What if your grief isn't okay to feel?
Grief and loss has come a long way. People are more accepting of grief and even the Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) have become part of pop culture. But what happens when your grief is not acknowledged or accepted? How does this affect the individual or family that is affected by these losses?
Many factors affect the way grief is processed. One of which is the social context in which we live. Our society impacts our values, our traditions and our behaviours, so of course it will affect the way we grieve.
If society says yes, this loss is a normal, accepted part of our values then we innately grieve in acceptable ways. People acknowledge our pain, they might bring flowers, offer cooked meals, they might even sit and talk about your loss. But what about the loss that is deemed unworthy. What if society doesn’t allow our loss to be acknowledge or accepted? How can we grieve freely then?
Over two decades ago, Doka (1989) coined this experience “disenfranchised grief”, where the loss is not recognised, and the griever may not be acknowledged. A very real example of this type of grief is faced by many carers of children and adults with a disability.
An ongoing feeling of loss around what could have been? The grief of what a carer envisioned for their child’s future or their own relationship with their child. Accompanying this may be a sense of guilt for resenting other’s freedom, other’s lives, even resenting their own child at times. These multiple losses of complex grief are often the challenges a caregiver faces in their role ever day.
So how do you live in a world that sounds so very overwhelming in its complexity? In a society that adopts the idea that grief needs to be resolved or gotten over? When in many people’s lives this grief is always present, ebbing and flowing with the stages of life?
One thing our society can do is change the way we look at grief. Acknowledge that grief is not to be resolved. Unlike Kübler-Ross’s view that acceptance does eventually come, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe instead we learn to see our loss as an integrated part of who we have become.
That this changed world we now live in, with its conflicting emotions such as grief, guilt, happiness and joy are all normal. And with the support and acknowledge of our society, we finally give ourselves permission to express our emotions freely.
As a society we also have a responsibility to offer practical supports, to help carers find strength they may not realise they have. By developing support networks, connections and more respite services to help carry the load.
Because even though this new world that now exists might not be the one anyone would have signed up for, the new you with all your scars you may now carry has the strength to keep going.
Doka, K.J. (1989). Disenfranchised grief: recognising hidden sorrow. New York: Lexington Books.
Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. London: Tavistock.
Murray, J. (2016). Understanding Loss A guide for caring for those facing adversity. New York: Routledge.