The Right to Grieve

I’m always at loose ends several weeks before. I snap at Marty about nothing at all, and a low-grade sadness sandbags my existence. I can’t put my finger on the reason at first, and then I remember the anniversary of Michael’s death is coming up.

I try to resist the tidal wave, but in the three years since he died, I’ve learned to just go with it and feel the pain. This is a time to reexperience the gravity of his loss. Diving into the hole his absence has made in my life, I’m flooded with memories while I miss him in a way unlike any other day in the year. It’s gut-wrenching and throws my existence off-kilter.

Suddenly, I’m back in those rushed days of calling caterers for the church hall dinner, selecting flowers, finding the perfect portrait of his smiling face for the front of the chapel, and deciding which piece of music to give the violinist.

But crowding these details, I remember unnecessary hurts and pain—snubs at the hands of well-meaning church staff and even family members’ attempts to cut me out of the very end-of-life activities that helped me to heal.

According to Dr. Pauline Boss, the author of ambiguous loss theory, ambiguity comes into play when we feel grief is open-ended. In reality, she says, this kind of closure is a lie society tells us. It’s a myth perpetuated due to the predominately American belief that grief should have a beginning and an end.

But those of us who’ve experienced loss know this isn’t true. No matter how much closure we think we have, feelings of sadness and the intermittent, unexpected onslaught of depression will continue to happen as long as we have memory.

They’ll occur less frequently and lose some of their intensity, but they’ll always be there—just like the person we lost—ready to teach us a life lesson or remind us of their importance to our existence, to who we were, and who we will become.

Dr. Boss asserts that ambiguous loss happens primarily when a person loses someone in a way that results in their having no concrete proof of death, such as kidnapping or disappearance. Another example would be the loss of a child through a divorce or when we’re estranged from someone we care about.

I would argue that individuals from the LGBTQ+ community experience their own version of ambiguous loss when they’re excluded from the end-of-life activities that straight spouses take for granted.

While I can support the idea that closure is a myth, the reality is that those of us who experience loss need to go through these sad but productive rituals to come to grips with the absence it entails. We all have the right to grieve when we face loss. And when we don’t get the chance, we’ll likely have problems getting on with our lives, whatever form getting on takes.  And isn’t that what’s important?  If we’re all allowed to mourn completely, we can walk toward new beginnings with our hands planted firmly in the hand of those we’ve lost.


Published by: charlesdavis

Charles Davis, MSW, is the author of a couple of scientific journal articles, some encyclopedia entries and a chapter in a nursing textbook. He was a semifinalist for the 2023 Mason Jar Press 1729 Prize in Prose. A public speaker, Davis conducts training on disability law, disability etiquette, sexuality, and learning how to navigate grief as a gay man. He’s also obsessed with writing about classic films.

Categories UncategorizedTags, , , , , , , 12 Comments

12 thoughts on “The Right to Grieve”

  1. I see even more the importance that you are sharing your experience and feelings in the process. Your lines make it much more evident that a loss has a different or actually additional impact on you. I had not thought about this before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Erika. You’re so right. The attempts to exclude or do “end runs” around me as Michael’s husband in the planning of his service made an already sad and stressful time even more so. I constantly felt as if I was swimming against the tide. Exclusion hurts those who are excluded and those who exclude them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree. The rituals are so important even to those of us who often say or think, “how stupid.” We still get a lot out of them and when we are deprived of them it’s harmful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Luanne. Things like celebrations of life not only allow us to express our love and appreciation of the person we lost, but give us the opportunity to fully experience their physical absence from our lives–perhaps for the first time. It wasn’t until I was attending Michael’s service that I truly realized he was gone.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post Charles. I agree with all you say. I know that I surely need my outlets to cope with my losing my husband. Sometimes my only solace on dark days is going to visit him, although I feel him closer to me at home. We are entitled to our grief moments because there is no end. Grief is love with nowhere to go. As long as we love we shall grieve. Some days are better than others, but there is no endline for grief. We just hopefully in time learn to live with it better and pack it tight in our hearts. Also, I’m not gay but I know well, or should I say, learned well about exclusion after losing a loved one. I’m sorry society has to make a difficult time – at a difficult time for the LGBTQ+. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, DG. It’s funny. I feel closest to Michael at the oddest moments–mostly when I’m staring at my face in the bathroom mirror while shaving. I think it has to do with my mind having few things to distract it. Love the phrase; grief is love with nowhere to go. It’s certainly true and encapsulates the loneliness of grief as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. These words of yours ring so true. My mom died more than twenty years ago but I never came to grips with it and it did a lot of damage to me and my relationship to my only sibling. But last year I came upon an old book called The Grief Recovery Handbook. I read the book, did the worksheets and I was amazed at the peace it gave me. Western culture has some toxic ideas about grief, I am so glad that you are able to see through these myths. You might want to check out that book. I still miss her of course, but I feel so much more healthy after going through those exercises. Peace be with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your personal experience with unresolved feelings of grief over the lose of your mom. It’s been my personal experience that keeping a lid on these feelings means they’ll manifest themselves somehow—usually in a negative way. I’ll have to check out the Grief Recovery Handbook. Thanks for the recommending it.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s