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  • Writer's pictureMarlisa Mills

Another Look at Grief

Updated: Aug 13, 2018

Grief is a response to loss, not merely a response to death.

When I got up today, I read that All Souls, the Episcopal Cathedral in our town, has hired Rev. Naomi Tutu, third child of Bishop Desmond Tutu, as the “Cathedral Missioner for Racial and Economic Reconciliation.” I think it’s one of the most exciting announcements I’ve ever read.

It is a move that says that we, as the people of Western North Carolina, understand the ramifications of the tragedy and grief involved in our neighborhood over the social justice issues that lurk in our midst.

Grief. Yes grief.

I have a friend who kids me about the obvious....grief is my hobby. And she’s right. I’m obsessed with the topic of grief. Not just because I’m fascinated with how people react to death, but because I’m completely convinced that grief is the prevailing emotion in our society. Not merely the grief after a death. The grief surrounding loss.

Always has been. Always will be.

I don’t think many people give thought to how grief affects us socially.

The elder who has to give up his health, his lifestyle, his home, and move to a nursing home. Grief.

The childcare worker who sees hungry and heartbroken children on a daily basis. Grief.

The single mother who can’t afford a cute backpack for her second grade daughter’s return to school. Grief.

The waitress whose husband has been sent to jail, again. Grief.

The children who have lost a parent to addiction and prison. Grief.

Even though there are some in the community sensitive and attuned to loss and grief issues, many of us want to fix the system without examining and addressing the grief that accompanies the issues within that same system. If we are to build a socially just society, we need to be attuned to issues of loss and grief and not fall into the sadly all-too-common trap of missing the significance of grief in situations where no actual death has occurred.

...which brings us to disenfranchised grief.

Disenfranchised grief is a response to loss that is not recognized or socially sanctioned and does not therefore trigger the type of social support people normal receive at the time of a significant loss. Disenfranchised loss is a socially unacceptable loss, so to speak. It is a loss that is accompanied by judgment and often shame.

The primarily recognized disenfranchised losses are losses of “unacceptable relationships,” such as unrecognized same sex or extramarital relationships, loss to suicide, (no one wants to address that elephant in the room,) and a loss due to “unacceptable” causes...AIDS, Hepatitis C, smoking-related lung cancer, overdose.

I would add another form of disenfranchisement, additional losses that are not death related: divorce, homelessness, domestic and sexual and child abuse, redundancy, becoming disabled or chronically sick, being a victim of a crime and/or violence, poverty, and the myriad other losses that are part and parcel of life. Anything we put our heart into can lead to grief when we lose it. Religion. The church.

Grief is therefore a much wider concept than a response to death.

As we further explore the social and economic situations in our community that lead to the unjust consequences and serious community complications, let’s at least acknowledge the prevailing emotions that exist. Poverty. Racism. Injustice of all forms. Grief.

Kudos to the Episcopalians for acknowledging that we need to look beyond the liturgy to be the people of God. Note to Rev. Naomi Tutu: You are so welcome here.

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