I have written before about Disenfranchised Grief, and we understand this as a grief which has to remain hidden. Often this is because of the death of a person who was involved in an illicit relationship, and there is a sense of judgement about it from others, or because an earlier relationship has been superseded and it is assumed that the previous partner will not be grieving if there has been a loss. Then there are the causes of death, some of which may have a stigma attached. Very regrettably, in some parts of society and in some countries, there is still a stigma attached to death by suicide, often leaving the bereaved families unable to feel fully accepted as they struggle to come to terms with what has happened. Perhaps the death of someone who has been addicted to the use of alcohol causes a sense of shame in those bereaved, leaving them feeling that they cannot share their true feelings of sadness.
However, I am beginning to understand that even grief which is ‘acceptable’ and which is felt to be legitimate can become disenfranchised by other factors. It may be that a person who is bereaved is perceived to be grieving for ‘too long’, and they feel under pressure to ‘get over it’. Their previously supportive friends run out of patience and there is no-one left to listen to the expression of enduring grief, or there are encounters with people who gloss over the impact of a loss and thereby diminish the depth of grief. One story I recently heard was of a bereaved family member, lost in grief at the graveside of their relative, who felt that they had to gather themselves together and move a short distance away to sit on a bench to allow space for another grieving family who were visiting a grave nearby. There just didn’t seem to be room for the two families to be grieving together. This also leads to the cultural norms in some societies which lead people to take a back seat in their suffering. Its quite common to hear people say something to the effect of ‘their grief is worse than mine, because…’.leaving them to feel that they should diminish their own feelings.
Of course, grief isn’t always about death. Sometimes a relationship which ends in painful divorce can give rise to a lack of understanding from others, even to the perception that they are better off apart, giving rise to a perceived need to pretend that everything is fine. To be leaving an environment such as a home, in a house move or move to a different locality, can cause great sadness. This can be called ‘homesickness’, and can be mocked, especially if it arises out of a child being sent to boarding school. It must have been rife during the Second World War, when children were evacuated, without their parents, out of the cities and into the countryside to live with strangers. In those days, children were expected to be ‘seen and not heard’, so they would often have felt that their grief should be hidden.