Grief echoes a painfully vibrating voice which can be heard from generation to generation. It tells us that there is an absence of life in a world of breath and being. It tells us, as we sink deeper into the chair of sorrow, that our lives will never be the same. The sound of emotional pain and physical discomfort is sometimes silent words which ask. What are we to do when “words are not enough?” where do we turn for help, hope and comfort? Women who have unresolved grief are particularly at risk of harboring these wordless wounds of painful memories. The expression of grief is often seen through physical touch, body gesture and facial expression. Denial of grief is when there is a refusal to identify the evidence of emotional pain. Women who are unable, or who simply refuse to grieve, are especially at risk of becoming overwhelmed by feelings of inconsolable guilt and shame at some point in their lives.

Silent grief can sometimes be an ambiguous, unexplainable process. For many women, it is simply better not to discuss their grief because people may not be able to identify with it, or not understand it at all. Grief in some women can elicit feelings of blame or the betrayal of self. Self depreciating words such as “I failed,” “I should have been able to do something to prevent the loss” can turn into incessant, tormenting thoughts. At this point, grief can become so unrecognizable that some women may feel as though they are strangers walking through the dark shadows of painful losses. As a result, it becomes increasingly more difficult to fully grieve through shared stories.

An example of how women might experience shameful feelings of grief is through untold pain filled life stories. When women withhold the telling of insufferable painful stories, the memories of these events lay dormant in parts of their lives. In other words, they will both suffer in silence and live life as if these things never happened or grieve alone when no one is there to witness their pain. For some of women, self-denial or the devaluing of self is an important part of the grief process. It is similar to survivor’s guilt, when the survivor reproaches herself for having lived after her loved one has died. It then becomes an overwhelming effort to enjoy life and experience happiness. However, if grief is denied, then it may be easier for some women to move forward.

It is through denied or inexpressible grief that hope becomes repressed or simply abandoned. As a result there is a refusal to grieve and therefore grief now becomes an inarticulate form of human expression. When women, do not give themselves permission to grieve, they become emotionally displaced. There is simply no place to firmly place their feelings, thoughts and emotions about the grief process. Permission to grieve, allows for the cultivation of healing and the restoration of inner peace. The inability to express human thoughts and emotions inhibits a woman’s relationship with herself and others.

As a result, a loss of sense of self becomes a nesting place for social and personal suffering.

Author's Bio: 

Annette Anderson Engler is a part-time instructor in the social work department at Salt Lake Community College. Her area of focus and expertise is narrative research and storytelling dialogue. Her specialization is working with Daughters of Vietnam War Traumatized veterans, grief, trauma and loss, women issues and PTSD.