When Grief is Unacknowledged

Can others really deny us our right to feel sadness and pain?

Can they put limits on our mourning?

The answer is, at least in some cases, yes.

It happens all the time.


In his article Disenfranchised Grief Revisited: Discounting Hope and Love, Dr. Thomas Attig claims that a sad person has the right to mourn when he needs it or when he chooses it and in the way he chooses it. At the same time, the rest are obliged to respect the right and to avoid interfering in the experiences and efforts of grief.

It is worse than indifference to the experiences and efforts of mourners, it is devastating, as it implies a denial of the right to mourning, intervention, and even the imposition of sanction. Prohibition messages actively underestimate, reject, discredit, discourage, cancel, and demystify grief experiences and efforts. In this way, the people around the mourner withhold the right, restricting or even forbidding the mourning of the survivor.

When Can Unacknowledged Grief Occur?

Author Jonathan Vatner shares examples of situations, in which disenfranchised grief may arise:

• Your ex-husband has passed away, for example, and your friends do not realize why it is so important to you.

• You have a serious affair with your married co-worker. When he dies unexpectedly, the expression of your grief is limited because of the covert nature of the relationship.

• A spouse, brother or son is missing in military action.

• When death has occurred due to socially unacceptable causes, such as AIDS or suicide.

• A favorite dog, cat or other pet has died.

What Does an Unacknowledged Grief Sound Like?

When you are mourning an unrecognized or underestimated loss, you may hear statements such as:

• When things like this happen, all you can do is give it time and wait for it to cool off.

• You will get over it, eventually.

• It is best to try to let go of what happened and get back to your normal routine as soon as possible. Try to keep going as if nothing has changed.

• There is no point to look for meaning in something like that.

• Pain brings us face to face with irrationality. The best thing is to try to forget it.

• Deal with reality. He is dead. You will have to fill his place with something else.

Sometimes those who deal with grief disenfranchise their own grief with inner talk that sounds something like this:

• For some reason I feel like I betray my man if I laugh or try to be happy. Sometimes I feel like I owe it to him to live in sorrow.

• What can I expect from this life?

• I am ashamed to admit that in a way my child's death made me stronger.

• How can I let myself love again, if such a moment comes?

Do not suffer in silence anymore

The stress of grieving in isolation can be unbearable. According to Dr. Lani Leary, even if you endure the ups and downs of mourning on your own, grief will remain. In this case it is not the time that heals. Instead, healing comes with validation: "Every grief must be acceptable. To be acceptable, it must be heard. Someone must be present, someone who is willing to listen without criticizing or comparing."

In the article "Mourning Becomes Neglected: 4 Healthy Ways to Grieve", author Jonathan Vatner shares four ways in which you can claim your right to mourn and receive the necessary support:

• Acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with you. Whatever your feelings are, they are legitimate.

• Find people who will understand.

• Be honest about how you feel. If a well-meaning friend makes a joke about your deceased ex-wife, explain that this loss is painful for you.

• Develop a ritual or ceremony to honor the death of the individual.

• Visit the grave after the funeral, when you will be able to take as much time as you need to express your grief.

Speak up and defend yourself

In the book Invisible Monsters, author Chuck Palahniuk wrote: "Most of the time, it's much easier not to let people know what's wrong."

Whatever you do, if you feel that those around you do not support your mourning, do not follow his words.

Let others know how you feel and what you are thinking.

In this way, you educate them on the essential truth of mourning:

All losses should be recognizable. And all those in mourning have the right to grieve.

At Gesios Funeral Home, we provide experienced psychological support staff for our customers.

For further assistance, do not hesitate to contact us by phone at +30 2310 41 99 99 or even visit us at one of our offices in Thessaloniki.

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The MERIMNA Counseling Center in Thessaloniki provides psychological support to children, adolescents and their families when a loved one is ill or has died. This psychological support is completely free. Families with children up to 18 years of age can seek support, if someone of their family members are seriously ill or have died. At the same time, they inform and raise awareness of the public about issues related to serious illnesses, death and mourning of children and adolescents. More information can be found at www.merimna.org.gr .


  • Gelsini Zoi, Psychologist

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