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Is it Possible (or Healthy) to Not Grieve?

If you have recently lost a loved one in Alameda County and elsewhere, but you’re feeling empty inside, you may wonder: is it possible (or even healthy) to not grieve? Well, like everything else about grief, it’s complicated. There’s something called absent grief, a form of grief whereby a person shows no, or just a few, signs of distress about the passing of someone they love. This is a pattern of complicated grief considered to be an impaired response that results from either denial or avoidance of the loss’s emotional realities. Many things can help bring these emotional realities to the surface so one can grieve properly, including bereavement support services.

Grief tends to be full of surprises, and not the fun kind. The grief experience is certainly overwhelming, but you may be expecting one thing but get something much more. On the other hand, some people actually feel underwhelmed after a loss, with anticipated emotions being far less than they had anticipated. It’s fairly common but it’s not always recognized in the mainstream. People may feel ashamed that they don’t feel more intensely than they do, and tend to keep those thoughts to themselves. But they may wonder: What’s wrong with me, and why am I not grieving like I should?

Assumption vs. Reality

An individual’s idea of what grief should look and feel like starts to form at a very early age. Even before we experience a personal loss, factors such as spiritual beliefs, cultural attitudes, family history, and family norms are shaping our grief expectations. In our society, in particular, one of the biggest influences of what grief should look like is depicted on TV and in the movies. Often, these highly dramatized performances stick with us throughout our lives, giving us a picture of grief and what it should manifest as.

Another way assumptions can be shaped is what’s called “attractive forecasting,” where we imagine potential future events and try to predict how we think we would behave and feel if certain things were to occur. We all do this on the regular, without even realizing it, but turns out, we’re not so good at it. We may think we’re being reasonably accurate in anticipating whether certain events will generate negative or positive emotions, but we’re not very accurate in predicting the duration and intensity of those emotional reactions.

In a nutshell, grief often feels a lot different than you may have imagined it. But, that said, just because it does not feel quite how you believed it would, doesn’t mean that you are wrong or somehow defective.

Shock or Avoidance

Perhaps before your loved one even died (assuming they were ill for some time), you had been bracing yourself for a tidal wave of emotion that never came once the person actually passed on. It’s a myth that grief is big, bold, instantaneous, and in-your-face. In reality, it may take some time for your heart and mind to catch up to what you may have only initially known on an intellectual level. Here are some other reasons why you may not be feeling grief the way you think you should.

  • Shock: At first, the loss may seem surreal, like it’s not even real. You may even think it’s a dream and that you will wake up soon. This is called shock and it’s totally normal.
  • Focus on secondary losses: The days and weeks after a loved one’s death are busy times. There’s a lot to do: plan the funeral, take care of the kids, take over jobs and tasks your spouse used to do, etc. You may not have time to really stop and think about what just happened. You’re essentially moving on autopilot, distracted by other tasks, and the need to meet everyone else’s basic needs in the immediate aftermath.
  • Avoidance: This is normal, but issues may come up when avoidance replaces your coping skills. You may be suffering from avoidance if you refuse to talk about the loss, repeatedly tell people you’re fine, refuse to acknowledge the loss’ impact, focus all your energy on taking care of others, fail to care for your own self, or abuse substances to try and forget the loss.

People Who Don’t Show Grief are Healthy

Not much has been known or studied about resilience or absent grief until recently. Many people assume that those who don’t show grief are cold, defensive, or never truly cared about the person they lost. However, this isn’t true in most cases. One recent bereavement study followed people over six years, revealing that half the sample showed no grief symptoms at all. They weren’t depressed before or after the loss, and the study leaders concluded that they were healthy people with good relationships, they weren’t cold or aloof, and they did not score highly on avoidant attachment measures. This doesn’t mean they didn’t feel sad or miss the person; however, they are able to keep functioning.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

If you have suffered a recent loss and need support, take a look at our many bereavement services that can help you cope with and acknowledge the loss. Contact us at 888-978-1306.