Unacknowledged Loss and Grief

Recently I noticed an article in the opinion section of our local newspaper written by the syndicated columnist Leonard J. Pitts, Jr. It caught my interest because of the subject matter. The title is: There’s Nothing Moral About Hating Gays. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Mr. Pitts but something else in the column struck a chord.

In the article he described a situation where a lesbian couple went on a cruise with their children. One of the partners had an aneurysm and was taken to a hospital. The other spouse, who is an emergency room social worker, was told by the hospital social worker “I need you to know that you are in an anti-gay city and state and you won’t get to know about Lisa’s condition or see her.” The social worker then walked away. Janice, the worried spouse, spent 8 hours in the waiting room and did not get to see Lisa until the priest was administering last rites. Lisa spent all that time without the benefit of a partner of twenty years being at her bedside.

Ken Doka (1989), in his book Disenfranchised Grief, describes this phenomena as situations when the loss cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly shared. The story of Lisa and Janice is a prime example of a relationship not being recognized. In pursuit of one’s personal code and opinions those who practice a different lifestyle are subjected to cruelty. The loss of a life partner is devastating enough with out being complicated by callousness and dismissal. My reaction to the story was outrage and sadness because I know this is not an isolated case.

In my capacity as grief counselor at Cottonwood de Tucson I have been given the privilege to support grievers in the expression and processing of a variety of losses. I am grateful that I work for an organization that recognizes the humanity of our patients without exception. It is my hope that people will become more educated regarding more appropriate ways to support those in pain.

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