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How to Handle Emotional Numbness After a Loved One Dies

Feeling numb after the death of someone you love is a natural, healthy part of the grieving process. The shock protects you from the cliff of insanity and helps you cope with daily life. But what if you feel like you’ll never feel normal again? These ideas for healing emotional numbness will help you through the grieving process.

Emotional numbness may be normal, but it’s also scary and confusing. It can affect our relationships at home and work, and even spiral downward into complicated grief and depression.

When I lost my grandma – the first time someone I loved died – I felt numb for weeks. I was cushioned by shock, disbelief, confusion, and emotional numbness. Back then I was confused and didn’t know how to handle the numb feelings after a death. Now, I believe this is God or nature’s way of protecting humans from going insane with grief when a loved one dies. I don’t have quick tips on how to come alive when you feel dead inside, but I can offer you a little hope and help when you’re coping with the shock and numbness of grief.


Here’s what a She Blossoms reader says:

“My husband died 13 days, 14 hours, and 24 minutes ago,” says A. on How to Let Go of Someone You Love. “He was 47. He had a brain tumor…I have no idea how to describe what I feel – or rather what I don’t feel. That concerns me. I have yet to have my gut-wrenching cry or a fit of rage. I do shed some tears when I replay the songs I chose for his funeral or scroll through his obituary online, but when is this dam going to break and everything come rushing out? Does it always happen for every person whose soul is ripped in half? If it does, when?”

She adds that she’s only 45, and she feels like she’s doing something wrong or disrespectful. She’s moving through her grief, but not feeling the sadness or emotional breakdowns she expected. She’s feeling numb after a death – and that is normal.

Emotional Numbness After You Lose Someone You Love

“I do lay in our bed holding the blanket that covered us when my husband took his last breath,” she says. “But even reliving the night my husband died hasn’t evoked an emotional response beyond whispering ‘I miss you’ while looking at his photograph on the nightstand. Can I really be this strong or do I just have to wait for the outpouring of grief when I least expect it?”

Such an honest response to her husband’s death! It takes courage and vulnerability to express your thoughts – especially when you feeling numb after a death. You may also feel confused, grieving, and emotionally numb. Talking or writing about how you feel is a healthy way to cope with the numbness of grief.

How to Heal Emotional Numbness

“You learn – in time – how to move forward,” says singer/songwriter Alisa Turner in an article in Homelife magazine. “But you will always carry that grief, because you carry what’s worth carrying. You carry the things you love.”

It’s important to know yourself. If you’ve lost a loved one before, how long did you feel numb for after the death? Some people take months to start feeling normal – or as close to normal as they’ll get after a loved one dies. Other people feel numb for a few days and bounce back rather quickly. Some people are immediately emotional and responsive. If you normally feeling numb after a death or shocking experience, then your current numbness may just be part of your makeup. But if your emotional numbness is causing long-term problems in your life and relationships, then it may need more careful attention.

1. Hold on – for you won’t always feel this way

Maybe you’re searching for help coping with numb feelings after a death because you want to hurt, grieve, and heal. You lost someone you love – maybe your spouse died, your husband left, or your beloved animal companion was put to sleep. You lost something or someone dear to your heart and you want to feel better again.

You won’t always feel emotionally numb. First, though, your mind, heart, body and spirit needs to grieve your loss. You need to process the death of the relationship you had with the person you lost. You need to experience the heartache of grief and the pain of being separated forever. The most important thing you can do in this time of emotional numbness is keep hoping and believing that you will come through this. If you give up hope, you die inside. You will start to feel the heartache and loss – and you will heal from the pain. You will be happy again.


2. Give your feelings space and time to change

If numbness isn’t negatively affecting your life or relationships, allow it to run its course. Let your system to adjust to the shock. Maybe now isn’t the right time to focus on healing the emotional pain after losing someone you love. There will come a time to actively pursue the grieving process after a loved one dies…but maybe that time isn’t now.

Sometimes it’s okay to just feel numb after a death. Remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way, that you’re walking through a valley of grief, loss, and pain. You lost someone you loved and your heart is broken. You are responding the way your body, spirit, and mind needs to respond right now. Allow yourself to heal at your own pace, in your own time. Simply accept that right now you are numb because of a death. You don’t know how long it’ll last or exactly how you’ll handle the numbness, but you will come through this.

3. Listen for God’s heartbeat

The only man who never experienced emotional numbness was Jesus, God’s own Son. He grieved, got angry, worshipped, and loved. He was alive in ways we can only imagine — and He invites us to taste His joy, peace, and freedom!

How do you listen for God’s heartbeat? By pausing. Getting quiet, still, and calm. By talking to Him, asking Him to fill you with His life. By telling Him about your fear, grief, anger, frustration, and pain. And by giving Him time to respond. Wait patiently, for He will answer your call. It may not be immediate – and He may not sound the way you expect – but He does respond. Connecting with God through prayer and meditation can be the most powerful way to handle emotional numbness, especially after a loved one dies.

4. Learn the physiological reason for numb feelings

Feeling numb after a death is healthy because it has a purpose. Numbness functions to protect you from completely breaking down and losing your mind after someone you love dies. Feeling emotionally numb is God’s way of helping you cope with something so traumatic and terrible it would undo you if you felt it too deeply. It’s similar to physical shock your body experiences after a serious injury: emotional numbness after a death prevents you from breaking under the strain of grief.

Emotional Numbness After You Lose Someone You Love

You might find it both helpful and interesting to learn about emotional numbness by reading books such as Before and After Loss: A Neurologist’s Perspective on Loss, Grief, and Our Brain by Lisa Shulman. Learn how your brain is affected by loss, and how the grieving process affects how you think and feel.

A traumatic loss of someone you love has life-changing effects on how you live, move, and even breathe. Feeling numb when someone you love dies is part of a healthy physiological reaction to loss. The more you learn about how your body and brain protects itself from overwhelming pain, the easier it’ll be to handle the numbness.

Megan Devine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand is another book that will help heal the emotional numbness and pain of losing a loved one. “Grief is simply love in its most wild and painful form,” she says. “It is a natural and sane response to loss.”

How are you? Feel free to share your thoughts – big and little – in the comments section below. Writing is one of the best ways to discover what you really think and help you process the pain of loss. Spend time in silence, listening to the still small voice deep in your spirit. Your heart will start to heal.

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16 thoughts on “How to Handle Emotional Numbness After a Loved One Dies”

  1. Accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who s grieving. Grief can be a confusing, sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they haven t experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort you and end up saying or doing the wrong things. But don t use that as an excuse to retreat into your shell and avoid social contact. If a friend or loved one reaches out to you, it s because they care.

  2. Pingback: Free Ice Cream and Jesus in Quebec City - Echoes of Comfort ⋆ Echoing Jesus

  3. Wow.
    Sounds like you are really hurting.
    Sorry to hear about your loss.
    Sorry to hear about your painful experiences within the church.
    Have you been able to reach forgiveness?
    Laurie doesnt command anyone to follow religion. She offers her compassion which is fuelled by God. She is inspirational and kind.
    Everyone can voice their opinion, please be kind.
    I am a widow myself.
    Most of us are in the same lonley boat.
    How can we help?

  4. Could you please just leave Religion OUT of it, maybe just even every once in a while? I’ve tried several articles now and every bleepin’ one of them ruined the potential help by bringing up Religion. I’m 62 now, been widowed 19 years – and on top of that I am still recovering from the psychological abuses of the GD Southern Baptist Church when I was a child. There is NO more hypocritically abusive mind-bending psychological-raping organization than the damned CHURCHES!

    My mate felt the same way – divorced Catholic, forced back to her abusive husband by the GD Church – so she took the kids and left him – and stayed alone until we met through friends well over a decade later. We bonded over a late-night Bogie-and-Bacall movie, a walk up the beach at dawn and breakfast in the local tourist-trap cafe. We were together for 12 years after that – Till Death Did We Part. I was the first and only man that had EVER spontaneously picked her a wildflower for her hair. I was the ONLY man that ever treated her with respect as a mutual-and-equal partner (note here that the Bible says women should submit — I say CRAP! I want a PARTNER not a submissive lackey! And I sure as Hell don’t need some self-righteous sanctimonious Preacher preachin’ at me!

    and while yer at it – set up a Widowers Section to balance out your current sexist segregation

  5. My mum is dying and she’s in agony caused by sepsis that’s killing her. I’m not a stranger to losing loved ones through death, I’m 34 and have had to deal with it alot in my life.
    Every time I’ve reacted with outbursts of anger, fear and pure sadness that have lasted long enough to see me through my grief but this time it’s completely different, I feel nothing, I’ve cried a little but I’m so numb it frightens me that if/when I burst i won’t be able to cope and mentally I’ll break and not come back from it. I’ve never had this feeling of nothing before, it’s like I could explode at any moment. My hearts not breaking and my stomachs not turning, I can easily pass as fine because I feel so numb, I don’t understand this.

  6. I lost my husband of 18 years and 5 months on May 28, 2019. The loss is so fresh and I have moments of soul crushing pain and then so go numb. He was my soulmate and recognized his soul from the moment I laid eyes on him. He asked me to marry him after a month and a half of dating and we married 3 months later. Our journey together was beautiful, but it was also filled with such sorrow. We lost our beautiful babygirl when she was only six. We both grieved deeply and it was such a difficult journey and long journey. We finally found true healing 4 years ago and we were at the pinnacle of our happiness right before he suddenly passed away. He was only 43 years old and he was perfectly healthy or so o thought. He just collapsed and his heart gave out. I thought I died too. Half of me did and maybe that’s why I feel numbness because half of me is missing. I don’t know. I’m so lost and desperately still looking for him. I feel like I’m walking through a thick fog trying to find him, but I can’t. I loved my husband with every part of my heart and soul. Thinking of moving forward paralyzes me.

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can’t imagine how painful and sad it must be to lose someone you love — especially a young son after a bout of cancer, a long lost brother after a journey through addiction, a soulmate after a lifetime together. I think you’re right: the emotional numbness after losing a loved one is a survival mechanism. The shock and grief are insulating you, protecting you from completely breaking down.

    May you find healing and peace today. Trust your spirit, heart, mind, body and soul to heal the emotional numbness and physical ache. You won’t always feel so bad. You will one day be able to remember your loved one with more joy than sorrow, more peace and pain. Until then, all yourself to heal at your own pace. Be kind and compassionate to yourself, knowing that you are good. You are loved, you were created by God’s loving hand, and He knows what you’re going through. He will walk alongside you all the way to the end. He’ll bring you home, and you’ll meet the loved one you lost. And all your tears will be dried up, your sorrows floating away like wisps of smoke. You will go home, and you will see everything more clearly. You will know that even though you were emotionally numb and heart broken, you didn’t really lose the person you loved. You were just separated for a time.

    Keep expressing your emotions. You loosen the grip of grief and pain when you write and share how you feel. You might also paint, sculpt, draw, knit, or cook your way toward healing! Allow the pain to come out of you so that your mind, spirit, body and soul can heal.

    In sympathy, with His love,
    Laurie

  8. Ive lost my 9 year old son to cancer after a difficult 8 months journey. I prayed everyday and believed God was going to save him. During his treatment i lived in fear, fear of losing him. The grief and the pain were unbearable but praying kept me hopeful and focused on the journey ahead.

    On the 9th of August 2018 i found out that my son, my beautiful first born was not going to win his battle against this monster. Our journey of hope was ending there, life as we knew it was ending, we were sent home and he died two weeks later, in my bed, without pain I hope, with me and his daddy beside him, after everyone had said goodbye to him.
    I remember the anxiety and fearr I felt on the 9th of August when we were due to receive feedback on his tests, but I also remember the conversation with his neurologist when he told us the cancer had spread and there was nothing else to do, i remembered suddendly i felt nothing it was surreal like being in someone else’s life. I lost my son 8 months ago and that numbness has not lifted yet, im aching because of it but I also know that maybe my body and my mind are protecting me from a pain that more than likely would be hard to bear.
    I was 8 weeks pregnant when my Alessio died and I now have a 2 months old beautiful baby girl that I love very much, I also have a 7 year old and he is a sweetheart.
    I feel so strange, all that terrible pain i felt when he was diagnosed, the agony i experienced during his cancer journey, the fear of losing him and then… numbness, a weird acceptance of this new reality with a complete detachment from my feelings. I miss my Alessio a lot and im.so lost in this numbness. Thanks for giving me the space to voice this

  9. The numbness is like the receding tide before the tsunami.

    My brother died just before his 35th birthday. He was very damaged by a childhood with severe dysfunction and mental illness, as well as moving around a lot so no lasting relationships were possible.

    He had a curious, honest, funny soul but it was destroyed by a million papercuts. He was blunt and would say what he noticed. He was inventive and would fashion toys and fake bows, etc, out of things found in the yard. He was passionate and goofy. But bullying, mean teachers, abuse, society, it all added up. We didn’t have guidance and so he floundered, wound up working menial jobs, playing video games, and smoking pot, alone with no friends or girlfriend.

    One day he got some bad synthetic weed, had a seizure and bled out. It was several weeks before he was missed or found. His life was sadder than his death.

    I am consumed by grief and remorse. I wasn’t in touch with him for 5 years before his death as I was avoiding family dysfunction and trying to protect myself. I miss him so much and I am so so sorry.

    Thank you for letting

  10. I get this. Emotional pain has its pathway and the first few steps are usually shock and sadness and just plain pain for the first few months. I remember when I went through a loss someone saying to me ‘Don’t avoid that pain, lean into it’. I couldn’t do anything for a long time except weep and just deal with myself for many months and then the waves of pain came and I had to let them wash over me one by one. You will find that after a while there will be triggers that will bring on the tears and memories and will start the healing process. Each time you encounter the pain your body and mind gets a little bit more used to your new reality and will slowly change you and how you deal with everyday life. Stand still on the front of your ship and let your loss steer you for a little while. It’s normal to feel out of control and without any sense of what to do next. Pray and let God steer the ship for a while until you are ready to deal with the pain bit by bit. The thawing will happen with time. I really feel for you in this season. There was a beautiful text that I read lately which spoke about how important you are to God at this time “You are not your own, you were bought at a price”. When you feel bland and hopeless remember that God has something special at the end of this journey. That he will bring colour and hope into your life again in the future. Just hold fast and believe that one day this numbness will pass.

  11. I am in 10 1/2 months of grief.
    The first days, seconds and weeks of horror were simply shock and trauma. I was confused, scared and practically mindless. But I too, had to care for my children. They lost their father and looked to me for help. That was soo hard bc there were many times that I could not help them. Work was difficult bc I was so absent minded and simply exhausted.
    As the days and weeks passed, and until this moment, I am simply emotionally vacant. I am functioning better, I can hold a conversation, fulfill my responsibilities but I feel NOTHING inside. I miss him so much. I feel lonely and frightened for the future.
    I need to find myself and discover who I am without my husband of 29 years.
    I am not joyful and I do not feel Happy.
    I try to feign laughter and I try to be positive around my children but when I’m on my own, BAM.
    Nothing is the same. I am dreading his upcoming 1 year mark in November but all of October was a nightmare and spent in the hospital. How do I deal with the days leading up to that horrendous day?
    I pray Every day and I will send my ACHE to God. I need Him right now.

    1. Dear Antonella,

      Thank you for being here, and for sharing your feelings. I pray for joy and hope to fill your life, for the next few weeks to pass quickly. I pray for strength and courage, and for God’s peace to fill your days. I pray for the rest of September, October, and November…Jesus, take care of your girl Antonella! Walk with her, show her Your presence and power. Help her find the balance between being strong for her family, and finding strength and joy in Your love.

      Father God, may Your glory and strength be seen in Antonella’s life as this anniversary approaches. Show up in her life in unexpected ways…fill her with your light, love, and life. Reassure her, comfort her, and heal her. Amen.

      With His love,
      Laurie

  12. I lost my soulmate/husband 21 months ago. He passed away suddenly a week before Christmas in 2016. When he passed it felt like I was thrown over a cliff doing a freefall in this dark place. The ground somehow disappeared. I immerged into a world that looks the same as it did before but somehow everything is different. It is a world I don’t feel I belong in. I did go into shock which is why I don’t remember the memorial or even most of 2017. I remember bits and pieces and things I wrote down in my journal. My grief has improved but I feel numb as well. I don’t enjoy anything and don’t get excited about anything. I function well but that is for my children’s and grandchildren’s sake. They too have suffered the loss deeply so I have to be there for them. My feelings always turn off around people so my suffering is done along. I have always been considered very strong though I do not know why. I have always been very spiritual and pray and talk to God everyday. I feel very lonely without him. Even in our marriage I was the strong one but for me selfishly, it would have been better if I had died with him. However that would not have been the worst for the rest of the family. They needed me to get them through the loss. They all come to me for advise even the in-laws. I have become a mom to my daughters in law and sons in law. So that is why I have to continue to be strong. Sometimes it does wear me down. I do wish to be happy again but at this moment it does not seem possible. Since as long as I can remember my faith has always been strong so I will rely on that but some days it seems He has stopped listening.

    1. Dear Josie,

      I’m so sorry for your loss, it must be so hard to go on without your husband. I wish I had the right words to help heal the shock and grief you feel, to help you cope with the emotional numbness and pain. It sounds like you hold yourself together very well, that you’re the strong one in the family. Your loved ones lean on you….and maybe you don’t let yourself be weak. Maybe the deepest parts of your grief and pain haven’t come to the surface yet.

      Jesus, I lift your daughter Josie up to you right now. She is hurting – You know how much her heart aches, her spirit grieves, her soul mourns for the loss of her beloved husband. You know Josie’s heart because You are walking right alongside her. You are carrying her, even when she can’t feel or see you. Holy Spirit, I pray for the dam to break. I ask you to touch Josie’s spirit and soul, to heal the emotional numbness that has been holding her back. I pray for Your comfort and love to wash over her, and for her to know You in a deeper, more personal way. Thank you, Father, for her family. Thank you for giving her blessings and gifts, for calling her into Your family. Thank you for taking care of her husband’s spirit and soul…and for preparing a place they can rejoin in Heaven one day. Amen.

      With His love,
      Laurie

      1. Thank you so much for the prayer. When you commit your life to taking care of a large family, you don’t have time to make friends so when something like this happens you are basically all alone. Thank you and bless you for being there and having someone to reach out to.