Week 34: Is This Normal?

Last updated: September 03, 2010

About a week after the funeral, I lit a Caring Candle here at the Caring.com website in tribute to Dad. It felt good to see that little flame and know it would burn for him forever "“ at least, forever in my heart.

I'm no stranger to grief, sadly. In the past five years, Lee and I have lost six family members, including both of his parents, our grandson, Lee's only surviving brother, my dad, and Lee's uncle. I was very close to Lee's parents and cried a lot for weeks after they died. And that's what has me concerned.

I haven't cried very much since Dad died.

Granted, I've been extremely busy, focused on packing up Mom and getting her moved. But even in those quiet moments at home, in the evening, when I think of Dad my eyes don't well up. I feel more...numb, I guess. I'm not even sure how to describe what I'm feeling. As one anonymous caregiver so aptly posted in the comments section of my last blog post: "I don't know if I am grieving or if I am exhausted."

My friend Mitzi tells me I've been grieving Dad since the moment he came to live with us, and that's why I'm not falling apart now that he's gone. I think there's some truth to that, but I also think there's more to it. It's not just that I'm not falling apart; part of me is actually happy Dad is gone.

That sounds like such a cold thing to say.

I mean, the truth is I'm glad to have my privacy back. I'm happy to be rid of the stress that came from wondering if each day would be the day Dad would have some awful accident, like falling and breaking his hip. I'm relieved to again live in peace and quiet without having to constantly converse with someone. (Dad was a chatty, gregarious person.)

Yet even as I type that, my fingers turn still on the keyboard. I stare out the sliding glass door into the backyard, and my heart aches and tears fill my eyes. I miss Dad more than I can say.

And, to be honest, when I say I'm 'happy' Dad is gone, what I mean is that Dad suffered from tremendous physical and emotional pain throughout his final years, so I feel happy he's now at peace and that he had a relatively peaceful passing.

But still, shouldn't I miss him a whole lot more than I seem to? How is it that whole days can pass where I don't even think about him?

This grief I'm experiencing is very different from any other grief I've known. It's like riding a roller coaster. And I do think some of it's exhaustion. Some of it's numbness. Some of it's shock. The only thing I know for sure about grief is that it's unpredictable. But how do I know what's normal grieving behavior and what's not? Maybe it's too soon to ask that question.

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13 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 2 years ago

I took care of my Father his last 5 years of his life, from a stroke, my twins were 10 months old with two older children, with me and my Husband I had a house full, I was going 24/7, Now saying all that, I really missed my Father he was still in is right mind and he was the one that keep me going for the family.he was not any trouble. then my Husband went into depression for 5 years, then had lung problems now kid's are grown and gone husband died and I'm all alone, I'm so lonesome all I have now is TV bad knees and no one to visit me, they are too busy, so that's life, you do what you have to do and wait and see what is coming next, I am in good Health, I'm so Lucky I can still take care of my self. I'm 80 years old.

over 3 years ago

I must comment about the above post and grieving over dad. A bit of time has passed since your dad died. I felt the same way when my mom died, she was here with me, and her suffering and my work all ended on the same day. I did not cry at first, I was too busy, and too relieved for her to be at peace which is where she so wanted to be at the end. But over the last 6 years, there have been times I cried, and times I miss her so much it hurts like a stab in my heart. That is when I pray, to her and to God to ask her if she still watches me, and tell her I love her. I talk to her often, it eases my heart and makes me feel at home, because I had lived with her 27 years before she died. Grieving has little to do with how we do it, whether we cry, like my brothers do, who all sob uncontrollably, or we hold tough, like I do to hold everyone else together. It is in times I am alone that I think of her, and honestly I do grieve, but I grieve with God's hand on my shoulder. I am not sure my brothers are such believers as mom and I were, but it helps me. What matters most is what you did for her/him at the end of their life. That matters most of all, to him and to you. Be good with that, and let your spirit take you, your heart take you in and out of grief as it happens. I understand. Always, annie

almost 4 years ago

My grieving has been a little different because each was a different situation. My dad had congestive heart failure, my Mom had Alzheimer's and was ill for a long, long time, or it seemed like it. When she could, my sister, who lived in Houston at that time flew to our town, picked Mom up, and took her to Houston where they had really nice Alzheimer's care units, and Mom did better there, or stayed static. My sister was able to go visit her every day. Then she died of complications of Alzheimer's. My family and I were able to go visit, once by myself, the second with my adult kids in tow. As of the first visit she was put on Hospice, and was moved from a hospital (secondary infection) to a nursing home where she spent the last few months of her life. My kids and I visited her there before she died. With Mom, I'd already missed her when she got sick, missed her when she moved to Houston, and of course (or I guess in our case "of course") we all loved my mom, and I still miss her. The hardest was my baby sister, she died of Cancer when she was about 50. After Mom died she had gone to work for Alzheimer's Org., up until she became sick, herself. I was also able to visit her the Christmas before she died in May, and I was there, again with my family, only this time I was in the house when she died. She'd made the remark that she was thankful it wasn't Alzheimer's (and she was hillarious just a coupla days before she died--she had a wonderful, dry sense of humor). Her loss about did me in, altho I was thankful she didn't have to suffer! I know she sits on my shoulder now that I have Alzheimer's, and was diagnosed with it about 2 years after she died. I'm not afraid of death. I will have a wonderful welcoming party! (my Grandparents that I was really close to have also passed).

almost 4 years ago

I did not grieve for my father until about 10 years after his death. I was too busy taking care of my mother. My grief took the form of having long "conversations" with him. Now that my husband has Alzheimer's I talk to my father even more, telling him how much I miss him - wishing he were here - reminding him of all the fun things we used to do. Please don't feel guilty about your grief or non grief; it is a personal thing that you can't do anything about - like have straight hair or eyes of a certain color. I wish you well.

about 4 years ago

Please accept my sincere sympathies for your loss. I lost my wife Patty a year ago this past August 11th and I am still grieving. When you spend 33 years of your life with someone and love them with all of your heart, practically everything you see or do brings back a memory. I too have not openly cried but a few times but the pain in my heart remains. Grief has so many forms that no one can tell you how it will effect you each day or how long it will last as I feel It all depends on the individual. If ending grieving means you begin to lose those "precious memories" of your time together, then I pray that I never stop grieving because I fully intend to hang on to those "precious memories" for just as long as I can. Is this "abnormal"? maybe but this is how I choose to live. Does this condemn me to a lonely life? If so, just call me Mr. Lonely.

about 4 years ago

I agree with Mitzi...when I lost my dad after 3 years of dialysis, it was almost a relief but going through it was one episode of grief after another. With my mother, who has dementia, I believe I grieved when I realized what was happening to her, especially when I knew that she no longer remembered that she was my mother, when she asked me if my parents were both dead, or when she signed my birthday card with her first name instead of "Love, Mom". I think I did the majority of my grieving for my mother then. Those things no longer upset me like they did because I feel that I have already lost my mother. I thought a mother would always intuitively know, regardless of her mental state. Alas, that is not to be and my mother, in that sense, is gone. There is no more motherly, unconditional love left for me. I do believe that a primal grief will hit me when she passes and I realize that both of my parents are gone, especially since I have no siblings or children of my own. I worry about what that will feel like and dread it but, for all practical purposes, my mother is gone now and there will be some sense of relief that she is no longer tortured by the disease. Still, I know that there is nobody on earth in any facility who will look after her as I will in my own home. That was a beautiful gift you gave your dad but don't feel guilty if you don't miss it. Thank you for having the courage to share it.

about 4 years ago

Thank you for your frank honesty. As a caregiver to both my parents, one of whom has moderate Alzheimer's, I can agree with the sentiment that we grieve during the caregiving process and that there is some measure of relief when that caregiving comes to an end. It is difficult to reconcile the relief with the grief, and sometimes it looks like regrief! Thank you again. I've been following your blog for some time and am very sorry for the loss of your father, but also for the added stress your mother's situation brings to your life. I pray that you will find peace soon.

about 4 years ago

Both my parents have alzheimers and are in the moderate stages. I care for them 24/7. I've been grieving for the past 4 yrs and I feel that I have come to terms with their condition and the end results. I've already lost them, it feels.... to me they are and they are not my parents but a nice sweet old couple whom I care for and love. Which I find an odd feeling for me. I love them so very much but our relationship has had a transformation that's for sure. It's an Alice in Wonderland life for me. I ask myself ..."will I cry when they pass away?" I dont know and I dont worry about it. My advice is let whatever emotion you are experiencing now to surface, feel it to it's fullest and release it. When your "numbness" ends, you may experience another emotion...sorrow or happy or even anger. It's all part of the grieving process. You may experience all or just a few emotions. Rest a sure it's all normal and no one grieves the same way someone else does. Some of us feel sorrow first and cry all the time... some of us feel numb. Dont over analyze it, just let this journey unfold as it wishes. It's all ok whatever emotion surfaces first. Big big hugs to you.

about 4 years ago

there isn't a "normal" for grief. and after a long ordeal, it's so natural that right now you feel relieved. you are. you've been relieved of many difficult and demanding tasks. don't worry. just walk along any way that you feel. you'll fill back up again and along all that there'll probably be grief as well as probably a continuing sense of relief. it's all the way it is. normal? heck yes!

Anonymous said about 4 years ago

When my father died, he had been through six years of being bed- and wheelchair-bound and in need of 24x7 care. He suffered tremendous blows to his dignity. His mind was sharp, and he was keenly aware of his body's cruel and slow deterioration--and his inability to do anything about it. It was a long, slow and very stressful six years. I cried when I found out he died. But that's the only time I've cried over his death. At first, I thought it was strange. But now I realize that I had grieved the loss of my father throughout that six years. And while I'm sorry he's gone and I miss him, I'm glad that he's out of the pain and misery that his illness caused. Sure, it made my life a bit easier that he was no longer demanding attention and care, and there's a bit of guilt associated with that lighter feeling. But I did everything I could to make him happy and comfortable, and I know I did my best. So, I don't have guilt over no crying and grieving "normally" or what people perceive as normal. We all have our own path. This was mine. After my dad died, my mom seemed happy. I couldn't understand it, and I chalked it up to her slowly developing Alzheimer's Disease (yes, that was going on at the same time my father was deteriorating...a double-whammy). But one day, she told me, "I grieved all the time that Dad was sick. Now that he's gone...I'm glad he's moved on and I'm glad that I was there for him. I'm at peace with his passing." And that's what I hope for myself when my mother passes. Watching her slow deterioration from the Alzheimer's has been difficult. I've spent a decade taking care of my ailing parents, and while it's hard, I'm glad I could be there for them.

Anonymous said about 4 years ago

Thank you, so very much for sharing.

about 4 years ago

Elizabeth, I think the writer above (beatbreastcancer) is right on target with her words of wisdom. We all grief differently, in our own time and our own way. What's normal for others may not be normal for you. Just continue doing as you have been, taking it one day at a time. But if you feel stuck, seek out a counselor that can help you to talk about it. They know the questions to ask to help you work through the grief. The tears will come eventually. Take care!

about 4 years ago

Oh, Elizabeth, don't torment yourself. Everyone experiences grief differently, and it sounds to me as if with all the things you have going on, you just haven't had time to let the loss sink all the way down into your heart and mind. Of course you miss him terribly!! And yet, of course you're happy to have your privacy and quiet back. And yes, in a way, you're even happy he's gone. It's not because you're selfish or evil or cold; it's because you're human. You were under so much stress, there were so many changes in your life that were overwhelming, it's normal (I think) for there to be relief that the misery and suspense are gone. There's a post on Caring.com that deals with caregivers wishing their parent(s) would die; maybe you should check that one out. I've posted on that one, too, because I was feeling that way (and sometimes still do). You have been under tremendous pressure, and suddenly the pressure is gone; you have to decompress, find your new normal, give yourself time to have time to feel the grief. It will come. And, again, I think every loss gives us a different experience of grief; I really think every situation is so unique that even the expressions of grief are different. And, of course, every person is unique; why wouldn't grief be felt and expressed differently? If, however, time passes and things settle down and you still haven't felt what you think would be normal grief, please take the time to find a psychologist or grief counselor. Being a nurse, I'm sure you're aware of how depression can bury you in a deep hole without a ladder, and it could happen to anyone. Please take care of yourself, and keep posting if it helps you. We are here for you.

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