We all need permission to grieve, even when our loss isn’t conventional, writes Lyn Beasy*.
When Helen’s husband died she was able to grieve well, supported by family and friends. However, when Len lost his dog Buddy he felt isolated and guilty for feeling so bereft. His friends were quick to dismiss Len’s grief as less important and tried to hurry it along by offering him a replacement dog.
There are many forms of grief that go unrecognised and can even be ignored by society and termed illegitimate. But any change that equates with the loss of something can result in grief. The truth is that all grief is real, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem to others.
Hidden grief is sometimes referred to as ‘disenfranchised grief’. It refers to losses that are not openly voiced, acknowledged or easily recognised. As such they may not be openly mourned and people grieving lack the social support to do so.
Even ‘positive’ life-stage changes, such as marriage, a child starting school or leaving home, and retirement, involve some shift and this may mean letting go of something you held dear. And yet this kind of life change is often overlooked, because we view these events as normal, but it must still be seen as valid and treated as such.
Other losses can have a domino effect. While a family member is experiencing grief over the end of a marriage, parents might grieve the loss of a son- or daughter-in-law, and relationships with any grandchildren can be affected. Even caring for a loved one with a degenerative disease brings grief for the loss of the life you once shared. In these cases, we may feel we don’t have permission to openly grieve.
In his book Disenfranchised Grief Dr Kenneth Doka identifies several situations where grief becomes hidden. When a relationship is not recognised due to stigma or social taboos such as the death of an ex-spouse, an unmarried partner or the end of a long-term relationship, grief may not be openly expressed nor seen as significant.
Other types of losses such as miscarriage, stillbirth, termination, adoption or pet death may not be recognised by others and are seen as less significant than other losses. People may also experience grief over a situation that has no closure, such as in the case of a missing person or the suicide of a family member.
The best way to support someone who is experiencing hidden grief is to firstly recognise that their grief is valid. Allow people to talk about their loss without fear of judgment or minimisation. If your grief is hidden and you are unable to talk about it with those closest to you, consider seeking out support from a health professional who can help you process through your grief.
*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Caringbah Wellbeing Clinic, in NSW.
If you or someone you know needs help contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.