Am I Horrible for Not Crying at My Father’s Funeral?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I recently attended my father’s funeral, which was a very large gathering with family, friends, and people in the community. He touched many lives and was well-known around town, so hundreds of people showed up to pay respects. Tears were shed, handshakes and hugs were exchanged, and memories were shared. It was an emotional day, to say the least … but I didn’t even come close to crying. In fact, I haven’t cried at all since he passed. I’ve tried, because it seems like the thing to do, and because people have been telling me things like, “You just have to let it out,” or, “You’ll feel so much better afterward.”

In general I don’t consider myself a very emotional person, though I’ve been known to shed a tear at sad movies. And I cried when my childhood dog died in my 20s. So it makes me feel even worse that I was able to express some emotion at those times and not now, at a clearly more impactful loss. And it’s not like I hated my dad, either. We’d grown apart in recent years, but I have positive memories from my childhood when my dad was around and not away for military service, as he often was.

My two siblings are grieving in “normal” ways, and they definitely think I’m some kind of monster for not crying at all, especially at the funeral. Meanwhile, I’ve been the one with a clear head on my shoulders to help our mother arrange the memorial, get her finances in order, etc. So at least some good has come out of my apathy. But I do wonder why I’m not reacting more strongly, and whether I should be doing something to make myself move through grief more.

Would it be helpful to try to make myself cry? Does crying need to be a part of grief? I don’t want to draw the grief process out unnecessarily if I can instead just move forward. —Dried Up

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Dear Dried Up,

A parent’s passing can be a momentous time in one’s life—and assuming we know and outlive them, we all experience it eventually. Each of us will react in our own way. That means we will cry or not, feel sad or not, feel free or not, feel glad or not. Whatever our feelings or, more accurately, mixture of our feelings, we will be affected—some people more, some less, some more openly expressive, some less. That’s all part of being human.

You dubbed yourself “Dried Up.” I was surprised when I read that. What does it mean? Then I thought, “dried up” implies that what was wet before is dry now. I wonder if there were times in your early life when you were unhappy, and now you’ve reached equilibrium.

You write that you cried when your dog died and you also cry at certain movies. Some movies are arranged to make people cry; that’s their purpose. And when your dog died, you were in your 20s, a time when people start truly becoming adults. Although I don’t know you well enough to unravel what made you who you are, it’s certainly possible your dog’s death may have been associated with the end of your childhood. If so, you may have cried both for the dog and also that it marked the ending of a precious time in your life.

Now that your father has died, you wonder why you don’t cry. You wonder if there is something wrong with you, perhaps. That presumes that crying is not only normal, but mandatory.

Who says you have to cry? Every person experiences grief in their own way and in their own time. Everybody expresses their emotions differently, and there is no right way to do it.

Who says you have to cry? Every person experiences grief in their own way and in their own time. Everybody expresses their emotions differently, and there is no right way to do it. It’s a purely individual matter. You write that you are generally reserved emotionally—that’s neither a positive nor a negative attribute, but rather a description of your place on a continuum of emotional expressiveness. Some people are more openly expressive, some less, just like some folks have brown eyes and others have blue eyes.

Your siblings seem to have precise ideas about the right and wrong ways to have feelings and subsequently show them. I wonder if this is not part of a larger story about how you relate to one another. They are not pleased with you because you did not display grief as they did. Do you all have to be the same? Is there only one way to be?

You speak of your apathy. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that, and I wonder if you might mean impassivity rather than apathy, so I looked up apathy in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster differentiates apathy from impassivity: “Impassivity stresses the absence of any external sign of emotion in action or facial expression.” What’s wrong with that?

I definitely do not think you should make yourself cry. You shouldn’t make yourself do anything. Just be yourself and let things take their natural course.

Take care,

Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Jennifer

    Jennifer

    August 6th, 2016 at 7:41 AM

    You have to do things in ways that feel the most right to you. If you are not ready to cry yet, there will probably come a time when you are and this is why grief is such a personal process for everyone.

  • Beau

    Beau

    August 6th, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    I am sort of the same way, you know, the person who laughs out of nervous anxiety? That’s me, the worst times is when it happens to me but I can’t ever control it.

  • Lora

    Lora

    August 8th, 2016 at 4:33 PM

    It would just not feel any more genuine if you had to resort to “making” yourself cry.

    So you may not be the person who shows every single emotion. I’m that way too, I might be more likely to cry when I am all alone than I ever would be in public.

    To me it doesn’t feel comfortable to show emotion like that openly.

  • erin

    erin

    August 10th, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    Could it be something unresolved that the two of you went through together that may be preventing you from grieving like others think that you should?

  • Jessica

    Jessica

    July 11th, 2017 at 12:27 PM

    When my grandma Evans died I was crying.

  • Eric

    Eric

    August 3rd, 2017 at 3:56 PM

    Absolutely not; not everyone deals with death-related grief in the same way. Obviously, everyone feels sad when they lose someone close to them (Friend, family member, even a beloved pet that they had at one point), but not everyone can cry when such a tragedy occurs.
    On a personal level, there have been some occasions where I didn’t cry at all and showed very little emotion otherwise; then there were some that were mostly shock and anger, as well as a few tears here and there, E.G. when I lost my paternal grandmother (1995), my father (2011) and my stepmother (2013). Then, there were also a few instances where when I found out, it was shock, then denial, then anger, then mostly grief (getting into the stages of grief). An example of this came in June of 2001, when, one month after school ended, the phone rang one afternoon with the news that I had hoped not to hear again, at least not in the span of time that I did. For the second time in two months, either a current or former (in this case) schoolmate by the name of Stevie, a one-time friend of mine, and with whom I had lost touch some 12-18 months prior, had, on June 25 of that year, suffered fatal injuries in an accident returning home from a rodeo in Greeley, Colorado. During the course of the phone conversation, obviously shock set in first, followed by denial (saying “no” at least once and asking in anger “Are you (Bleeping) serious?”, to which the caller replied “Yes, Eric, I am serious; Stevie is dead”. During the course of the conversation, I began trying, unsuccessfully, I might add, to choke back tears, and when I hung up about 15 minutes or so later, and by now, my mom had just arrived home from work, all I could do was cry. I tried to tell my mom what had transpired, trying unsuccessfully to stifle the tears in the process, and when she hugged me, I just continued to cry. The remainder of that day, and again the next two days, including the day of the funeral (June 29, 2001), with very limited exceptions, I could not stop crying, no matter how much I tried to do so. During the funeral, about the only time I *didn’t* cry was during the first ten minutes of the service (if even that), including a period when I belted out a *very* moving rendition of the song “Angels Among Us”, which moved everyone (or almost everyone) at the service to tears; however, there was a time while I was singing the song, when I did start to get choked up, primarily when I got to the bridge, which goes “They wear so many faces; show up in the strangest places. They grace us with their mercies in our time of need.” Aside from that, however, I, more or less, managed to keep my composure while singing the song. Aside from that, however, I was in tears the rest of the time. So, yes, I have been in those shoes many times where, when going to a funeral, sometimes I show no or very little emotion, sometimes I show some emotion when I have to go to a funeral, and others where all I could do was cry.

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