Ex-spouses, lovers, pets, homes, jobs? How do we handle our grief when society doesn't seem to care?
Do you belief in omens, signs and premonitions?
When it comes to predictions, I always like to say there is a 50/50 chance that things will come true. If something happens we easily attribute it to a sign, when in fact, perhaps it was just a coincidence, usually recognized in hindsight. However, I was intrigued when 3 out of 4 times that I started my car last weekend, Eric Clapton’s Tears from Heaven started just I as turned the key! On the other hand, if nothing happens, we give no importance at all to the sign.
As far as signs go, the first few days of November have always been significant for me. November 1 was my paternal grandfather’s birthday and also All Saints Day. November 2, The Day of the Dead, was my maternal grandmother’s birthday and my ex-husband’s as well. November 3 is just an in-between day with my birthday being November 4. Besides the presence of holidays honoring the departed, there is also the amazing proof that Scorpios can get along.
At my birth, my mother carefully chose my name with the most symbolic initials I could ever imagine – DEW -- the day’s first source of nourishment, replenishment and life on Earth. Scorpio is a Water sign and water is also the symbol of sentiments and emotions in astrology and Jungian psychology, one of my passions. It seems as if I have been destined to work in the field of human relationships, emotions and helping people since birth and if signs came into it, I could argue that was true even since conception.
Then, when I married and took my husband’s name, my initials became DED, a premonition in my mind that shadows may lie ahead, and for which no further phonetic explanation is needed. Curiously, I have always been pulled to learning about death, its rituals, grieving and completion. Was this an omen, a confirmation of my calling to be a voice for taboo grief?
When it came to grieving the loss of my ex-husband, who died only 4 years after our divorce following a 17-month battle with brain cancer, I found no support, no one who truly understood and got what I was going through. There were groups for widows, groups for divorcees, groups for parents who lost children, groups it seemed for everything but what I learned is called disenfranchised grief, grief from a loss that is unacceptable or less in the eyes of others. Who believed, much less cared that he and I had promised to be there for each other if we really needed to be and that we talked about being grandparents together? Who could I talk to about the tension between me and our sons at times? Who had been in a similar situation and could understand the kaleidoscope of emotions that I was living? In my numbness and all the advice I was receiving from well-meaning souls, I, too, dismissed my own grief as not being that of a legitimate widow. It was a limbo-kind of category and even though I threw off the label of divorced-widow, I couldn’t shake the feelings.
Taboo grief, or disenfranchised grief, is a hidden epidemic that has those suffering from it feeling unacknowledged, misunderstood and looking for help until sometimes they just give up and never become complete with their loss. With accumulated loss and the sadness that goes with it, many people are walking around with a hole in their heart and a heavy weight that are affecting every aspect of their lives and impacting those around them.
Think about it. All the judgments we have for what is legitimate acceptable grief and what isn’t, according to personal and cultural perceptions, our own experience and beliefs. Society and others decide what we should feel and for how long, ignoring that every individual and every loss is UNIQUE. Grief doesn’t follow a set path and stages as some would like to believe.
Our culture implies that smiling, handing out cookies to distraught children, keeping a stiff upper lip with positive thinking and a "some people have it so much worse" kind of attitude will make us more optimistic and provide relief in the face of loss.
• “Have a cookie and you’ll feel better,” we tell our children.
• “Smile when your heart is breaking…” might work for a sentimental moment on stage or at the Oscars.
• “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” has never resonated with me as authenticity. What do you think about this one?
• “Time is a healer.” Really? Time goes on without a care in the world for us and when you can’t get out of bed, hoping for an unknown time in the future when it will all be over and that just never really comes is of no consolation.
• “Big girls and big boys don’t cry.” Go cry in silence, isolated and come back when you’re composed and we’ll talk about something else. Manage your emotions and get over it already.
Barbara Streisand had it right. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Yet, we are so uneducated in the area of grief, that we ignore how to connect with people when they need us the most. No loss or event triggering emotions are too small to be ignored and yet we do.
• Loss of an ex-spouse
• Loss of a lover when he or she is married to another person
• Loss of a home due to foreclosure
• Loss of a lifestyle due to an accident, health or disability
• Loss of a job
• Loss of hope, faith and friends
• An ex-spouse remarries 10 years later and we are thrown into a flurry of unexpected emotions
• Loss of a friend or relative who was closer to you than anyone else on your family tree
Taboo grief is all around us in epidemic proportions. What are your thoughts? What is your experience with it?
P.S. I had personally been feeling disconnected from my sons since their father's death in February 2011 and have had to work hard and consciously to keep my energy and focus alive. I knew that we were all going through a tremendous loss together in our own unique ways and that even though I felt that way, our love and connection was strong. It was going to all come together with authentic and open communication. Imagine my complete surprise and over the moon joy when my son, Justin, who lives in France, showed up at my birthday party yesterday!