My cousin died last year, at least that’s how it felt for me. She actually died seven years ago, so my delayed sojourn into Loss has been very private…very lonely. Let me explain.

I grew up in California and made family trips to Seattle to see my three cousins: Sarah, Susan and Sally. I am without siblings, so these three were very special in my little girl years. Adult life took us all over the country, I landed on the east coast. My contact with them changed as our lives changed, but periodic calls and visits always mattered to me. Last year, I called my step-father on the west coast to get an updated number for Sally, having lost touch with my cousins and he informed me, “Sally died six years ago.” Before I hung up the phone, in shock, he even scolded me for not being around enough – but that’s another story.

This story is about my personal experience with “disenfranchised grief.” My ministry and writing in grief has taught me this phrase, it has been helpful to so many people and now I understand it from the inside out. I was not able to attend the funeral for my cousin, not able to be with her sisters to mourn Sally’s tragic, and too soon, death. I was not able to share my memories or to be part of the collective grief that supported all who knew and loved her.

In my case, a choice was made, my loss was dismissed when my step-father chose to leave me out. But disenfranchised grief can happen in many forms; the common theme is that the grief is not acknowledged by society and not shared in a public way. The reasons vary. A required business trip that prevents attending the memorial service can create the experience of being “cut off” from shared mourning. A family, seeking privacy, can unintentionally set up disenfranchisement in their need to restrict participation in funeral services. Loss changes everything. Grief, the healing balm following Loss, is often complicated without simple social acknowledgement and a safe space for feelings.

So what do we do? We “enfranchise” our grief. We give ourselves permission to grieve. We give ourselves agency to take care of our needs to honor and remember. I called my cousins, and shared my love. I wrote a message about Sally, something I might have said at her memorial service. Last summer, I planted some daisies in her name – bright and happy flowers that reminded me of her spirit.

And I am telling you about Sally…she was a sweet presence. She was one of those people that brought light into a room and warmed it up, just by being who she is. Because of these memories, I know Sally loves me in spite of our spotty connections over the years. Because I trust grief’s healing touch, I reentered the Land of Loss with less fear and more hope, and there I found Love.

Lisa Irish

Lisa Irish, MEd, MA, BCC incorporates her experience in chaplaincy, spiritual direction and her own journey to guide the way in the Land of Loss. As former bereavement coordinator for Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of St Raphael, she ministered to individuals, groups and community organizations. Of her book, Grieving – the Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of the Loss, Fr. Richard Rohr says….”the roadmap is wise, but sensitive – grounded in hope – and reminds us to rest in God’s healing love.” Lisa shares her understanding of grief, healing and hope through rich retreat programs and in regular messages found at "Grieving with a Grateful Heart," Abbey Press. "Finding Healing in Times of Grief and Loss" (contributing author) Abbey Press "Grief - the Sacred Art," Skylight Paths Publishing in 2018.

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