“Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.”Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Last Tuesday, I left for Indiana to attend my Mamaw’s funeral. In the days following her death, I was feeling waves of emotion. I would feel nostalgic and lost in happy memories. Then, all at once, I’d be washed over by sadness and helplessness and the reality that I will never see her again. Then, after an intense sob-fest, something strange happened. It started to not feel real at all. I busied myself with blog-related things, started a Facebook group that I, in no way, have time for. I packed for my trip with trepidation. I love my grandma so much. She means the world to me. I could only imagine how heart-wrenching the experience was going to be. When I got to town, I would finally be confronted with the cold, hard reality…my sweet Mamaw is gone.
But that’s not exactly what happened. I was blanketed by a numbness so complete that it still kept its un-real nature. The first night I was there, my sister and I went and spent the evening with some of my cousins. We looked through pictures, trying to find as many as we could of our grandma. We found so many and they all had one thing in common…she was so full of life. Pictures of her smiling, pictures of her frowning, pictures of her mid-sentence, and pictures of her mid-blink. There were pictures from when she was young and pictures of her from when she was in her golden years and they all had one thing in common. My grandma. Her presence. Her smile. And so the numbness and unreality dug in.
I woke up on Wednesday with trepidation in my heart. This was when it would get real. I would finally see her. My brain would finally have to accept that she was gone, wouldn’t it? How can you deny what is right in front of you? As my dad led me to the front, I felt my heart sink. I loved her so much and now I had to say good-bye and I wasn’t ready and…I stood there looking at her and I felt…numb. Not one tear would fall from my eyes. I was so numb, I couldn’t feel it. She didn’t look like herself and it made it so surreal; one more reason for my brain to keep denying what I know is true. We followed her to the cemetery in a snowstorm and, once there, they said a short prayer while the snow blew in circles. Again…so surreal.
I spent the rest of the week in Indiana because of weather concerns and I loved seeing my family, spending time with nieces, and seeing my very best and oldest friend and I somehow enjoyed it all. I kept telling everyone the whole time how it didn’t seem real, but it was hard to articulate just how numb I felt. Yesterday in therapy, I told Dr. R how I was feeling; he specializes in grief and death and I thought he might have some wise words. He told me there was a reason I couldn’t feel anything; that my grandmother’s death was going to be too big to process, so my brain blocked the grief for a while. It made sense. I once dissociated for a full 2 weeks after I found out information that my brain knew it couldn’t handle. Living life without my grandma is more than I can bear, to be sure. So my brain shut it down.
I was starting to feel like something was wrong with me. When my grandpa died 4 years ago, I was inconsolable at his funeral. I wanted to grieve for her at her funeral, while my family and I were together to comfort one another. Dr. R said it will go away eventually and I will be able to grieve for her the way that I need to. It just doesn’t feel right that I’ve lost someone so valuable to me, so dear, and to feel no grief? It only feels real in a distant, far-off kind of way; like the logical part of my brain understands it, but the emotional part of my brain has its fingers in its ears going, “Lalalalalala!” This all got me wondering about numbness and grief, so I did a little research and decided to write about it.
Numb grief is a lack of the typical emotional reactions to a loss or death. While you may lack emotional reactions, numb grief is a normal grief reaction. Many people are numb grievers. While it might feel odd or wrong at the time, it is a normal reaction to a traumatic experience. It isn’t a sign that there is something wrong with you and it certainly isn’t an indication that you did not love your lost loved one; you simply can’t access the emotions because your brain is trying to protect you from the pain. It’s too big to come in all at once. It has to slip in by bits and pieces. It isn’t always safe to feel everything at once and your brain knows this; it will let you feel it when you are ready. You don’t need to try and force yourself to feel a certain way. Give yourself time, space, and compassion and the grief process will eventually flow normally.
It is important to keep holding on and remember that you won’t always feel numb. You have to give your feelings the time and space to change and evolve; let the numbness run its course. Take care of yourself, physically and spiritually, and remember the psychological reasons for your numbness; be kind to yourself. These feelings can last for days and even weeks after a traumatic loss, but hold out hope because they will go away eventually and you will be able to move on. Here are a few reminders in parting:
- There is nothing wrong with you if you are feeling numb after the death of a loved one. This is a natural grief reaction and many people feel this way when dealing with a traumatic loss.
- It doesn’t mean that you didn’t love the person that you lost. The loss meant so much to you that your brain had to cut off your emotions to protect you.
- Allow time for your loss to sink in. Let yourself sit with your memories and try not to push them away. Accept any emotion as it comes as a normal part of the process; don’t run from the emotional parts of it.
- Take it one day at a time. Grief is a roller coaster and it is not linear. It’s hard to predict which part of the grief process will pop up from day to day. Just go with the flow and try to accept it for what it is.
- Remember: The numbness will fade.
- Talk about it. Talk about them. Tell people that it doesn’t feel real. Tell them that you are sad. Talk about your loved one as often as you can. Remember with anyone willing. Like I’m doing here, with you.
I honestly don’t know when I’m going to be able to get back on a schedule with the blog. I have some great stuff planned for the near future, but this loss has knocked me for a loop. I will do my best to get back on a Tue-Wed/Fri-Sat schedule…just as soon as I can scoop my brains back into my ears. Please bear with me while I try to get through this. As always, I appreciate all of the support that I receive from you all. Remember to be kind and gentle with yourselves.
Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight!💜💜