Grief and Loss

Grief That Has No Voice

When you grieve, you will undoubtedly also mourn.  Mourning is the action – all the ways in which we give voice to our grief.  And we learn how to mourn by those around us – our families, our faith communities, our ethnic groups.  This means emotive expressions like crying and wailing, for some.  But it also means public acts like attending funerals, making shiva calls, visiting cemeteries, hanging black drapes, or wearing black clothes.  Participating in mourning rituals does not make your grief go away, but it does give it a voice.  It gives it a name, and a place in the world.  Sometimes, though, your grief doesn’t have a voice.  The word for this is disenfranchisement.

Unacknowledged Losses

Your grief may have no voice because your loss isn’t acknowledged. Often, the experience of pregnancy loss is one of unacknowledged, and disenfranchised grief. Your faith community may not extend the rituals of mourning (funerals, etc.) to a pregnancy loss. You might not get bereavement time off from work, and your coworkers might not even have known of the pregnancy, let alone the loss. Yet your loss is no less real. Others may find the loss of a pet to fall into this unacknowledged category. Sometimes, the loss of physical health or ability is also unacknowledged, as those around you assume you are (or should be) grateful to be alive, or for what health you do have.

Unacknowledged Relationships

When someone dies, your grief may be unacknowledged and disenfranchised if your relationship to the person is unacknowledged, or not accepted by others, and you are therefore excluded from rituals of mourning. Perhaps you do not feel comfortable attending the funeral of your ex sister in-law. You nonetheless grieve at her death. As mourning rituals often center around biological families, if you are not within that group, you may find yourself excluded – intentionally or unintentionally. You may grieve the loss of a neighbor, nursing home roommate, coworker, or lover, but find yourself isolated in your grief. Likewise, gay or lesbian partners often find their grief goes unacknowledged if they are not out to friends or coworkers, and may be excluded from mourning rituals entirely if their partner was not out to their family.

Taboo

Or perhaps the situation is complicated in such a way that you don’t feel comfortable sharing it with others. For some, a loss to suicide carries a stigma of judgment. Those who grieve, then, may not be able to discuss their feelings for fear of judgment by their community. The same may be true for losses that happen in the context of overdoses, crimes, or any number of other socially unacceptable circumstances. Your grief and loss is then compounded by your inability to receive support from your community.

You, Yourself, are Disenfranchised

Finally, you may not be able to give voice to your grief because you yourself are not given a voice. In some cases, this means that circumstances prevent you from attending funerals or other rituals. You might be deployed, hospitalized, incarcerated, or simply unable to get out of work. In other cases, it is because others do not realize you are grieving. Attention often focuses on the most obvious grievers, and may overlook grandparents, children, those with developmental disabilities, or those whose grief simply looks different from everyone else’s.

Do you hear your own situation here? If so, the next step is simple: if you are grieving and feel disenfranchised, it’s time to call a chaplain or another trusted counselor. Chaplains will not judge you, your grief, your relationship, your loss, or the circumstances of it. They will hear your grief and help you consider ways to give it a voice.