Mental & Emotional Health
When Estrangement and Grief Collide
There is a type of grief that is rarely discussed or even widely known. It is formally classified as “disenfranchised grief” and sometimes called “estrangement grief”. This kind of grief is not readily acknowledged by society. I do not believe the lack of acknowledgment is intentional. After all, you cannot acknowledge that which never occurs to you.
This form of grief that can be a surprise in its arrival. It is a grief seldom broached by its sufferers because of the all-too-common “fear and guilt factor”. And yet it is more common than people realize.
Kym was the wife of an Army officer for thirty years. About thirteen years ago, her husband was injured and subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. Although he managed his symptoms for a number of years on his own, a combined number of serious stressors resulted in a psychological break.
After holding a weapon to Kym’s head, her husband thereafter disappeared, threatening to take his own life. Kym had already spent a year in an abusive situation and after his disappearance, an additional eighteen months of a life fraught with terror ensued. She did not know where her husband was, she never knew if he would suddenly show up, and her life was lived in constant fear.
Rather than being informed by the military (as is protocol), Kym’s children were tasked with informing her of her husband’s eventual death by suicide. Most might assume that Kym’s feelings would be of relief. However, Kym states, “Even after [over six] years, the grief is overwhelming. I don’t know if my grief is normal. The guilt comes in waves; that his death is my fault, at least in some part”.
Hannah’s** husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness and amid much ugliness, subsequently divorced her six years after his diagnosis. Hannah says that when she was later informed of her husband’s death, “I was surprised at the intensity of my pain. I had been so angry at him because of all that he had been putting [both me and our children] through, that I had forgotten about how much I truly loved him. I forgot about our happy times, our special memories, our dreams. I forgot about “us”. I was grieving for the loss of our life together as much as I was for the loss of him.”
After twenty years of marriage, my parents quite amicably divorced. Remaining good friends post-divorce, my father continued his regular presence at all family gatherings and when he remarried seven years after the divorce, his wife too was welcomed into our family.
Approximately two months after my husband passed away, my father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. Along with the rest of our family, my mother was often at the hospital during his final weeks and when he died, she mourned my father’s passing just as much as the rest of our family.