I can’t cry…

Normally, I cry at the drop of a hat. My over-emotionalism embarrasses my children, threatens my professional demeanor, and derails attempts to pretend that things are ‘fine’ when they’re clearly not. As I’ve said before, I’ve been known to cry at old Love Boat reruns, Tony Stewart winning a NASCAR race, and every single bar/bat mitzvah I’ve ever been to (I wept profusely and copiously at my son’s, of course.)

I just can’t seem to cry when it’s expected.

My cell phone rang while I was at work today. I was in the middle of a conversation, so let it go to voicemail – only to discover that it’d been my sister, calling from Maine.

She was calling to tell me that my grandmother – the woman previously immortalized in this post – had died earlier today.

It hadn’t been unexpected – she was 98 years old, and had been in a nursing home for the last few months. I hadn’t seen her in years – my family’s relationships tend to occupy this vaguely defined grey area that bounces between non-committal and dysfunctional. And there was nothing for me to do – there’s no way I can get back to Michigan for a funeral on Friday; no one even expects me to.

I left the office, quite sure that I’d have a meltdown- with an extra dose of guilt and regret as accelerants – if I stayed. Only there’s no meltdown happening.

I can’t seem to cry.

Sure, my throat gets that pre-cry tickle, my eyes well up and I start to sniffle a bit. But then the tickle goes away, the tears retreat, and I move on.

I throw myself right in the eye of the storm – I call my sister-in-law, speak to my sister, even call my dad. I get caught up on family news, and hear of other deaths I’d never been clued into before.

The stories start, the memories kick in.

There’s the time she bashed the outside faucet off the side of our brick house with my mom’s wood-paneled station wagon as she gunned it backing out of the driveway – only to blame my dad ’cause the faucet was ‘sticking out too far from the house’ (it wasn’t, of course.) We have several other scary stories of her legendary ‘hell on wheels’ driving exploits, which all have three factors in common: her refusal to use her side mirrors; her frequent lane changes; and a leadfoot not to be believed.

I realize my kids have no memories of her. I know I’m in for it when I tell Drama Mama later tonight. And still, the tears won’t come.

Maybe I need to go find a Love Boat rerun somewhere…


  1. Same thing happened to me when my grandfather died. With him it wasn’t even expected (really) – he’d just begun recovering well from a serious surgery and had come home and was feel great, and in the middle of the night one night an aneurysm burst…

    Total shock for all of us, and yet I couldn’t cry. I felt sad, but no tears came. Can’t explain it (because I did, eventually, cry) but maybe it’s helpful to know you’re not the only one this has happened to.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Betsy – will send prayers your way!

  2. I’m sorry, and I completely understand. When a beloved grandfather died (in the middle of first year law school finals), I had to shut down the emotions to work. It took nearly a year before I’d processed the grief to the point I *could* cry.

  3. lorraine

    I just stuck in ‘I can’t cry’ In google and fouund you. Thought it couldn’t just be me.
    So sorry and thinking of you. I have just lost a close friend ( expected) and am a total mess inside but can’t cry! Have always had this problem, the only time I do cry is with frustration!!

  4. Mem

    I know what you are feeling. I used to cry tears but now it seems like my emotions get to a point where tears used to jump out of my eyes and roll down my face and now at this point the feeling receeds and no tears come at all. My sister died 18 months ago and I was alone at the hospital when they came out to tell me and I was devastated but no tears fell. Six months later my mother died unexpectedly it broke my heart in pieces but no tears. I’ve never felt so guilty in my life I think of her constantly but no tears. I think I would feel better to really have a long tearful cry but I can’t. I can’t enduce tears to come. If anyone has a solution I would apreciate it greatly. I’m glad I’m not alone in this situation.

  5. Megan

    I also googled “I can’t cry” and found this. I used to cry all the time and then my cousin, whom I was living with, passed away this fall and I haven’t been able to cry since. Not even at my aunt’s funeral, which was only a few months later. I’m so glad I’m not the only one. All I want to do is have that feeling of relief and I don’t know how to get it.

  6. SBN

    Losing a loved one is always difficult. God bless you.

    I’m reminded of lyrics written and performed by The Eagles: You’re losin’ all your highs and lows. Ain’t it funny how the feelin’ goes awa-a-ay.

    For me this problem of not being able to cry has progressed with aging.


  7. Kim Cant cry

    Im sitting here tryin to make myself cry…My mother was 70 and just passed away, Aug 26th., and All I did was sheed a few tears as I watched her take her last few breaths….But now I CANT cry….and I need to ( a big baby @ almost 43 yrs of age),,but cant cry now….why cant I?? sad movies do it, weddings, funerals, my kids graduations,all of em…..but my very own mother dies and I cant cry??? Please help….I have to cry…do you think it could be cuz my mom donated her whole body to science, and there was no funeral…Maybe I needed that closure. Im sooooo sad and I miss my mom….suggestions, please help…

  8. Tina

    I came across this website too cause I want to understand why I can’t cry tears anymore. I am thinking to myself that maybe I am crazy and needed to go to the Doctor to consult this agonizing problem that I’m going through. For the past four years of my life I’ve been through so much; a heartbreak,loss of job,got sick,miscarriage. I cried about these events in my life coming from a palpable grief,loneliness.And now I wanted to cry about trials that I’ve been going through nowadays but there’s no tears.Did I shutdown my own emotions?I feel sad,frustrated and all but that’s all there is to it.But no tears.I’m glad I’m not the only one going through this.

  9. Kelsy

    hello, I’ve been having the same problem of not being able to cry. I’m 15 years old, my mother died 4 years ago (completely unexpected) and my father a year and a half ago (somewhat expected). I have been trouble crying for the past couple months. I never used to have a problem with this but now I can’t even cry during sad movies that I used to bawl during. I don’t know what to do

  10. Kelsy –

    I will also follow up with you via email, but I’m so sorry for your loss. I am not surprised, though, to hear that you’re feeling emotionally blocked. I think that when you’re able to handle crying, you’ll *be* able to cry again – but it may take some time.

  11. Toxic106

    I came accross this website when I typed "I can't Cry" on google. I'm not sure if I understand your feelings or not but I had a quite similar experience. My grandfather passed away 3 months ago, to me it was somewhat an unexpected yet expected death. 2 weeks before, I was informed that he had a some kind of cancer. Then I thought, he's the most healthy person I've ever met, he'd definitely recover. I was 16. I didn't know any better. My dad told me to visit him more, which I only did once.

  12. Toxic106

    Two weeks later, my dad called me and told me the news. I was completely shocked because… well, never expected him to die so soon. I haven't even visit him for one last time. Yet, I couldn't cry. I thought… man! I'm like not even human! My grandfather died and I can't even cry about that? What's wrong with me?

    But eventually I did. When I saw his body. He was even smiling. He's the first person in my life to die… Honestly. I cried like a baby.

    My point is, Betsy, you don't have to worry for not crying. My history teacher told me that the statue of Mary holding his son (forgot the name), she was really sad but she can't cry. The worst kind of sadness makes you unable to cry. So don't worry.

  13. irish

    I have been unable to cry except on a couple of sad occasions, I could get very drunk and then be able to cry. (not a healthy solution) Anyway, I just got a call this morning that my grandfather died of a heart attack. I cant cry now, I couldnt cry when my other grandfather died of a heart attack, when my friend was killed in a head on collision with a drunk driver, or when another friend of mine died of a drug overdose. None of these events have managed to get a single tear out of me and at this point i feel so overfilled with emotion i am ready to go crazy. i cant handle one more bit of stress, depression, or emotional energy. Unfortunately I cant let it out, so i am sitting here with nausea, feeling like dirt, and blogging. Hopefully i figure it out before I go nuts. Good luck all.

  14. Alli

    My grandmother died yesterday morning after a long battle with lung cancer. I received a call around 8am to inform me, and I remember thinking to myself ‘that’s sad, but it must have been her time.’ then I went back to sleep. My mom is a mess over it, so are family friends that never really knew her. I feel guilty when people ask me how I’m ‘holding up?’ because I feel so unphased. I cried a year ago after hearing she had stage 4 cancer, I cry at almost every episode of Oprah and extreme home make over, but I’m not even the least bit upset over her death. Am I in denial over it, or did I just prepare myself when she was diagnosed?

  15. Alli,

    It’s hard to say. We all react to grief & death differently – just because you’re not grieving now doesn’t mean you won’t be a month from now, for example. And (as you know already) your inability to cry now has no bearing on just how much you loved her.

  16. I’m going through that right now. I found out that my step-grandmother just died. I only met her once. She just turned 100 years old. I don’t know how to feel about it. I know that my step-mom took such good care of her from a zillion miles away…my heart hurts for her but she was so old. It was hard for me to write anything in the sympathy card I sent off. Does that make it easier to handle? Easier to understand? How should I be feeling about this?

  17. Betsy Richter

    I don’t know that anyone can *tell* you how to feel, honestly, and I wouldn’t have known what to write in the sympathy card, either.

    I think in times like these, people just want the connection – to be touched in some way. The fact that you took the time to *send* a card probably means more than any words you could possibly have written in the card.

  18. Shadow

    I’m on the same boat where crying is impossible for me…. I used to cry for almost everything when I was a child and I was fed the line of “men don’t cry”. Last time I cried was when I was 19 years old and now I’m 28…. Not a single tear dropped, I guess it all started when I joined the Federal Police (Mexico) at the age of 20 and saw many things while investigating drug cartels… I left the force at 25 after getting fed up with my corrupt superiors and left for Canada…. I was engaged shortly after only to find my ex-fiance having an affair with her ex-boyfriend… I felt bad but compared to getting shot by hitmen working for the drug cartels I was investigating it was nothing… not even physical pain makes me cry.. if it’s too much I just laugh hysterically… I guess it’s not possible for me to cry so that’s my story…

  19. Michele

    I feel for all of you. I lost my Mom at 14 she was 48. I cried and went totally off the edge. Funeral…first one. I was “suppose” to go. Or so I was told. Thats what we all did. Or so I thought. Lost my dad at 32. He was 70 something. Lost 1 of 2 older brothers. Didn’t attend another funeral until and finally lost my own sweet, first born best friend/child. She was only 28 and left behind 2 small children. Cried till I guess my tears must’ve run dry? Just lost my 1 and only,big Sis. She was the oldest (71) and I, the youngest (the baby,if you will) at 58. Barely ANY tears. Certainly not visible. EVERY REASON TO CRY and barely even feel sad when EVERY REASON to FEEL SADNESS. Looked at ALL the angles,tried to break it down and figure out WHY.Come up with several “logical and not so logical” reasons it could possibly be but meanwhile I think, is my brain on overload and it can’t take anymore, am I going crazy, am I a ticking time bomb waiting to explode (I have had some issues with clinical depression and alot of inward suppressed anger and outward anger to a degree.) I could go on and on and I see many ppl have this issue so I can see I’m not alone in my thoughts and feelings but what I DON”T SEE much of…is a solution. I NEED answers, NOT so much comparison shopping. PLEASE!!!

  20. Tmi

    I googled why can’t I cry???? It really bothers me. I almost feel cold hearted, Then I think back when I was married and remembered tears all the time from emotional and verbl abuse, infidelity, lies and especially when I self-medicated with alcohol to escape the turmoil, Now I am happy,content and have worked extremely hard to change from cynical, angry and negative to a positive person, plus my spiritual faith has strengthened. I have extreme compassion for people. I am in a helping field (a mental health therapist) and deal with sadness all the time, have empathy and sympathy, but no tears unless it is dealing with a mistreated child. I am also very sensitive when it concerns starving or mistreated animals. I have pin pointed to a common denominator, which seems to be ….being able to cry for those who demonstrate unconditional love (children/animals)….sort of an infinity for the helpless. It seems weird, but at the same time seems understandable, in my mind at least. My best friend unexpectedly died on Novemember 15, 2012….I talked to her weekly and talked to her on Tuesday before she died on Thursday morning. I miss her so much that it has been very hard for me to wrap my mind around not seeing her again in this life. I truly miss her to the core of my soul, but did not and have not sat down and wept. My inability to cry bothers me and I feel guilty like a lot of you. I am trying not to over react to this as a problem, but obviously wonder if it is because I ended up on here.

  21. Lindy Pharr

    Three days ago my beloved little dog died of heart failure after a year of declining health. Addie was my best friend and I loved her almost as much as my own grown children (who I adore). Before she died, I seriously worried that when the end came I’d be so devastated that I’d completely fall apart and have a nervous breakdown. Yet, now that she is gone, I mostly just feel numb, sad, empty and depressed; I can barely cry. I also feel guilty, thinking that I’m not honoring her memory because I don’t cry. I so loved this sweet pup; she was the center of my life for many years and my doggie soul mate. I am truly devastated over losing her, so why am I able to carry on so easily? Why can’t I cry?

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