Am I a cold fish because I didn't break down over my dad's death?

Last updated: August 31, 2010

My dad died six months ago from prostate cancer. He was only sick for six weeks, and he was in the hospital almost the entire time. My siblings are taking it very hard, but I can't seem to feel a thing. One even said I was cold because I orchestrated the funeral without a tear in my eye.

Why can't I grieve? I didn't cry much over Mom's passing either. I loved Dad, but I can't say we were extremely close. He was a good dad and I do miss him "“ still, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I cried more when our family dog died. Is there something wrong with me? Do some people not feel grief?

You are grieving, just in your own way. No one has the right to judge how that should look or feel. The way you react to the loss of your parents might not look like how other people grieve. You might think about them when you're driving, wear your mom's watch, or take your children fishing the way your dad took you. That's honoring their memory, and that's important. Not everyone needs to take to her bed or cry.

We're not all built the same way "“ and a lack of tears doesn't mean you're not a thoughtful, loving person.

How do I know? The way you took your pet's passing. You likely transferred all those emotions of heartbreak, anger, and sorrow because that one death probably represented all the deaths you've experienced. It may be that you've been so responsible that you shut down many of your responses, and crying for your pet was the only way it could come out.

I's possible that because you've been the one in charge, you haven't really given yourself permission to express feelings. Somehow, you've become the go-to, get-it-done member of the family. Some of us are naturally this type of personality -- and while we thrive in that role, we don't like getting there by default or never getting to be anything else. Is it possible you like being in charge because it allows you not to feel? What do you gain by avoiding or delaying those feelings? What would happen if you just plopped down and cried, too?

I'm not saying it's wrong to be the one who steps up and gets things done. In fact, as an only child by adoption, I felt I had no choice but to take care of business. If I didn't handle my mother's funeral, who would? So I can relate to what you felt you had to do.

But I had to make a choice that at some point I would let myself feel. Like you, it happened to be with a pet. I completely lost it when my beloved kitty of 15 years died recently. I accepted everyone's love and strength, and I risked showing how much of a wreck I really was. No one judged me. No one thought less of me. It was cathartic, and it was practice for other situations, because that's how we deal with life -- sideways.

Your warm and loving side also came out in the way you took care of the mountain of details that come when a loved one dies. The proof of how much you cared for your parents is that you followed through and took all the necessary steps. You probably do a hundred thoughtful things a day for those you love -- picking up dry cleaning, cheering at a child's soccer game, making chili on the first cold day. People who criticize you for your response to tough situations show they're not totally confident in who they are -- or they wouldn't feel the need to put you down in order to feel good about themselves.

If you ever need to have a meltdown later, go for it. Cry over your pet, cry in the car, in the shower, lose it in the grocery store over a broken bottle, yell at your hubby and then realize you just needed to get something out -- and tell him thanks for being your sounding board. Slam cabinets and then laugh at yourself. Any time you have a spontaneous emotion -- cheer!

But don't "feel" because you're obligated to or you think something's wrong with you if you don't. Cry or don't cry. Cry today or ten years from now -- or not ever. Trust yourself to experience life in a way that's genuine for you.

Was this blogpost helpful?

14 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

almost 2 years ago

I found your article above to be directed towards me. I was starting to wonder about why I haven't shed a tear for my father who past away at 94 Weds., Jan. 10, 2013. I favored Dad more then Mother, because Mother favored her niece more then me. I was also Daddy's little girl growing up doing something with him almost every Saturday. They were fine fun times together. I loved my Dad. Will miss him terribly so, but he was 94 and he was ailing. And It old him Mom & I are okay and it's time for you to get some rest and go to sleep. Said it a few times to him with his eyes open looking at me. I believe he understood. I'm sad that he is gone, but I realistically know we don't live forever. No one does. He was in a nursing home for over 1.5 years and only went down hill w/o eating or drinking anything a few days before he past. He was my rock and I feel now I have to care for Mom ever so much more. She's 90. I think I'm coping okay, but I really don't know. And I'm not going to fret over the weigh I grieve.

over 3 years ago

Everyone grieves differently. My mother had multi-infarct dementia and disabling chronic physical illness as well. When she died, I felt that I lost a piece of my heart, but I did not cry at all when she died, or when we buried her. Two weeks later, my 10-year old Labrador Retriever was diagnosed with bone cancer, and I had to have been euthanized. I cried uncontrollably when the life left his body. I felt guilty because I had cried for my dog, but not for the women who bore me, raised me and loved me all through the years. Eventually I came to realize that I had experienced anticipatory grief for my mother, during the months of her serious illness. I was glad that she no longer suffered, and my tears wouldn't have added to the relief that she was now safe with our Lord. When my dog died, I experienced a rush of old and new grief. My tears weren't just for my dog and for loss of my companion, it was for my mother too.

over 3 years ago

I find that as my 90+ parents continue to get more frail and demented, I continue to accept the fact that they will die someday, and they are ready for that. We make the best of our time together and go for "quality of life, not quantity" at this point. My siblings who are farther away seem like they will have a hard time when they pass. I have been slowly accepting their eventual death with each visit and each physical or mental decline. I expect that my constant contact with them has helped me to accept the inevitable better than my siblings. But we all choose how we will respond and cope with a parent's decline, and I don't want more from them than they can give.

about 4 years ago

I am very sorry for your loss. No you are not a cold hearted person. I lost my son with lung cancer in March of 2007 and I did not shed a tear till the last moments of the burial it was so hard to believe that he was gone. In Sept. I lost my mother to cancer also but I did not shed a tear. My heart was comming apart but at the same time we realized my husband was suffering from Alzheimer and it was a very numbing experience. We all grieve differently and how heartless for someone to judge your behavior. I will pray for you and that your parents rest in peace.

Anonymous said about 4 years ago

I was thinking the same thing, how sometimes I don't "grieve" over someone passing, but when one of my pets passes, I carry the grief for years.

about 4 years ago

Sweetheart, I., too lost my father, and didn't cry, My husband also died of prostate cancer, and was sick for years with it, and I didn't cry then. I don't think you have to shed tears when you have no regrets. Both of these wonderful men, my dad, who died of a sudden heart attack, and my husband, who died of cancer in severe pain, and I had a wonderful relationship. My husband knew I love him, and I know he loved me. We hardly had a harsh word between us. My dad was always my father, never my friend. But he was always there for me, and gave me advise I needed to know, even if I didn't care for that advise, I always knew he loved me. You must have had such a good understanding of each other and your love for each other, that you had nothing to regret when he passed away. It's also a releife to have someone who is in such pain finally pass away, and he's done suffering. Don't worry about it so much, in time the tears may come. If not, there are no instructions for grieving, you do what you do. The memories of him will stop being painful, and you will have comfort when you look back on your dad and your time with him. God Bless!

about 4 years ago

I lost my son March of 207 to lung cancer and my grief was so strong that I sat at his graveside every day. My husband was in early stages of alzheimer which I didn't know at the time. I accused him of not loving our son and was very angry with him. The following month my aunt who was close to my son passed away, than on Sept 11, 2007 my mother passed away. At that time my grief was so deep I could'nt shed any tears. Why did I weep every day for my son and not for my mother I think we all react very differently I feel the grief was so deep I was beyond tears and you must feel so much sadness for you father's death you are grieving in your own way. Please don't let some heartless person's judgement hurt you. My prayers are with you.

about 4 years ago

My mother passed away years ago. I felt guilty because I didn't shead a tear when she passed. I was the strong one while everyone else was devistated. I continually questioned myself as to why I didn't grieve her death. Then 14 months later it hit me. My wife and I were eating breakfast and out of left field, the grieving came! I cried like I never cried before. As you've heard before, everyone is different. Everyone grieves at there own time. Trust me... It'll come!

about 4 years ago

I discovered that grieving comes in stages. My church offers grieving sessons for those who want them. Too many of us are taught to control feelings so that we don't know how to recognize emotions. Your relatives and friends may not realize that anger (directed to you or elsewhere) is part of the grieving process. I was even angry at God for taking my sister away from us and didn't know it. Going thru the process of grief even when we know we will be together later is very inportant for moving on.. Helped me when I realized that most women cry regularly (weekly/monthly/whatever) as an emotional release and that its perfectly healthly. I was taught to control emotions and didn't realize how much fun it could be to be emotional once in a while (not abusive to others but just let out feelings--laughing, crying, yelling at a plant that won't grow well, etc.) Faith (picturing my sister in Heaven riding on an off-road motorcycle and having a great time helping others and recreating there), and sharing memories has helped. The other posts are correct that there is nothing wrong with you. We all react differently and in our own ways. God bless you and feel good about yourself.

about 4 years ago

I can relate to all the comments, my Father passed away in July... It is still hard for me to say it, or write it. I had the privilege of caring for him. Bless his heart he was a wonderful man. I miss him SO much! I am not crippled by my grief but I do cry very easily. I know that he is so much better off in heaven. He had CA and it metasticized to his prostate and bones... He was only in bed a little over a week. A little over a week after he died my Mother had a heart attack... She is 83, Dad would have been 86 tomorrow... She is doing better physically but she misses him too... they were married almost 63 years... Grief is a process and I think that it is one of those things we just have to put our heads down and get through! My Mom and I are going to start going to a Bible study called Grief Share... I am hoping for some healing and help! We are also planning to go visit our little grandson for his 2nd birthday...

When my father died I handled everything, according to my sister everything wrong but she did not step up the the plate. She said if you need help call me but I had never handled a funeral or even been to one since I was 20 years old so I didnt know anything. I really wanted her to take over but she did not. I still dont know why everyone expected me to know what the heck I was doing and to handle it. I was guardian when he was alive but that ended when he died so someone else could have handled that. They kept asking my mom questions and because I am her guardian I had to sign for everything. My father was on hospice but they kept telling us that he could live 6 months or longer. Right before he died he was angry and violent. They brought him into the hospital to get his meds right. He wouldnt eat or drink anything because he ws afraid we were poisoning him. I thought that they would get it right and then either send him home to us or send him to a nursing home. The last time I saw him he was really unconscious and did not know that anyone was there. I had had little sleep for about 2 weeks. I probably didnt sleep much before that either. I know that I did not grieve much except in my heart or late at night after I had been yelled at for handling it wrong. That happens alot in many situations. I am good during an emergency but if someone offers sympathy or to help I crash. Now when someone asks me about him I will tear up but talking here and talking in my support group has helped alot. I guess I did grieve but did not collapse because I did not have time.

about 4 years ago

There's no right or wrong way to grieve. There's just your way. Both of my parents died after long, full lives, and we were all ready for it. Sure it was painful and I still miss them. The worst part was the shock of the suddenness (my mother had a fatal stroke, my dad a fatal heart attack). I was shocked but not surprised, and that made it easier. So much depends on the circumstances and who you are and how you handle strong emotions. Don't let anybody tell you you're "doing it wrong."

about 4 years ago

There's nothing wrong with you. Period. I can tell you that I didn't cry when my grandmother died, or during the wake or funeral. I knew deep in my heart that where she was now was an awesome place with no suffering, and it made my heart glad. I was also there to help my family get through it, and made sure they all were comforted. I still have moments where I still do grieve for her a year later, but those moments are private for me.

about 4 years ago

I can relate. I have had people in my life, family, criticize how I grieve. I'm not here to put a show on for them. My tears tend to come in the shower. The hot water, the being alone, the music on the radio while I'm in there...they can all lead me to the release. I'm not a puppet. If I'm not emoting in front of you, it doesn't mean I'm not emoting. It means I don't care to have you watch me do it.

Stay Connected With

Receive the latest news and tips in your inbox

Join our social communities:

Best in Health News

Carol's Calendar