The absence of tears is not the absence of grief
There is such a thing as a numb griever: a person who grieves with no tears.
The emotional numbness sometimes experienced in grief can feel especially disturbing because after a loved one dies you expect to feel so much. You might wonder, “What is wrong with me?!?! Why don’t I feel anything?!? Maybe I’m a sociopath or a robot?”
There are certain cultural and societal expectations about how grief has to look which have been floating around the collective consciousness for centuries now. Any deviations from this mythical standard cause us grievers so much pain and self-flagellation when the reality and expression of grief deviate from these standards.
Your grief is unique to you and the goal is to understand how your grief manifests and find your own unique rhythm. It is my hope that by naming and then deconstructing some of these myths, you might gain some understanding and offer yourself some grace as you grieve.
Deconstructing the Myths
Myth 1: If you are not crying, you are cold and emotionless
You know this is not true because you have cried before due to other reasons. For example, when you broke up with a partner or lost a job. There are many valid reasons why you cannot cry right now. Nothing is wrong with you. You are not a robot or a sociopath for that matter.
Myth 2: If you are not crying, you are in denial or using avoidance coping mechanisms
The literature on grief might tell you that you are in denial or that you have blocked out the emotions and that the tears will eventually come after the numbness passes. It might also say you are using daily life and other coping mechanisms to avoid the pain of loss, but what if 30 years have passed and you have still not cried?
The tears do not always come.
Sometimes there are no tears because there was no strong bond between you and the person, or you had a complicated relationship with the person who died. There are many other explanations for why you might not be crying.
Myth 3: If you are not crying, your love was not strong and big
Many people will question your love for the person who died if you are not crying, when in reality in many cases when there was a very deep connection, the grief might feel so big and insurmountable that you might not be able to cry as a protective mechanism because of fear that you will not be able to survive the grief.
One of the first spirals most grieving people enter is shock characterized by emotional numbness. A person that is numb or in disbelief may be unable to cry when grieving; in fact, they may act contrary to how friends and family would expect them to act. Many that go through this numb phase carry on with their lives as if they hadn’t experienced a tragic loss. Even this period of numbness is part of the grieving process.
Myth 4: You will never feel again
You might think that this is your new normal and you will forever be stuck in Tbe stuck in this frozen colorless place. You cannot see how you can ever feel normal again or find joy in anything. Depending on why you can’t cry, there are different ways to cope and as you begin to process the emotions, the wall of numbness will begin to melt away.
Myth 5: If you are not crying, you are not really grieving
Our family and culture have a lot to do with how we grieve. The absence of tears and wailing isn’t the absence of grief. There are many ways to express grief and sometimes crying is not one of them. There are many reasons why there is a lack of tears and even then, the grieving is happening in different ways. Like lack of sleep, concentration, no appetite, disorientation, numbness, increase alcohol consumption or overeating, and drugs. Grief has many faces. If someone cries a lot, a little, or not at all, it has no relationship to how much they’re grieving.
Your grief is one-of-a-kind
Your grief is as unique as the relationship you had with your loved one and it will manifest in different ways for different people. Please remember that however you are grieving, or feeling is normal because it is the reality you are currently experiencing.