Disenfranchised grief

No person is an island complete unto themselves. We depend upon each other not only for our physical, material and psychological sustenance and well-being. We even depend on each other to feel real, to experience our own existence and to feel that our existence has worth, significance and meaning. The human need to be seen, heard, felt and understood by others finds expression in the most intense and dramatic way following a person’s loss of a loved one. So intense is the pain, so confusing and disorienting are the feelings that we need rituals in order to organise our experience and to give us a channel and methodology for emotional expression. Ritual also organises the behaviour of others around the mourner so as to be able to give the most appropriate and effective support. The rituals of mourning and of comforting mourners help those who have suffered loss to navigate through the vast powerful storm of feelings and sometimes crazy-making experience. After going through a mourning process, supported by others the mourner moves into being the new version of their former selves. This new version is the person that one becomes after the loss of the significant other, who has until the loss, been part of one’s very being has been incorporated into one new identity. These new identities are given names like widow or orphan that gives the identity a legitimate recognised status and thus acceptable emotional expression. What however of the losses that have no status, that are known only to the mourner despite the enormity of the pain. The many people who fall into this category of disenfranchised mourners are for example people who have miscarriages, immigrants, people who lose beloved pets, in-laws, domestic workers and nurses who cared for the loved one while well or through illness, grandchildren, secret lovers, those who lost loved ones to imprisonment, people who have no cultural rituals of mourning or whose family or friends actively or passively forbid or denigrate grieving. Disenfranchised mourners have no-one to validate and legitimise the reality of their experience. Because of their experience being rendered invisible or illegitimate, these people almost get stuck with the pain with no process by which to work it through. These victims of the ignorance, helplessness, selfishness or cruel indifference of others often become chronically frozen in the pain, suffering from chronic sadness and alienation from others. No person is spared loss. Look at the people in your home, work-place or in your social circle and reach out to them. Allow them to acknowledge and express their pain and acknowledge the magnitude to them of their loss. Show them that they can still be connected to others and that there is still life after loss.

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