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Why are Some Causes of Grief Unacceptable to Society?

By HERWriter
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When you take care of something for months or even years, you can grow attached to it, especially when it brings you happiness. For example, I became attached to several of my pet rats. Of course, the inevitable happened: they died.

Although some people didn’t understand, I went through a minor grieving process and even cried over my lost furry friends. Then again, those same people really didn’t understand my intense attachment to my rats while they were still living in the first place.

Disenfranchised grief is generally known as grief that is “less acceptable” by society. Pet loss is an example, since people can reason that pets aren’t human so they don’t matter as much. I’m guessing some pet owners wouldn’t agree, but in general if you show too many emotions over a dead pet, you’ll get puzzled looks and laughs. Even with pets there is a hierarchy. Most people would think something is wrong with you if you cried over a pet fish dying, but it might be different for a dog.

Another “unacceptable” cause of grief is abortion. Some people assume women will not feel regret or grief after having an abortion because they made the choice. Despite what society believes, some women who have abortions will feel grief and they might not get the support they need because of these expectations. Then again, this can also go the other way — people might assume because abortion is “bad” that the women will only naturally feel grief, but not all women do. Giving up a child for adoption could also cause the same puzzling results.

Two employees from Hospice of Palm Beach County in Florida together shared their knowledge of grief through e-mail: Regina Di Pietro, director of supportive services, and Chelsea Johnson, manager of supportive services.

“Grief is a normal and natural response to loss,” they said. “It is physiological as well as emotional and spiritual.”

It is important to distinguish between the sadness and depressed feelings associated with grief and those of clinical depression, since it’s “not a normal response.”

Culture and religion can play a part in how people grieve, as well as understanding and acceptance, Di Pietro and Johnson said.

“Some cultures may disagree with abortion or be opposed to gay relationships, and therefore grief may be frowned upon,” they said, whereas grieving over a lost child is usually met with empathy and acceptance. “Generally, this society expects quick recovery, and long term or complicated grief could be seen as weakness.”

Disenfranchised grief can be harder to recover from and may create feelings of guilt and shame because of the stigma attached to some causes of grief, like abortion and divorce, Di Pietro and Johnson said.

“I think even miscarriage comes into play here, because we rationalize why we can’t feel, or why we shouldn’t,” they said. “Abortion for example is seen as a choice, and therefore you’re not supposed to grieve. How about divorce? That is a choice but can be really painful as well.

I think we have to understand that grief is so personal and so individual that we can’t decide what someone should feel but our own standards. Some of us cry when we watch a sad commercial, while others never shed a tear despite loss and pain.

"Also, a lot of time with disenfranchised loss, people around you don’t know [you're] grieving. This can cause a much slower recovery, as one of the healing parts of grief is the expression of the pain," they said.

The recovery process is the same for all types of grief, they said, but sometimes there are support groups for specific causes of grief so people can relate.

“Without limits or time expectations, the only way out is…working through the grief,” they said. “It is what we have to do to really recover. There are no quick fixes, and with respect and working with people who understand…it can make it easier.”

So, is grief ever beneficial?

“The pain is never a good thing, but the response and the emotional process can be healing,” they said. “If you walk the journey, it can be a good thing when you come out on the other end. We will all grieve at some point. It is something that you can take the good out of…but we would never choose the pain.”

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EmpowHER Guest

I agree completely with the author's assertion that there are forms of disenfranchised grief our society deems unworthy of validation. I am an animal chaplain who works with people to help them prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss, and I repeatedly hear of how much harder it is for them to get past the death of a beloved animal companion than the death of some humans in their lives.

While writing and researching my book "Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss," I heard that these grieving pet owners were forced to bury, deny or rush through their emotions or risk the disdain of those around them that didn't understand.

I agree, too, that losses such as miscarriage are also brushed under the rug, met with trite phrases like, "Oh, you can always try again." I counseled a friend who suffered tremendously after a miscarriage because her grief was minimized by those around her simply because the unborn child never entered the world and thus, to their thinking, never became real.

Thank you for shedding light on this situation. I hope it will bring more understanding and compassion to those who truly need it.

August 12, 2010 - 11:30am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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