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— by Katrina Taee Katrina Taee
disenfranchised grief, hidden grief, sad, grieving, crying, tears, secret grief, holding grief, mourning, lamenting,

There are people who are not able to be seen to grieve because their grief is not recognised or accepted by society or accepted. Who are they?

To name a few examples, they are secret partners, either mistresses or lovers. They are the hidden or unacknowledged children of mothers or fathers who are married to other people, who are not their parent. They are women (of all ages) who have given up their babies after a secret pregnancy. They are the first wives or husbands who have been cut out of the new life that their partner has forged with another. They are people who are secretly in love with another, even though they may never have acted on that love.  They are men and women who may be married, possibly with children, but feel unable to come out as gay out of fear, duty or love for their families and children.  They are adults who still hold their first loves (or subsequent ones) in a special place in their heart but cannot admit that within their relationships now, for fear of hurting their partner or inducing their anger. They are the second generation of a family who has had a deep trauma in the past.  They are the foreign children who moved countries often due to their parent’s jobs, and who leave behind deep friendships and feel fractured by that. It can even be someone who feels deep grief at the death of a celebrity, which would be looked on as ridiculous by others. It can also be anyone who is grieving whose close circle thinks they should be ‘over it’ already, and believe there is a time limit on grief, so their grief goes underground.  In simple terms it is any unacknowledged grief, or grief which is frowned on by society.

For these people grief is hugely difficult because it has to be private, unacknowledged, silent, secret or suppressed.  There is a name for this type of mourning, it is called disenfranchised grief.

If you have ever had a wave of grief wash over you, you can appreciate how hard it would be to stop that torrent of tears and mixed emotions, but this is the task that faces those who grieve inside themselves.  We might say they have a river of grief running through them but it has to be dammed at the tear ducts and in their mouth, nothing can leak out.

One of the most important things in grief is having support but this is often not the case in disenfranchised grief. If the bereaved have to contain their grief on a daily basis, it can have a profound affect on them both physically and emotionally. There is a propensity to depression, to becoming unwell, to fatigue and a sense of isolation and emptiness which is deeply felt.   It is a very lonely place to be and sometimes these feelings are held onto for years.  In fact sometimes families only find out about it after a death if they find letters, or a final letter telling their loved ones story.
When grief can be expressed openly and there is good support from family and friends, over a long period of time the griever can eventually come to terms with the loss.  This is not the case for those who grieve secretly.  It is much harder to find peace in the longer term.  The grief can become like a stone which is carried around in their heart making them feel literally heavy hearted for years to come.  The paradox is that many people would be empathetic and understanding but they are not able to offer that support because they don't know since the griever has said nothing.

Where can help be found you if you are carrying a secret grief inside of yourself?

I would say that counselling offers a neutral place to talk it through and is one option available to you.  Perhaps, if you have a faith, a religious guide or minister could offer a place to talk and share your unhappiness.  Could you join a bereavement group in your area?  Most groups have a rule of confidentiality which goes along the lines of what is spoken and heard in the group, stays in the group.  You could look for a group further away from home if you were particularly worried about gossip or judgement. Could you find one trustworthy friend in whom to confide?  That sort of understanding from just one person can make a huge difference.