Monday, December 9, 2019

Disenfranchised Grief: Another Bereaved Aunt Asks “Where Do I Fit In?”

Image by Paul C Lee from Pixabay 
Every society has conventions about grieving – rules that define for whom, how, for what, and for how long people should grieve. In our society the “who” is generally family: spouses, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and siblings have recognized rights to grief. The grief of others often is not considered.  ~ Kenneth J. Doka

A reader writes: Dear Marty, I have never before emailed a stranger about something so personal but I wanted to thank you for posting your article, Mourning A Sister's Only Child: "Where Do I Fit In?"

Three weeks ago I lost my nephew. He was 3.9 years old. He was very disabled and had been fighting for life and defying doctors since he was 5 days old. I held him the day he was born. I gave up the course I was studying at the time to help care for his big sister who was 2 at the time. Ever since he was born I was constantly on call in case something happened. Often I dropped everything and raced to London to help my brother and his wife out because my nephew had been rushed to hospital.

I am single, I don't have children of my own or a husband/boy friend. Of everyone in my family it was always easier for me to drop everything and go. Three weeks ago my nephew died. A preventable death. A drawn-out death as the hospital tried to determine if he was gone or not. I rushed down the day it happened and took over caring for my niece. I was in the room with the parents and grandparents when my nephew died.

Three weeks on I find myself asking the same question. As the aunt, where is my place? What has made this more painful is hospitals even dictate the grieving order. Parents and maybe grandparents--anyone else not acceptable or worth commenting on. My nephew spent most of his time in Great Ormond Street Hospital. An amazing institution but (as seems to be the case in Western culture) they didn't have a category or way of processing an aunt who was so involved. Western culture deems the aunt as someone you see 2-3 times a year. I became a full time carer to my niece and regular visitor for my nephew. I learned how to care for him.

Now that he has died I find myself facing his death as a single woman. Someone largely overlooked by her own family, someone who is searching for her place in a society that doesn't acknowledge or comprehend that I could grieve. Over the 3.9 years most people I speak to jump straight to his parents and what they're going through as he was ill. They went through a huge amount, but they failed to recognise that I too was impacted by his life. Now in his death I am struggling to find safe places I can grieve openly. I am fortunate to have some great friends, but feel the isolation and loneliness of being a grieving single, childless aunt.

Your post was so helpful as I realised there are others out there who are just as frustrated and impacted by grief as I am. My logical voice says you must get a huge number of emails, and are not likely to read this. If you do it may be silly to share my story, yet it feels cathartic to join the chorus of others who love deeply the members of their family.

I have given so much time to my precious niece, I now love her as though she were my own. As her brother died it was me and my mother (her grandmother) she sought comfort from. We are the ones who were there for her when her parents weren't able to be. She is now my focus, Lord help me if anything ever happened to her!

Thank you for the work you do Marty.

My response: My dear, my heart hurts for you and with you as I read your touching message just now. It also warms my heart to learn that this article spoke to you in a helpful way. Thank you so much for letting me know!

Yours is a classic example of what we've come to recognize as disenfranchised grief ~ and it may help you to read a bit more about this different kind of grief and why it is so difficult to bear.

I invite you to begin with the following:

Coping with Hidden Sorrow

Disenfranchised Grief: Mourning the Loss of A Stepson  ~ This is so similar to the loss of a nephew! See also the links to related articles listed at the base.

Thank you again for reaching out to me, my dear. Your taking the time to do so means the world to me. I send wishes for peace and healing to your broken heart.

P.S. Might you be willing to grant permission for me to share your message with the readers of my blog? Your identity would not be revealed. I just think it's important for others to learn about the effects of child loss on ALL concerned, and not just on parents and grandparents.

Afterword: Dear Marty, your taking the time to respond to my email really means so much to me. I am a creative person and feel a poem piece in me bubbling out from all this (not there yet) but I know it will be called 'The Silent Voice of Grief'. Your care to read and respond to my email gives that voice some sound which means a lot. If you think it helpful for your blog you have my permission to post my message. I will look at the links you shared with me. Thank you again for reading my email.

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