Grieving that isn’t allowed

In life you will meet a lot of people. Some will matter very much to you but the relationships will end, or will become more distant.

Examples of this include someone you were once in love with, a family member you lost contact with, a close friend who grew distant when the two of you moved in different directions.

When a relationship ends there is an initial grief for that relationship. But grieving for that relationship does not mean you are not going to grieve again when that person dies. In fact, you are more likely to grieve again over their death.

Denying your right to grieve

The difficulty is in other people recognising your grief, or considering you have the right to grieve.

This type of grief is known as disenfranchised grief. It is a denial of your right to grieve.

The idea of disenfranchised grief is grounded in the concept of human dignity. It is a recognition of human attachment and the needs of individuals to grieve for those they love when they die. For some people, others actively deny them the right to grieve for the one they love. An example is that of an estranged family member who is denied by the rest of the family the right to be at the funeral or say goodbye to the person they love.

For others there may be an assumption by those around them that they wouldn’t feel grief at this person’s death. An example of that is of the ex-partner who moved on from the relationship but still holds love for the person. Many assume that once a relationship is over there is no love there, but that is not true in most cases.

Other ways grief is disenfranchised.

For people in non traditional relationships, grief may be disenfranchised.

In the past people in same sex relationships were often disenfranchised in their grief. Those having extra-marital relationships are also often disenfranchised. Other people may have a close bond with someone that other people do not realise exists. This may happen with a work colleague or a friend.

The loss is not recognised as a loss

If people don’t consider you have lost anything then your grief becomes disenfranchised. This happens frequently with miscarriages, still births, abortions, deaths of companion animals, someone you love being brain damaged or suffering from dementia.

You are not capable of grieving

The belief that you are not capable of grieving happens particularly with children. The old belief that children are resilient fails to acknowledge the impact loss has on a child at any age.

This can also happen with elderly people, especially those with dementia, and those with intellectual disabilities.

The way your loved one died

In this type of loss people may judge the one who has died and consider their death was deserved or not worth grieving over. This can occur with suicide, death from a stigmatised disease, death from overdose, or death due to recklessness – as in a car accident where the person was the one at fault.

Grieving differently to other’s expectations

If your style of grieving does not match what other people expect you to show you may be judged by others and your grief discounted. You may be shut down in your way of grieving which acts to disenfranchise you from being able to grieve.

In many cultures there are different ways of grieving. Being able to observe those rituals is important. If you are denied that then your grief becomes disenfranchised.

When people expect you to “be over it now” that also disenfranchises your grief.

Respect for those who are grieving

It is important to respect those who are grieving and to respect their suffering and their right to suffer.

In grieving there is a drive to experience your suffering. There is also an ability to thrive and live meaningfully after your loss. Allowing you to grieve in your own way to allow your natural resilience to guide you through the difficulties of grief. I will explain this more further in the blog.

Resilience is driven by hope and the potential within you to live meaningfully again. When you are not allowed to grieve at your own pace in your own way it hinders your natural resilience.

The lack of understanding around grief

When other people fail to understand and appreciate what you are living through they are more likely to interfere in your grief. This interference often destroys your natural grief.

People can be well meaning in the way they respond to grief but it can be the wrong approach. When my grandfather died I was staying with my brother, 4 hours drive from home. We were particularly close to my grandfather and could have comforted each other upon learning of his death. Unfortunately my mother decided to let us know individually after I had returned home. She was concerned I wouldn’t be able to drive home safely. My grandfather had died two days earlier so I would have had two days to be with my brother so we could both process our grief together.
My brother, who lived on his own and was a single teacher in a one teacher school, found out when there was no one in the house or his workplace to talk to. I arrived home, one hour before I had to go to my work as a registered nurse, and saw a message to ring my mother at her work. I was alone in the house and had no one to talk to either. I had to drive to work on my own so that wasn’t any safer. At work I was on the relieving roster so spent the evening working with people I didn’t know and with no one to talk to.

Both of us were disenfranchised from the grief at our grandfather’s death.

Unhelpful, disenfranchising comments

The following are a list of comments people on an online poll reported being told. In all cases they felt their grief was devalued and downplayed:

• When things like this happen, all you can do is give it time, wait it out.

• Eventually, you’ll get over this.

• I don’t see how his life can be worthwhile again. He’s lost the only thing that really mattered to him.

• Somehow it feels disloyal to laugh or try to be happy. I sometimes feel that I owe it to him to live in sorrow.
What can I possibly have to look forward to?
Response: The best thing is to try to put what happened behind you and get back to normal as soon as possible. Try to go on as if nothing has changed.

• There’s no point in looking for meaning in something like this. Suffering brings us face to face with absurdity. The best thing is to try to forget.

• You shouldn’t be looking for anything positive in this. There can’t be any such thing.

• Oh, that’s just a coincidence. You’re reading too much into what happened.

• I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that in some ways I seem to have grown from the death of my child.
Response: Face reality. She is dead. You will have to fill her place with something else.
Response: Everything she meant to you is undone.

• If you’re going to grieve, you have to let go completely. It is all about the heartache of goodbye. If you don’t let go, you are stuck in the past.

• Remembering adds to your pain and prolongs suffering. Spending so much time with memories can only bring you down. Let the past stay in the past.

• Don’t keep talking about her. You should be more focused on those who are still here.

You have to let go completely

One thing about the comments listed above is the message that you have to let go of the one who has gone. So often people feel they are not allowed to grieve their loved one. Instead, they are expected to push away all memories and thoughts of their loved one and stop being sad.

Much of this pressure comes from people who feel uncomfortable at another person’s pain. But how can you push away memories of the one you loved so much? Love doesn’t end just because the other person is dead. You will always love them. You will always feel grief and pain at their passing. You will learn how to live with it and you will even learn how to be happy again, but you will never forget.

Grief is constructive

Strange and profane as it may seem. Grief is constructive. It takes resilience to work through grief and find the capacity to thrive and find meaning in life again. It takes strength to face the pain and learn how to live with it. It takes drive to learn how to live again in a changed world. Grief is about experiencing the pain but still saying Yes to life. Saying yes to learning how to forge new patterns of living, find new narratives in life and learn to live in a way that honours you and allows you to live a meaningful life again.

The drive of the Soul

There are two major areas of the self that are worked on in grief. The first is the soul.

Many grief commentators refer to the soul as a drive within. This drive finds the ability to keep going, to find a reason to be living in the present.

The drive of the soul is one to connect to life and other people. It is this drive that leads you to love others and love life. This is the core of the strength and resilience that allows you to continue with life.

This soul drive pushes you on despite the pain. It drives you to reconnect despite the hole left in your world by the one who has gone. This drive pushes you back into life. It pushes you into life with the absence of your loved one.

The drive of the Spirit

The other area of the self is the Spirit.

This is another drive. This drive allows you to get through the acute phase of your grief. This drive allows you to move forward into the future. A future with more unknowns than you thought it may have held. Despite those unknowns, this drive gives you the strength and motivation to step forward and determine to survive and find a new way of living. It guides you to find meaning in your life again.

As with the soul drive, this drive is the core of the strength and resilience that allows you to continue with life.

This is your grief

You can be disenfranchised from grief in so many ways.

There are the losses where you are not recognised as having a right to grieve.

There are the losses where your are not recognised as having lost anything.

There are the losses where people believe you are not capable of grieving.

There are the losses where people judge the worth of the one who died.

There are the losses where you don’t grieve according to the belief of other people.

There are the pat statements that are unhelpful and deny your right to grieve.

There are so many more ways that grief can be disenfranchised.

But you have two drives within you that help you grieve and move forward into life again. The drive of the soul sustains you for the long haul. Alongside this the drive of the spirit helps you through the days of acute grief.

Sometimes you can get through your grief with those you can find to support you. Other times you might need the help of a grief counsellor.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or

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