Monday, May 7, 2018

Disenfranchised Grief: Mourning An Invisible Love

[Reviewed and updated August 25, 2023]

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
~ Kahlil Gibran

A reader writes: Three months ago, I lost my friend of 11 years to breast cancer. It happened suddenly when treatment seemed to be going ok. It was a long distance, unusual and complicated friendship. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, she lived in a different country, me across the ocean. We would text, phone, Skype, email every single day. Every day. Write letters. Send gifts every Christmas. I wear clothes she bought me on most days. It wasn't just a friendship. We loved each other. And I do mean loved in the strongest possible terms. Loved. Soul mates. Eleven years. Our friendship was so beautiful. We told each other we loved each other every single day. We laughed so much together. We supported each other through the hard times. I was there for her always. She was there for me always. We never physically met.
I know this might sound strange to someone reading this. I was too scared I wouldn't live up to who I was to her at a long distance. Eleven years. She was so patient. I realize now she would not have cared. She would have loved me in person for who I was. I have a history of social anxieties. I was too scared. I'd give anything to meet her just once. I was planning to potentially finally meet her this year. I had not told her my plan though. I wish I'd told her my plan. Maybe she'd have kept going. We thought she'd keep going. We thought the treatment was working. She said she could keep going for years. 

I never got to say goodbye. It happened so fast. Her family were around her bed as she died. Not me. Not the one she truly loved. I'm scared that in her sedated state, she wanted me there. I'm scared that she might have gone through those thoughts. I want to die. I only found out she had days to live after contacting one of her friends by Facebook after I had not heard from her in 2 days - like I say we were in contact every day, so I was worried when I didn't hear from her.

I have no closure. I can’t go to her grave. I carved our initials into a tree in a local woods. That's the only place I can go. I secretly see her friends and family on Facebook, see them mourning together. I grieve alone on this side of the Atlantic.

I find each day is a struggle. Every minute is a struggle. I have severe panic attacks every morning. I wake up and realize she's gone. Over and over. Every day re-living it. I sob every day. Regularly. My world is dark and grey. I feel like 90% of me died with her. She was my muse. I keep checking my phone, waiting for her to text. I regularly feel like I can't or don't want to go on. I saw my doctor who has prescribed me anti-anxiety and anti-depressants. I am seeing two separate counselors. Considering seeing a medium. I don't even believe in that stuff. I'm desperate. I have friends and family that support me. I couldn't ask for more from them. But none of it is enough. My heart is broken. I am broken. This is not a life. I need her.

My response: I’m so sorry to learn of the death of your beloved, and sorry too that you’re feeling so broken and invisible in the wake of this difficult loss.

What you are experiencing is what we’ve come to know as disenfranchised grief ~ a term originally coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka. It won’t change a thing, but reading a bit about this form of complicated grief may help you to better understand why you’re feeling as you do. See, for example, Ken’s article, Coping with Hidden Sorrow, and my blog post, Disenfranchised Grief: Mourning the Loss of a Dream. The situations described in these two articles may differ somewhat from your own, but I think you may find some useful information, comfort and support in their content.

Your story also reminds me of a blog (no longer active, but archived and still available to read) by “Casey B,” whose online friend also died of breast cancer. He writes,“[Chris] passed away from breast cancer at the age of 39. I spent the next three years in varying degrees of fog, before deciding I probably ought to do something about channeling the experience into a format which might help others. Hence, this blog was born . . .” You’ll find Casey’s blog here: Navigating Cyberloss.

You say that each day is such a struggle that you don’t feel like going on. That, my friend, is not unusual and in fact is typical in the early grief period. Right now I’m sure everything seems pointless to you and just not worth the effort. But as the saying goes, a long journey begins with a single step, and I commend you for taking that first step by sharing your story with me, and it’s good to know that you’re also giving yourself the gift of in-person counseling, which can be of enormous help in finding your way.

Since you’re considering seeing a medium, you may find this article helpful as well: After Death Communication: A List of Resources. I also encourage you to find and read some of the Related articles and resources I’ve listed below.

Please know that I wish for peace and healing to your broken heart. ♥

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH 

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