd grown apart as adults, apparently my inner 8 year old missed him terribly.

Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. It's true. You feel what you feel. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself the emotional space to grieve, but if it doesn't happen in the ways you expect or to schedule still be kind to yourself.
posted by wwax at 12:35 PM on June 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

You know that guilty feeling? How it just sort of grinds on, and how it's intrusive and hard to avoid and even harder to put aside and get back to what you were doing? Maybe sometimes you get pissed off at yourself about it? Or retroactively pissed off at your father for making your feel like that?

That is grief.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:43 PM on June 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

You can never predict how you will react to a death, so don't beat yourself up. You might cry at some point, or might not.

I consider myself a sensitive, caring person. I think anyone who knows me would agree. Yet I have cried more real tears over dead pets -- including a parakeet (a PARAKEET!) -- than relatives!
posted by The Deej at 12:51 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

There is no right way to feel right now. You feel how you feel, and there's nothing wrong with that. It may not hit you now, it may hit you later, or it may not hit you at all. You may be perfectly OK at the funeral, you might bawl like a baby seeing a favourite crush of your dad's on the teevee. You may be indifferent to thinking of him, or you could get pretty angry for him not telling you where he put his 2014 tax return.

When my Dad died, it hit me at very strange moments. There was no reason or pattern to it at all. Things which 'should' have affected me didn't, and other things impacted me disproportionately to their importance.

You're doing OK. If you know enough to ask these questions, you're not an unfeeling psychopath.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:06 PM on June 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

You're no monster or sociopath.

I think feeling bad about NOT grieving. . .is grieving. Makes sense. If you really didn't care about him you wouldn't have written the original post.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 1:29 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Some of us are more emotional, some of us are less emotional. Either way, it's fine.

At any rate, it sounds like you feel the way I feel over, say, aunts or uncles: there's no real grief, and that's ok.
posted by jpe at 1:33 PM on June 8, 2017

I cry easily and with aplomb. When my father died similarly to the way your father died (terminal cancer, died of heart failure) I cried for about 10 minutes. I was not shocked and was not bereft because the terminal diagnosis was a headsup that this was coming, imminently. There's no shame in it. And as long as you are not avoiding facing up to what you're really feeling, it's perfectly healthy.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:13 PM on June 8, 2017

Echoing that however you feel is fine. But also, I have kids and we are a tight family and I hope they feel a strong connection to me...and I would be just fine if they didn't go through piles of traditional grief at my death. I don't consider it a sign of respect or necessary. I hope they will outlive me for many happy years.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:14 PM on June 8, 2017

I am the queen of the delayed reaction grief meltdown. If it comes, it will come. So, for a couple of months, keep an eye on yourself, and if you notice yourself feeling disproportionately bad about small things it could possibly be the DRGM.

However, I'm fairly sure I'll feel much the same way you are if word gets to me when my father dies. He chose to cut himself out of my life when I was a kid, after having done his damnedest in the preceding years to make sure I had as little self-esteem and as few coping skills as possible. So I think any true grief I will feel will be for what might have been.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:01 PM on June 8, 2017

I was (I think) fourteen when my one year old brother died. He was born with a severe form of a rare disease, the comications from the disease being what ended his life. In his short year the amount of operations and suffering his little body went through were (to me) both devestating and numbing at the same time. I felt nothing but relief when he died. I have never felt anything else. 40 years later I still worry that that means I'm a monster.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:05 PM on June 8, 2017

Everyone grieves SO differently 10000% however you feel is totally, totally normal but I wanted to add that, reducing some of your distress over this may include not listening to people who might try to "predict the future" on your grief i.e. you will feel such and such way in such and such months or you should be crying right now or tomorrow or whatever.

It's bad enough critiquing yourself for not grieving properly, but I would advise you to ignore anyone who tells you how or if your stages of grief will happen to or that you have to live in dread of something. For example, I was told during a period of grief by a co-worker I would "never really get over it, and it would last forever" and THAT was more upsetting to me than the loss itself...so, you have permission to ignore people buying into that weird prescriptive culture around grief.

Nobody knows your or anyone's emotional future, and the expert on your feelings whatever they may be now or whenever is always, always you.
posted by colorblock sock at 3:21 PM on June 8, 2017

I don't think there's anything wrong with you or how you are grieving. But if after reading all the responses you still feel concerned, you could go see a therapist just to talk things through for your own peace of mind. I'm not suggesting years and years, maybe just a couple of visits.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 4:09 PM on June 8, 2017

Lots of times people don't feel anything. The socially acceptable thing to say is, "I'm in shock", or, "I'm still in shock", but plenty of people go from being in shock straight to feeling normal again without any grief in between, which just means that they felt pretty much normal the whole time.

Am I a monster? A sociopath?

Avoidant attachment, more likely.
posted by clawsoon at 7:47 PM on June 8, 2017

I had a pretty warm relationship with my dad. He died suddenly two years ago and I didn't grieve much at all. I was even present while he died. I was a bit gloomier than normal and wanted to be alone for a little while but it quickly passed and I returned to feeling normally gloomy. Not everyone does loss the same way.
posted by ead at 8:32 PM on June 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

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