The types of grief you don’t talk about

Grief and loss aren’t always about death, but they are about attachment and separation. At least that’s what Kenneth J

Grief and loss aren’t always about death, but they are about attachment and separation. At least that’s what Kenneth J Doka, author of Grief is a Journey says.

He says that often people can endure intense and inescapable disruption without having to face death at all, but in cases of unrecognised loss your grief might not be identified by those around you. In order to deal with your sorrow, Doka says you need to have your grief acknowledged as this will give you the best opportunity to understand your emotions and be able to feel better, however long it takes.

The author says there are at least three kinds of grief that no one talks about.

The loss of the person you used to be

“Waiting for the school bus with my grandchildren recently, on the second day of school, I heard a young neighbour complain to his mother that he went to kindergarten yesterday!” Doka writes.

While the mother of that boy explained that he would be attending school five days a week instead of two, Doka noticed a look of disappointment sweep across the face of the young boy, and tears form in his eyes. “This changes everything,” the little boy complained.

It’s true. Everything changes as you age. While some of those changes are ones you embrace or quickly acknowledge before moving on, others can have a more profound affect on you.

He says that each transition in your life, regardless of how positive it is, has an undercurrent.

“The thrill of passing your driving test and earning your licence held so much meaning,” Doka says. “A mark of both accomplishment and maturity that promised new freedom and adventure. Now imagine the pain and grief when, through age or disability, you are forced to surrender that licence and all it has meant.”

Losing someone you once knew

Again, this is not just about death. Over the course of your life you will develop friendships and relationships, but as time marches on both you and those people can change in significant ways. They might still be a part of your life, but the way in which they are involved has changed and they are different to how you remember them being when you first met.

Dementia has a way of changing people. You know that person is still here, but there is something about them that is different. They might not remember the times you’ve shared together and their personality may have changed as a result of the disease.

It’s not just illness that can change someone you know. Addiction can also have a serious affect on you, someone you love and the lifestyle you shared.

Doka tells the story of one lady whose husband battled with alcohol until one day he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. While it was a proud moment for this woman — her husband was finally getting the help he needed — she mourned the life she had to leave behind because of his struggle and her desire to support him.

Losing someone you haven’t lost yet

More commonly referred to as ‘anticipatory grief’, Doka says that this is the type of grief you feel about someone who has a life-limiting illness and you often experience it in anticipation of an eventual death.

“The loss of health — even the prediction of loss — contained in a diagnosis can be a source of grief not just for the person diagnosed, but also for his or her loved ones,” Doka writes.

You have to reshape your plans, your thoughts, your future becomes unknown, there are even challenges to your safety and security because the challenges ahead are unclear.

“As any illness progresses, we continue to experience additional losses and grieve each one,” Doka says.

It’s important to remember that even though it might feel like it sometimes, you are not alone. Find a confidant, a counsellor or a support group that can help you deal with the grief you are experiencing.

Have you mourned in any of these situations? Where did you turn for support?

This adapted excerpt was taken from Grief is a Journey by Kenneth J Doka, PhD. Dr Doka is a professor of gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and a senior consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America.