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Dear Family Advisor

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

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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.

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