Monday, April 27, 2020

Disenfranchised Grief: Coronavirus Took My Partner

[Reviewed and updated May 19, 2020]

My grief lies all within, and these external manners of lament are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul.   ~ William Shakespeare

A reader writes: You have so many articles on grief but I was unable to find an article that can help me. I’ve recently lost my partner of 4 years who passed a week ago. We were not married and I lived with him and was his primary caregiver. During his last month of life we were apart due to Covid19 and I didn’t get to see him. He was ill but death was not imminent so this has come as quite a shock.
He has a son, but he has no understanding of my grief and doesn’t reach out much. I'm finding it difficult to grieve with people who didn’t know him. I have such guilt that I wasn’t there for him giving him the loving care that he should have had. Maybe it was best I wasn’t the one with him when he died. Maybe it was better that his son was there to care for him so they could get closer.

I have such unhealthy thoughts. I feel guilty that maybe he didn’t have to die and his son didn’t care enough or was aware enough to know he needed medical help. Maybe if I was there when he died it would have been awkward with his ex-wife helping to make the funeral arrangements.

I'm angry that he didn’t want to get married and put me in this position with no status or respect. And why did I put myself in this position? Not being appreciated for all I did for him? Being so easily dismissed? I was very kind to his son and did my best to help him heal the relationship with his dad. He wasn't close with anyone in his father’s family. My family says his family is very dysfunctional and most families would have appreciated what I did. 

Due to Coronavirus there will be no services for a while. I’m worried they won’t reach out to me and let me know. In the eulogy will I even be mentioned? My family says not to reach out to his family and move on. It’s not that simple. Any words of wisdom? Thank you.

My response: I’m so sorry to learn of your partner’s death, and sorry too that you’ve been so isolated in your grief in the wake of this painful loss. There are two elements about your situation that strike me.

The first is that you find yourself experiencing is what is known as Disenfranchised Grief ~ that is, the grief that goes unnoticed, unrecognized, unvalidated ~ leaving you feeling left out, as if you have no “right” to mourn your partner’s death and no place to share your grief. I invite you to read an article by Dr. Kenneth Doka, the one who first described this form of complicated grief: Coping With Hidden Sorrow.

The second element is something you share with so many others whose loved ones are terminally ill with COVID-19, and in the midst of a pandemic that has kept them physically apart at a time when they desperately long to be there in person. Not only are you kept from saying goodbye to your beloved as he lay dying ~ you can’t even gather at a funeral, in community with others who come to pay their respects. Even if a memorial service is planned for later, you’re worried that you won’t be included or even informed.

Might you consider some alternative ways that you could honor and memorialize your partner with your own private ritual or memorial service? Here you are limited only by your own imagination ~ and you’ll find many ideas online, too. (See, for example, How Grief Rituals Can Help,)

I also invite you to read these two articles. Although the individual circumstances differ from your own, I’m hoping you’ll find them relevant to your situation as well:

Disenfranchised Grief: Mourning An Invisible Love

Disenfranchised Grief: Mourning the Loss of a Dream

Since you had been acting as your partner's primary caregiver for some time, you may find this article helpful as well: In Grief: After Caregiving Ends, Who Am I?

Afterword: Thank you so much for your quick response. This has helped me tremendously as now I have a name for my grief. A friend of my significant other called me today and he was so very sad. He had reached out to my partner's son and left a message but has yet to hear back. He understands. I think I may have my own personal memorial for my partner with some of his friends. They would welcome that I think. His funeral hasn't been scheduled yet and I'm still undecided about attending. I feel I will not be mentioned at all and it will be so upsetting and I'll have to relive more grief and trauma. Then I change my mind and think I should hold my head up high and let it be on them if they don't acknowledge our relationship or my loving contribution to his care. Thanks again.

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. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here

© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH 

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