And I Felt Nothing

Recently two people in my office have had family emergencies. The head of my department, Bleeding Heart, rushed to Boston when her mother had a heart attack, and her assistant had a distant in-law die. Now my father died when I was 19, and one would think that such an occurence would make me more sensitive and more outgoing with this type of emotional crisis. One would think that.

And one would be wrong.

Perhaps it was because I wasn't very close to my father, perhaps it was because his death was such a long time coming, perhaps it was because he was clinically nuts, but I was relieved when my father died. Many people, including my mother, witnessed the ease with which I dealt with my father's death and thought there was something wrong with me. I, on the other hand, stood fast by my claim that the person I had known as my father died a long time before and that the mourning process for me was long since over. What seemed odd was that my refusal to demonstrate the signs of mourning in public was treated as a pathology itself. It may seem extraordinary hard hearted to some, but when I hear people being sympathetic to the head of my department ( who is well into her late fifties) having to go through this, my response is fairly apathetic. Personally, I think she's lucky that her parents have had such good health up until now.

Now my emotional distance may be the result of the family I was born into. My father was a doctor, and he used to take me into the ER to hang at the nurses station while he did his rounds while I was a little kid. Perhaps then I developed an apathy towards other people in this situation. Or maybe it's simply that I don't feel any bond with Bleeding Heart and therefore by extension don't feel much sympathy when things like this happen to her.

To clarify, when friends have gone through the death of parents (for example my closest friend college and grad school lost his mother), I have been very sympathetic. I am not entirely heartless contrary to popular belief. But when I work with someone, I try to keep emotional distance. This type of event seems to be the kind when people jump over that work wall, but not me. I keep my distance, and certainly others notice it and think, as they did when my father died, that something is "wrong" with my re-action.

And I am not sure that there isn't something wrong with it. All I know is that I don't feel anything about it, and I am not willing to "fake" it. (The response of many of colleagues seems to be operatic and exaggerated. The cooing and hugging and throwing around of cliches.) Also my distance towards her may be because in such a situation I would be uncomfortable with people acting towards me in such an outgoing supportive manner.

I guess it's the new englander in me.

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