Disenfranchised Grief

This afternoon, one of the folks I follow on Twitter regularly, Jennifer Leggio, wrote a blog post about the loss of her father. Even though she hadn’t seen him in 30 years, his death was hard on her:

Because over the last year I’ve had one too many people say to me, “If you hadn’t seen him, how can you miss him?” The loss, with it being a loss of hope, is intangible. It’s what they call “ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief.” It’s the kind of grief that one experiences when the situation is not cut and dry and perhaps others cannot understand the loss. But it is real.

Interestingly, as soon as I read it, I did understand exactly what she was talking about, but I have to admit that hasn’t always been true. I’ve heard many survivors of childhood abuse, including myself, dismiss the pain of not having a “normal” childhood by suggesting we didn’t know what we were missing, so it’s ok.

It’s not ok. While certainly on one level there is some truth to the statement, I can’t miss a happy childhood the way we typically understand missing something, because I never had it to have it taken away, there is a healthy grief and maybe even a bit of mourning that should take place in our lives. I can’t “miss” the happy childhood that I have no experience of, but can certainly grieve for it. I can grieve for strong family relationships that I never had, the love and protection that was missing from my childhood. In fact, I grieve those things more and more as I grow older, and understand what I missed out on a deeper level.

So, Jennifer, you go right ahead and grieve for your father, even if you never really knew him. You may not miss him in the traditional sense, but his death marks the end of any chance that you would some day, and that is worthy of your grief.

Fellow survivors, the same is true of our childhoods, and our relationships. We may not know what we’re missing, but we can certainly mourn that fact by itself.

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  1. Oh, did you strike a sore spot in my heart. My blog is all about the abuse and after effects and my healing. But, what I haven’t included and will in a Father’s Day post, which I am somewhat dreading, is that I have not seen or heard from my father since 1983 and previously maybe every 4-6 years meaning not very often. Despite only really remembering him abusing me and my mother and them arguing and police coming, I still mourn not having a father…of what “should have been.” I have often wondered what would have happen if he suddenly made contact with me…I honestly do not know. I do know that it would be an emotional roller-coaster and probably would put me into a worse depression.

    In terms of, Mike talking about abuse. For me there is grieving of what could have been and what was taken from me and this dark empty hole inside my soul and grieving for what should be there. My mother was a borderline personality and was physically and verbally abusive and my step father was narcissistic and verbally, emotionally and physically abuse. And he and his father and friends were sadistically sexually abusive to me. I have a lot of grief that I fight against in therapy…I find it difficult to cry as I stopped when I was an infant because I was suffocated, hit or pinched when I did. This is my understanding after putting the pieces together. Sorry to go on, but this is a bad day for me.

  2. It was great to have two other positive male role models in my childhood, I call them my stepdads. Being better parents than my Dad, sadly I got to see what I was missing on a very regular basis, namely siblings that were close to each other properly, with a lot less fighting.

    There was an absence of emotion when he died, I think I just did my “grieving” at the time through envy and spending time with my stepdads’ families on every opportunity.

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