Disenfranchised Grief

The Disenfranchised Grief of Abortions

Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not recognized by society.  One MAJOR type of disenfranchised grief that I often mention is the result of stillbirths and miscarriages.

A grief for one who had no connections in life.  No schoolmates, no friends, no co-workers … all of which translates to no funeral.  A grief that can’t be shared.

A grief to be borne solely by the ones who conceived.  A grief that is carried by the one who may now feel guilt upon silent grief because she miscarried.

This is a grief that is often carried alone.  A grief that is too often complicated by guilt.  A grief that is private and difficult to share.  A grief for a nameless soul.

Yet, there is a movement to recognize this grief.  I’ve seen the movement.  Mothers who have miscarried call us at the funeral home and request some public funeralization for their miscarried/stillborn child.  Some even request a public viewing if the child is far enough along in it’s development.  This movement to have funerals — whether through a funeral home or simply in a small private service — is a movement that provides a positive outlet for the grief of the parents and siblings.  It recognizes a traditionally disenfranchised grief.

So, why isn’t there a movement to memorialize abortions?  Here’s some reasons why abortions might not be memorialized:

Obviously, the political contentiousness of the topic doesn’t help.

There’s the idea that the fetus is not a thing to be grieved.

There’s guilt factors,

there’s shame factors (one night stands, rape, incest),

and there’s trimester factors (the fetus could have been only a couple weeks old).

And, there’s the fact that abortions are VERY private decisions, that aren’t meant for public appraisal.  How much would a woman / couple be shamed, guilted, chastised and questioned if there was a public funeral for an abortion?

And yet we have this from a discussion thread at Steady Health:

I am 31 and desperately wanted to have a child with my partner. Last month I found out that I was pregnant and I was surprised to feel absolutely nothing positive about the fact. After the initial shock wore off all I felt was indifference, fear and depression. The sight of women with babies etc. provoked feelings of nausea… I took this to mean that I didn’t actually want the baby and last week i had an abortion. Now that my body is returning to its normal state I feel exactly the way that i did before I found out that I was pregnant! I don’t understand how it’s possible to feel so emotionally estranged from myself during pregnancy. Is it possible that this happened because of pregnancy hormones? I feel like my body betrayed me. I wanted that baby. Has anyone else experienced anything similar to this? It’s very disturbing…

And this was one of the nearly 100 replies — most of similar nature — to the above post:

I too have recently had an abortion and am having those same feelings of regret and grief. i have always wanted a family more than anything, am in a committed loving relationship and would even go so far as to say that I disagree with abortion – and yet, i fell pregnant unplanned, got scared at the timing of it all and the consequences of it, and before i knew it, I’d done it.I cry a lot. I feel empty inside, like there is a big hole inside of me that won’t go away. I feel the desire to have another baby, soon, after my wedding, earlier than we had ever planned. I ache all the time and it’s as though my body misses being pregnant (even though I was so sick). I’ll be having a happy day and then suddenly i’ll break down into a flood of tears, racking sobs that shake my whole body and i feel an indescribable ache in my chest.

I worry that when i do have another baby that it won’t fix the real problem of the baby that I made the decision not to keep.

One of the problems with politicizing abortion is that when it becomes part of a platform we forget that there are REAL people involved, who are parting with a REAL part of themselves and who will likely experience some type of REAL grief.

Now, I understand that just as some don’t experience grief over miscarriages so not everyone will experience grief over an abortion.

Yet, it IS important to recognize that abortions may likely cause a type of disenfranchised grief that if not recognized will cause psychological difficulty.  And if the grief goes unexpressed, may cause intense, unintended emotional consequences.

It’s time to give talk about our abortions to people we can trust.  And it’s okay to grieve apart of you that is no more.

“Real” Men and Mourning

I’m a big fan of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.  I read their website every day, watch all their games and follow the off-season stories.

Exactly two years ago the Eagles’ former Head Coach (current Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs), Andy Reid, lost his 29 year old son Garrett to a battle with drug addiction.  Garrett died on a Monday.  Garrett’s funeral was the following Tuesday.  And Andy Reid — Garrett’s father — was back to coaching the Eagles THE DAY AFTER the funeral for their first preseason game.

I don’t comment on a person’s grief work, so if Andy Reid thinks that going to his job the day after his son’s funeral is the right thing for him and his family, then so be it.

Men will often attempt to use work as a way to process their grief.  We will also attempt to care for others as a means to process our grief and may neglect our own needs for the sake of one’s family, or — in Andy’s case — his team.  So, as I said, I’m not judging Andy’s grief work.

But I do want to comment on HOW Reid’s quick return to work is being interpreted by his players.

Jason Kelce, the Eagles starting center, had this to say:

“I think this is just Andy.  We’ve got guys who lose relatives all the time on the team, and they’re gone for a significant amount of time, and Andy’s talking about being back already.  That just goes to show his level of professionalism — his level of manhood really.  There’s no question it’s eating at him inside.  To be able to not show it, to be able to hold it down just so the team doesn’t see him like that, that’s impressive.

To be able to not show his grief over the tragic death of his son … to be able to hold it down so the team doesn’t see him “like that”, that’s impressive?  What?

What is Kelce implying?  Is he implying that Reid’s “level of manhood” would be in question if the team saw him grieve … if the team saw him cry?  Is Kelce implying that manhood equals emotional repression?  Yup, I think that’s what Kelce means.  And Kelce is implying that showing one’s emotions IS NOT manly and would not be good for other men to see.

Seriously?  Are our young boys still being taught this crap by their male role models?

Let me clear a few things up for Mr. Kelce.

1.  While it may be true that men are generally less emotional, manhood is not increased (or decreased) by one’s ability to repress emotion.

2.  You may want to be strong when a death occurs, but strength — like manhood — isn’t determined by one’s ability to repress emotion.

3.  There is no “manly” way to grieve, so don’t let someone (especially another man) tell you how you should feel or shouldn’t feel.

4.  Mourning IS manly IF it’s performed by a man.

5.  If you show grief in front of other men, and they judge you or attempt to diminish your mourning, find other company so that you can work through your grief in a more healthy environment.

Whether by nature or nurture, men and emotions have a difficult relationship that is farther complicated by a highly complex and uncontrollable experience like death.  The bottom line is this: there isn’t a RIGHT or WRONG way for men (or woman or children) to grieve and mourn.  But, it is healthy if you can find a place, space and group that can allow you to work through your grief on your own pace.  Ideally, look for a group of people who can walk with you through the valley, and if you find that place and those people who can allow you to work through your grief, you are on a healthy path.

Disenfranchised Grief: The Unrecognized Mourners

Grief shared is grief diminished.  When an individual dies, that death throws a web of relationships out of balance, causing the mourners to learn how to live in the new normal.  That new normal is best found together in community.

When grief isn’t shared.  When there is no community to share it.  When it isn’t recognized by society, then grief becomes complicated.

There is grief that is produced by “death” (both literal and real) in our society that aren’t recognized.  This kind of grief is a disenfranchised grief.

Here are a couple forms of grief that simply aren’t validated by society:

1.  Grief from miscarriages. This is a silent grief.  A grief that few people share; and when they do share, few people show compassion.  And while the mother may have the greatest form of disenfranchised grief, the father can also be the silent sufferer as he is sometimes thrust in the supporting role, being unable to deal with his own emotions.

2.  Death of a pet. Pets become part of the family; and when they die it’s almost like losing a family member, except no one in the community recognizes your loss.  “It’s just a dog” is both true and false.

3.  Grief from abortions. This topic has become so political that it has lost its human element.  Abortions hurt.  And the mothers who choose abortions will often grieve.  Even if they don’t grieve at the time of the abortion, there is something lost … and that loss can hurt.

4.  Grief of the supporter. When death occurs, roles quickly play out.  There’s the main mourner(s) and there’s the supporting cast.  That supporting cast — those who take care of the main mourner (the spouse of the deceased, the children of the deceased) — are often very close to the deceased themselves.  But because they are the supporters, they simply aren’t allowed the time to grieve.  They are the strong ones.

5.  Grief from suicide.  Suicide is such a difficult, tragic and complicated death that those who are left behind are often not sure how to grieve … or if they should even grieve at all.  To complicate the issue, outside society can often look at suicide as such a taboo that they don’t recognize the grief of those surrounding the suicide.

6.  Grief from the death of an Ex. Whether it’s the death of an ex-spouse, ex-lover or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, if the deceased is the “ex” there’s an assumption that you aren’t allowed to grieve, because that relationship “has already been severed.”  Just because someone is an “ex” doesn’t mean that you don’t have the permission to grieve.

7.  Grief over a loss that isn’t a person.

Have you ever experienced disenfranchised grief?

Have you even been the one who has disenfranchised someone else’s grief?

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