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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.