Healing cannot begin until we recognize and acknowledge we have experienced a loss. You see, a loss is like an unseen wound of the soul. A hole has opened up where that thing or person we once held dear no longer stands.
Just as a medical professional cannot help a patient move towards healing if he or she denies having a gaping wound and thereby refuses treatment for said “nonexistent” wound, the same principle applies to wounds of the soul. We need to acknowledge the loss, the hole in our hearts, and give it compassionate, gentle attention in order to begin the healing journey.
Why is it So Hard to Acknowledge Our Losses?
A common complication I see in families, (mine included), when working with older adults is disenfranchised grief. This concept is the idea that we are not “allowed” to grieve or acknowledge a certain loss or losses that have taken place for us.
For example, Gertrude was very intellectually sharp in her prime and is now unable to recognize her own children. She is still physically alive. However, the person who raised her children has dramatically changed. That person, the intellectually sharp Gertrude, is no more.
A loss has already taken place, yet family and friends may not allow themselves to acknowledge that loss because “Gertrude is still living, after all!” This is disenfranchised grief. A real and significant loss has taken place, yet family and friends might feel disloyal or dishonoring of Gertrude for acknowledging the truth of the situation.
The irony of this situation is failing to see and acknowledge the loss, which unintentionally results in the opposite. Dealing with grief is different for everyone. Healing begins when you take care of your emotions.
Disenfranchised Grief Examples
- A grief-stricken daughter might berate her mother: “Come on, Mom, you know my name! Try again.”
- Visits from family and friends might become less frequent because facing the loss is painful. Absence avoids acceptance of the loss.
- Anger might come out at staff members for “doing too much for mom.” Thereby, the staff is blamed for the resident’s decline as opposed to the reality that it is really simply the awful disease progressing.
In all of these cases, disenfranchised grief is at work. Avoiding the pain and anger over the loss is not productive or healing. I encourage you to face the losses and name them.
What is it That You Miss?
“I miss being able to play Scrabble with my mom, she used to be able to beat me almost every time. It is hard to accept that she can no longer put together even three letter words.”
“Dad has been my rock through so much. It is scary seeing him so frail and confused. I miss being able to call him up and get his wisdom for my situation. He used to always know just what to say and do.”
”Jane has never been the same since that last fall of hers. We had coffee every week for the past 50 years, but Jane can no longer get out or even carry on a coherent conversation. I miss our talks.”
Remember through all of this, grief is an emotional process. It does not behave like a straightforward step-by-step cognitive checklist. You might find yourself ambushed by feelings of sadness or anger at unexpected moments. Yet, seeing and naming the loss will help in taming such emotion as it serves to validate and expose the source of the pain.
Give yourself the gift of permission to grieve. Learn more about our Spiritual Life.