I’m on an A to Z blog challenge, and today is the 4th day of the challenge. That explains the pithy title. 😉
I didn’t know when I decided to write my book that there was such a thing as “disenfranchised grief”, coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka of the College of New Rochelle, in 1989. In the 2002 revision of his Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow, Dr. Doka observes how the grief a friend experiences can be dismissed:
“Often there is no recognized role in which mourners can assert the right to mourn and thus receive such support. Grief may have to remain private. Though they may have experienced an intense loss, they may not be given time off from work, have the opportunity to verbalize the loss, or receive the expressions of sympathy and support characteristic in a death.”
Sometimes the disrespect is intentional, sometimes not. But you’ve probably experienced the following situation:
“The role of the friend or similarly close relationship may simply be ignored – unrecognized or unacknowledged. Such persons may attend the funeral. They may even be expected to be there out of respect for the deceased and in support of the family. But they remain passive participants, their own need to mourn overlooked.”
So, if it makes you feel better, there is a reason your grief felt compounded by the lack of respect you experienced. Grieving a friend is not acknowledged in the same way as grieving a family member.
It’s up to all of us to let those around us know the importance of our friendships and the depth of our grief. Then and only then will grieving a friend receive the respect it deserves.
For many people – certainly anyone under 40 – it feels like AIDS has been around forever. With the spread of the disease around the world, the media focus has actually dimmed. Rarely do you hear of celebrities dying of AIDS. With the development of the so-called AIDS “cocktail” of drugs, those infected can live much longer, healthier lives than anyone could’ve predicted 30 years ago.
On July 3, 1981, a story appeared in the New York Times on Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a rare cancer affecting gay men. It is on that day that the film Longtime Companion opens.
The first feature-length film addressing the AIDS epidemic, Longtime Companion follows a group of friends through the 80’s. We see the denial, the ignorance, the fear, the randomness of infection, through the eyes of people who were most affected. The grief at times is overwhelming.
The story is told through a series of vignettes, alternating between New York City and Fire Island, as the group of friends slowly grows smaller. We learn the various names given to the puzzling and frightening afflictions: gay cancer, gay plague, and the official “Gay Related Immune Disorder”, or GRID.
It is a painful film to watch, but the deathbed scene where Bruce Davison urges his partner, Mark Lamos, to let go, was certainly what earned him an Academy Award nomination. It’s worth renting it just for those few minutes.
The title of the film, to those not old enough to remember, may seem odd. But at the time, most newspapers refused to acknowledge same-sex relationships in obituaries. The venerable New York Times referred to the surviving partner as a “longtime companion.”
There are several excellent films that address AIDS: Philadelphia, And the Band Played On, Peter’s Friends, At Home at the End of the World. We’ll look at all of them and others over the coming months, as we commemorate 30 year of AIDS.
When someone dies, most people have good intentions. They want to mourn, they want to remember. And they want to help those who are grieving themselves.
Often, when you grieve the death of a friend, the focus is on their family. They are the “primary” mourners. They are the ones who get the most sympathy. And families do deserve sympathy and support.
The standard question is, “do you need any help?” Now that’s not always the best thing to ask. For one, it puts the burden on the griever to identify and express that need. They may not be thinking clearly enough to do that. It can also come off as insincere, as if the person asking is hoping the answer is no.
Even so, it is a reaching out, however imperfect, to those who grieve.
But who asks the friends?
Sometime the death of a friend can cause paralyzing grief, the kind where you wander around the house, not able to focus or think.
Maybe you were lucky. When your friend died, maybe those around you asked how they could help you. Most likely, they didn’t.
If you know someone who’s grieving the death of a friend, acknowledge it. Ask if there’s something you can do to help. Better yet, suggest something you are willing and able to do, the most important thing of all: listen.
Ask them to tell you about their friend.
It will mean the world to them.
I’ve been to Ground Zero three times.
The first time was in 2005, a few weeks after my father died. I didn’t like being there, probably because I was already mourning more than I believed possible. We went down and looked through the chain-link fence. Banners listing the names of the victims covered large sections of the fence. When you looked down, you saw a massive hole in the ground, a few trucks and not much else. The enormity of it was so much more dramatic than seeing it on TV. My classmate’s name was right there, in alphabetical order. I felt like it was a pilgrimage, of sorts.
I went back in October, 2009, when I first started on my book. I spent the morning just walking around, soaking up atmosphere, as it were. Trinity Church and St. Paul’s were quiet escapes from the hustle and bustle of re-building. The site, so barren 4 years earlier, was a construction site now. The banners with the names were gone, replaced by ones showing renderings of what was being built. What had happened 8 years earlier seemed almost forgotten. Life moved on: the Burger King across from the site was bustling, as were the souvenir shops, clothing stores and gentleman’s club.
In 2010, I spent two days at Ground Zero, September 10 and 11. This time was different for a couple reasons. I was deep in the book research and writing now.
Being there on the anniversary had a very different feel to it. The construction had progressed dramatically. I stood on Broadway, across from Zuccotti Park, with a young man who lived and worked in Manhattan. He’d never been down there, but because it was a Saturday, he didn’t have to work. He just wanted to show his respect. It was a solemn crowd.
I was in New York last week with my family, and didn’t go to Ground Zero. We were there for a mini-vacation and college visit. I’ll go back in May and again in September, for the 10th anniversary. I’m sure I’ll be shocked by the changes in the site and the surrounding area.
Life goes on.
Whether we want it to or not.
I recently posted on the phenomenon of grieving when a celebrity dies. We grieve because we have a connection to them, just as we do with our real friends. “I felt like I knew them” is a familiar explanation.
Aurora Winter’s article, Elizabeth Taylor: 5 Tips for Overcoming Grief When a Celebrity Dies, looks at this from the perspective of actress and AIDS activist Elizabeth Taylor’s recent death. She has some thought-provoking tips for using a celebrity’s death as a catalyst for your own life.
Read her article at: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Elizabeth-Taylor-5-Tips-for-prnews-1227967326.html?x=0&.v=1
Monday – Back at Ground Zero
Wednesday – “Do You Need Any Help?”
Friday – Longtime Companion