Without realizing it at the time, I experienced the full effects of disenfranchised grief when my father committed suicide. He was an alcoholic, had few friends, and many troubles in his life. He was emotionally abusive and unpredictable, and yet, when he died at his own hand, I grieved his loss and everything that his life meant.
Yet, people didn't seem to understand. If they tried to comfort me at all, they said things like, "He wasn't nice to you anyways," or "He's in a better place." Some just refused to talk much about it because his life was troubled and also because he had committed suicide.
When Grief Doesn't Fall Into Neat Categories
Grief that is disenfranchised doesn't fall into "acceptable" categories, like the loss of a spouse or child. Sometimes we grieve things that other people can't understand, like:
- The death of a pet.
- A suicide.
- The loss of someone who you didn't have a good relationship with.
- The loss of someone who people didn't think you should have a relationship with.
- A celebrity's death.
- A tragic news event.
- The loss of a neighbor, or someone in your community that you didn't know very well.
- The loss of a job.
Sorting out your feelings during these events can be difficult because the people around you can't understand what you're going through. You might be confused at your emotions as well, and without the support of family and friends, you'll feel that much more alone.
How to Deal With Disenfranchised Grief
Don't ignore your feelings or try to wish them away. Allow yourself to feel without judgment. If someone tells you to "get over it," tell them it's not that simple and ask for their prayers and good thoughts instead. Don't waste time trying to explain it to them, but seek out others who do understand what you're feeling.
Some people need time alone after a death, while others need to talk things through with people. If your current support system can't be there for you, check out groups online, at church, or at your local care center to see if there are others who better understand your feelings. You might be surprised at the variety in support groups available once you look for them.
Allow Yourself to Grieve, Then Move On
I found that going to groups like Al-anon, that understand what it is like to live with an alcoholic, were tremendously helpful when it came to listening to my feelings. I also wrote poetry and read a lot of books after my father's death. Remember, everyone deals with grief differently. Find what works for you personally.
Give yourself the time you need to move on, but remember that the grieving process is so you can accept your feelings, not so you can put your life on hold. If you're unable to move forward, seek out a professional counselor who can help you actively work through your feelings.
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