Each one of us carries deep within a well of grief that contains all the grief we have experienced in our lifetime. We can identify many of theses losses—death of loved ones, divorce, loss of a home, health, or a job.
As we grieve these big, life-changing losses we might experience other less apparent losses that are not acknowledged. My clients are often reassured when they realize that the pain they feel around these unacknowledged, hidden, even secret losses is indeed warranted–and need to be embraced in order to be healed.
Let’s explore a few of these hidden losses; in naming and acknowledging them, we have the opportunity to grieve them, and to then open to life more fully.
Grief can sometimes accompany the “good” things we experience in life. Who would have thought that you might finally finish a project and end up feeling depressed after this accomplishment? With endings there is often a difficult transitional period before we are ready to move forward with a new beginning. Transitions inevitably involve a process of letting go that can be painful. We can be grieving the loss of purpose, direction, and drive that accompanied that project. Artists, authors, musicians and entrepreneurs can be faced with this challenging period between projects.
There are often many layers of loss as we grieve any big loss in our lives. These embedded losses are often the hidden ones. One example of this is divorce; embedded in the loss of a marriage there can be the loss of home, financial security, identity, children, community—all losses that might not get the recognition they need for healing to take place.
Many of my grieving clients are surprised and confused when their friends don’t show up to support them in their grief—this is another hidden, embedded loss that causes a lot of pain. Indeed, grief can rewrite your address book as friends fall away. However, once this loss is acknowledged, those who are grieving can empower themselves by feeling the loss of support, speaking up about their needs, and appreciating the people who do show up.
In my psychotherapy practice I’ve worked with many people who unknowingly carry the unresolved grief of past generations; I’ve noticed this to be one of the most hidden sources of unacknowledged grief. Most often people are not aware of this until their family history is explored. When I hear a grandparent or great grandparent lost a parent as a child or lost children, loved ones, home or country and never grieved these losses, I am alerted to the possibility that my client could be carrying a grief that is not theirs. It can bring insight into why that person has experienced an underlying, unexplained heaviness, depression, or sadness throughout their lives.
My grandmother lost a son in World War II, a loss she grieved daily for the rest of her life—she got lost in that grief and it remained unresolved. She had no concept of creating a container for that grief and it spilled out into her family, negatively impacting my father and grandfather. My father as an adult would not talk about death or grief, even after fighting in World War II and Korea.
When my father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I was devastated that he refused to talk about it. When my six-year-old son began asking us, “Are you going to die?” and my father answered without hesitation, “Of course not”, I was shocked by his answer. Recognizing this generational grief at work in my family, I was inspired to fully grieve my father’s dying and death, explore new depths in my psychotherapy practice and to expand my life in ways
I never could have imagined. I developed effective strategies for grieving without feeling overwhelmed, wrote three books on grief, and shared what I had learned in the classroom and in national media. I spoke up about the grief that had been suppressed by my grandmother. I feel blessed and honored to do this work. As we recognize and heal all these hidden losses in our well of grief we expand, empower and enrich our lives.