This morning I was listening to the radio as I was getting dressed, and I heard a mom talking about the grief of having her son serving in the war. The day to day worry, concern and fear of knowing that each and every day he and so many others put their lives on the line, to protect us. Yet, so many around her and others like her, are oblivious to her pain, to her grief even to the point of making light of her and her families sacrifice and why her son chose to serve.
There is a name for this type of grief, 'disenfranchised grief.' This type of grief comes as a result of a societal perception of what is grieved and who can grieve. The reasons are: 1.) the relationship is not recognized - this may be a neighbor, friend, classmate, coworker, lover or significant other, etc., someone that society does not believe has the 'right' to grieve. 2.) The loss is not recognized - suicide, there was loss of innocence as a result of their death, death due to addiction or lifestyle choices, prolonged illness, and even pet loss, are just some of the examples. 3.) The griever is not recognized - these are the ones society feels are too old, too young, or mentally and physically challenged, and believe are unable to comprehend what is happening; these are also the families of Alzheimer's and terminally ill patients, and others whose grief is a constant part of their life due to the physical disability of a loved one, as well as a host of many other types of losses.
Why do I bring this up? My grief is understood, my loss tangible, people sympathize and empathize with me and my family. One day we had Rachel, the next, she was gone, it was a tragedy that others relate to, that 'society' accepts and acknowledges. We were comforted, we were allowed to mourn, we were given a time to be bereaved, our loss was real, painful, unbelievable. They recognized our relationship, the loss, and us a grievers, all the criteria was met for what was perceived as people who had the right to express their emotions, their feelings and their pain. But what of the others, those who are not comforted, those who are left on the fringe of our compassion, who are left to grieve alone.
Today, I was asked to speak at a local parish, to briefly share my story, and how the diocese through the help of many of its agencies, helped me and others, in our hour of need; and how through their continued generosity could continue to do so. I was there for all three of their Masses, and had the privilege of speaking to some of them afterwards. Many thanked me for coming, others expressed their sympathy, and still others acknowledged the work that the diocese does, and so on. After the second Mass, a mother came up to me and asked me to pray for her son. He is very much alive, but is currently in prison, and will be appearing before the judge this coming week, at that time the decision will be made to either release him or prolong his sentence. No, I do not know why he is in prison, nor do I want to know, but as I listened to her earnest plea for my prayers, I realized that this mother was grieving. Yet another example of an unrecognized grief. Here was a mother very much in pain, who could no more control what was happening to her son, than any of us can control the weather. This is another form of grief that society definitely does not recognize, nor wants to acknowledge.
Through my own losses and grief, I have come to appreciate the pain, suffering and confusion of others. I have come to recognize that grief is many faceted, and is not solely confined to loss due to the death of a loved one. Like this mother, there are so many individuals, families, and friends who are not allowed to grieve through the normal channels, who are not even acknowledged. Yes they may have a close network of people who listen, who try to understand, who allow them to share their story, their pain and their torment with them, but for many, that circle is small, often too small.
In a support group that I attended a gentleman grieved the loss of his mother to Alzheimer's. I have stood in that middle ground, when a relative was killed in a car accident because of a drunk driver, only to realize that I knew the family of the drunk driver as well. How I not only had to console my family, but the family members of the very cause of his death. I have watched countless families deal with the prolonged illness of a loved one and how, once the initial blow was dealt, those who initially supported them slipped back into their own lives. I have witnessed first hand the anguish of parents whose children have disabilities, their fears for their child, for the future, and all it encompasses. These are very real hurts and pains, this is grief, a grief that is as heavy a burden as my own. One that continues to permeate the very lives of these people.
Whether their family member is serving in the military and has been deployed, the loved one suffers from a life altering disease, or they are mentally and physically challenged, they all suffer from loss. Loss of the nearness of their loved one and the sense of security, loss of the person they new, or loss of hopes and dreams, they all grieve, they all hurt, they all just want to be understood and loved.
Grief, like love, comes in many forms and impacts our lives in so many ways. My hope is that I can continue in my ability to recognize not only those who grieve the death of a loved one, but the loss of life, of dreams, of hopes and of normalcy. That I am willing to see beyond the restrictions of society, and recognize the individual who is hurting, who needs consoling, who simply wants to be heard. These are individuals who don't ask much, they only want to be treated equally, allowed to grieve, allowed to express their emotions, feelings and pain. Who, even though they know their circumstances may be different, still need our compassion, sympathy and if we have been there, our empathy as well. Putting all judgment aside, let us see the person behind the pain, and their need to be comforted, just as my family and I were.
Blessing! and until we meet again.