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Dear Annie: Why can't I weep?

Woman coping with death of a loved one

“I miss him so much, but the tears won't come”

I've always been a bit of a cry-baby. I'm the first one to reach for the tissues when we have a girly night watching a weepie and a stressful day can have me on the verge of tears.

But when my brother died three months ago, I just couldn't cry. He was one of the most important people in my life and I miss him every day. Why can I cry so easily over things that seem so trivial and yet for my brother, the tears won't come? I feel so guilty” – JH.

Annie says: I can really understand your confusion about this. Crying is so often understood to be a sign of ‘feeling’ and so when we don’t cry, or don’t see someone crying, it can be easy to assume that the respective feeling must therefore not be there.

But this misses the nature of both feeling and crying. Sometimes, a feeling can be so overwhelming or intense that our body and mind create a defence against it, perhaps making us feel numb, or stopping us from crying. Similarly sometimes we can cry easily without being in touch with a particular feeling – such as your example of watching a weepie movie.

It sounds to me as though right now, being in direct contact with the pain of the loss of your brother would just be too much, and so you are protecting yourself against it. Don’t rush it. Our defences are there to serve us, and they need to be honoured. When you are ready, you will begin to let them down. Try not to let external pressure to cry take over either.

It is not your job to grieve in the way that other people think you should. If you feel you are being misunderstood by others because they are looking for your tears, you can gently explain this to them – and ask them to be patient and to respect your right to grieve in your own way.

“It's as though he's been forgotten – and it hurts”

Since my husband John died three years ago, I sometimes feel as though he's been forgotten. Often when I talk about him, it's as though some people want to steer the conversation away.

This has happened with good friends, who John and I both really valued. I know he's gone, but for me, he'll always be a part of who I am. It's so hurtful to feel I can't talk about the times we shared, like I did when he was alive. What can I do, or say? – MM.

Annie says: This is such a difficult aspect of grief. I really resonate with what you’re saying here. In my experience, one of the hardest things for both bereaved and un-bereaved people to come to terms with about grief is that it never stops. We may move through different phases, but it’s never ‘completed’. It’s a continual process – and a very important part of this process is remembering the deceased.

Sadly, other people’s discomfort with death and grief often mean that conversations about someone who is no longer alive triggers awkwardness and a temptation to disengage. Don’t give up.

I would really encourage you to persevere with sharing your memories. It is not your job to make your friends feel more comfortable with the death of your husband. And if you can, find a time to talk to your friends about your experience. Tell them that you’ve noticed the conversation gets shut down when you mention your husband and ask them if they’re aware of it and that you’d like to be able to continue sharing memories – theirs as well.

If you have a question for Annie to answer in this column, write to her at DearAnnie@funeralzone.com

About Annie

Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.

She is the author of bestselling self-help book We Need to Talk About Grief, inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.