My father passed away two and a half years ago. I suffered from depression on and off over the past two years, though I thought it was related to school pressure (looking back, I’m not so sure). I did have the random bouts of crying when I missed him, but lately I feel numb when I think about him. I just went through some old pictures and I did not feel upset or even alright, and I get this feeling as though the man in the pictures is a stranger. I can also barely recall him in my memories and all of this has made me alarmed. I’ve been doing alright lately and I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts in months but I wonder if it’s because I blocked everything related to my dad in my head. I just want to understand whether this is a normal part of grieving or not. Not feeling anything about him in the slightest disturbs me. (age 19, from Dubai)

A: I’m sorry for your loss. The grief process is never the same from one person to the next or even from one day to the next. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the first to document the stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, toward the end of her career she also explained that we don’t necessarily go through the stages in a particular order, we can bounce back and forth. We can also feel that we have mastered one of the stages only to find that we go through it again later.

I wouldn’t worry that you are feeling numb right now. Sometimes when we have been feeling a lot of emotion, especially one as intense as grief relating to the loss of a loved one, we burn out and our mind gives us a break for a while. You may feel disconnected for a time period and then you will see or hear something that brings the feelings and memories back.  Hopefully with time, you will begin to treasure the positive memories and the pain of the loss (or numbness) will become less and less.

There are lots of great books and websites about the grief process. I encourage you to do some reading or join a grief support group. Many people also find it helpful to create some personal rituals to honor the departed in an ongoing way, such as lighting a candle on their birthday or planning an activity for yourself that you and your loved one used to do together. In this way, you are keeping the memory alive in a positive way.

All the best,

Dr. Holly Counts