Spirituality for Today – September 2012 – Volume 17, Issue 2

Silent Sorrow

By Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

A photo of an Chaplan

What happens when the ones to whom the suffering turn to are suffering themselves? In the Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, there was a recent article with the lengthy, but telling, title: Grief in Healthcare Chaplains: An Investigation of the Presence of Disenfranchised Grief. The authors did a preliminary study on chaplains and how they responded to their own grieving. The following is from the introduction: "Disenfranchises grief is defined by Doka (2002) as grief that is not acknowledged by society, by the healthcare culture, or by individuals. Therefore, disenfranchised grief is not confronted therapeutically but rather remains hidden, unrecognized, or unhealed (Papadatou, 2009). Doka's typology recognizes four types of disenfranchised grief: (1) the relationship is not recognized, (2) the loss is not recognized, (3) the griever is excluded, and (4) the circumstances around family members' deaths are deemed socially unacceptable, for example, suicide, AIDS, or the death of children (Coor, 1988; Doka, 2002)." I mention this study to set the topic and not to examine the study itself. In reality, the percentage of respondents was too low to draw definitive results but affirmed that the subject warranted further study.

When the study discovered that disenfranchised grief can express itself in multiple negative emotions and, as in the case of chaplains, "compassion fatigue and burnout," I am of the opinion that all of us and the effects of all grief are subject to the same responses. The loss of a loved one, a job, or a series of failures or depressing events can create a significant depth of grief and a profound need to grieve. Successfully addressing this grief is spiritually, psychologically, and even physically necessary.

The atmosphere and experience of grief calls for a resolution, or a degree of that unfortunate term "closure," that, perhaps, is better stated – healing. Grief is an emotion that resides at such a depth within the psyche that a one-size-fits-all approach to reach a state of healing is not only essentially foolish, but also potentially damaging. Grief is a personal matter. Those grieving have to walk their own path through the "valley of death," and, it is hoped, their faith and all that it gives accompanies them. Some grieving persons are best served by a bereavement group while others need space and solitude. In my opinion, one requirement of the grieving process is the presence of deeply caring people. The individual bearing the cross of sorrow will find comfort just knowing that one or more close friends are there and praying for the person and their loved one.

It is very sad to lose a child just when he was beginning to bind himself to you; and I don't know if it is much consolation to reflect that the longer he had would himself up in your heartstrings, the worse the tear would have been, which seems to have been inevitable sooner or later. One does not weigh and measure these things while grief is fresh, and in my experience a deep plunge into the waters of sorrow is the hopefullest [sic] way of getting through them on one's daily road of life again. No one can help another very much in these crises of life; bot love and sympathy count for something.

– Thomas Henry Huxley

Christ, the Risen Lord, dispels all disenfranchised grief with the hope of eternal life for all who come to Him in faith. One who is grieving never need to feel forever powerless and perplexed. In any loss, the pain of life falls before trust in God's love and mercy. Especially in death, the guise of earthly mortality is brushed away and the hope and joy of everlasting love prevails.

Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through the cypress-trees!
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who, hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
And love can never lose its own

– John Greenleaf Whittier, Snowbound: A Winter Idyl

I pray for all the sorrowing today. May you find peace in faith and a comfort in your heart that neither life nor death can take from you.