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Your Grief Over a No-Label Relationship, Pet's Death is Valid

Disenfranchised grief, explained
by Pia Regalado
Nov 2, 2021
Photo/s: Pexels

Medwin (not his real name) silently mourned the death of what he described as an "almost relationship" for an entire year, embarrassed at how he felt about a six-month connection in a society where length and marriage are the benchmarks of a serious relationship.

The sadness made him consider therapy, up to the present or six years after it ended. It didn't help that friends would dismiss his feelings by asking why they needed to talk about his ex.

"More than a year ako malungkot over it and it got to a point na hindi ko na lang binabanggit sa mga tao kasi parang, ano ba 'yan, sandali lang naman," Medwin said of the one that got away. The journalist in his late 30s currently has a girlfriend.

Society easily dismisses breakup-related grief because it doesn't involve death, according to various studies. When someone's mourning isn't recognized, it becomes more difficult to address.

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What is disenfranchised grief?

Grieving is a natural response to loss. Most of the time it's associated with a loved one's death, the most common passing everyone experiences in their lifetime.

Then there's disenfranchised grief: when a person mourns over loss of relationships, a pet's death, or even unemployment and opportunities lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's when the sorrow is stigmatized, minimized, or dismissed as something not worth grieving over, which could hinder a person's process of moving on, clinical psychologist Joseph Marquez said.

"A lot of people would have difficulty understanding that's how you feel. Feeling is very subjective to everyone," he told reportr.

Tin, 27, was at work when she found out her pet cat Charity died. She immediately excused herself and went home to mourn the death of her "bunso." While it wasn't the first death she grieved over and she still has other cats at home, "siya lang 'yung unang namatay na sobrang close sa akin."

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"Sad ito sa iba pero to some people, they'll ask: 'why would you cry over a pet? Kumuha ka na lang uli ng isa pang pet,' that's how others feel about it," said Marquez.

Tin also wept over the death of fictional characters. She was screaming at the television when Nairobi and Tokyo died in Money Heist. "Parang gusto kong masuka," she said. She had to watch comedy the day after so she can process the pain.

Her brother thought her feelings were ridiculous. "Sabi n'ya, 'Bakit? Ganyan ka ba ka-walang buhay na invested ka sa iba?'"

Grief can also be disenfranchised when the cause of death is stigmatized, like suicide or drug overdose. Society also judges a person's circumstances (criminals) or preferences (same-sex relationship) on how they should mourn. When the loss is not a physical death, it can also be dismissed, according to non-government organization Australian Center for Grief and Bereavement.

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It's why employers offer bereavement leaves only when an immediate member of the family dies, but not when your pet or a famous celebrity you're following passes away, Marquez said.

It's wrong and unhealthy to judge people on their grief, he said. Shaming others could add to the burden of the bereavement process, which may lead to isolation, anxiety, and even depression.

"Unang-unang sa lahat e 'yung ganun talaga siya mag-react, wala talaga tayong magagawa. 'OA mo naman?' No, you can't say that."

How to deal with disenfranchised grief

Grief does not follow a specific timeline or formula to heal, according to the Australian Center for Grief and Bereavement. Remember: It's not a competition and no one has the "greatest right" to grieve.

Here are some tips on how to deal with grief:

Acknowledge your loss

Your grief is real, no matter what it is, bereavement counselor Marie Hogarth said.

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"By personally validating the loss, allowing yourself to feel the significance of the connection, and honoring the effect it has on you, you can then look more closely at what the loss means for you and how you can move forward and create new meaning in this changed world.”

Take care of yourself

Put together a self-care plan to allow yourself to rest, relax and do the things you love. Keeping a journal to put your loss into words can also help, Marquez said.

Seek support

Friends or family who won't judge you can help you through your grief. Marquez said you could also join support groups or one-on-one therapy with professionals especially if it's difficult to process the grief on your own, said Marquez.

Don't apologize for grieving

Don't let others dictate what or how you should feel and how you should grieve. Your feelings are valid, Marquez said.

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"Let yourself feel your feelings without judgment."

Clinical psychologist Joseph Marquez is based in Taytay, Rizal. His services can be accessed online. You may contact him through his page.

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