In my post called Singles and the Church: Why it Sucks To Be Unintentionally Overlooked, I talked about the idea of disenfranchised grief: a grief in which nothing concrete happened to you, but the desires of your heart didn’t come to pass. It’s what didn’t happen that you are grieving over, and that doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people. But it is a true, deep loss.
I wanted to explore this idea more because so many readers commented on how much they suffer from disenfranchised loss.
I understand this kind of grief because I have been struggling a lot this month. The crazy thing is, the situation that I just went through was a simple “I’m-going-to-say-no-to-romance- even- though -you’re- wonderful” scenario that I have lived through one too many times to stay sane.
The situation itself shouldn’t be as heartbreaking as it is. And yet, I have struggled with deep disappointment. I have not even had any clue how to get the sadness out of my system. And my friends Ben and Jerry are stalking me. (Just had to throw something light in there!)
I realize now that some of this is due to the particular situation, but a lot of it is due to disenfranchised loss. I am not just grieving this friendship, I am grieving the fact that there are few good men in their thirties and it might be hard to have that chance again. I am grieving the thought of not being touched and held by someone. I am grieving the fact that I need to go back to thinking about adopting alone.
I am grieving having to go back to eharmony first dates. I would seriously rather have a root canal.
But most of all, I am grieving not having a family. Not having anyone call me “my wife” or “mommy.” It has been too much for me to handle. At the risk of sounding horribly sorry for myself, I am barren. Women who are married who are infertile, they know how I feel, and that means a lot to me. But in all honesty, people regard married women’s infertility as a much deeper loss than my barrenness as a single woman. And yet, it is very very similar. I not only have no children, I don’t have a husband either. So the grief should be looked on as something very deep and very painful. But it just isn’t.
I think part of the problem is that people think it’s kind of your choice that you have no family. That if you did things a certain way you would have a family. “You just need to be online dating.” “You just need to be less picky.” “You’re too strong of a woman and you scare off men.” And one that I heard on a thread about this topic the other day “You just need to lose more weight.”
As if we chose this lifestyle for ourselves. That’s just not true. We have worked to change this situation, and yet it hasn’t happened. It’s nothing that we did wrong, and we need to believe that.
According to Melony Notkin’s article on this subject, 18% of American women between the ages of 40 and 44 are childless. About half of this group don’t want children. The other half suffer from either biological or circumstantial barrenness.
This, my friends, is tragic.
Single people out there, people longing to get married and have children, I want to look you in the eyes and say this to you. You have every right to grieve. Even though nothing concrete has happened to you, yours is a deep, deep loss.
Married people out there, church at large, it would mean the world to us if you would acknowledge this as a loss. If you would talk about it from the pulpit. If you would invite us over for lunch. If you would tell us it’s ok to grieve and hold us.
There is a flip side to this predicament, something that we need to address as well. I learned the hard way in this situation that if I project all of that fear, all of that sadness, all of that disenfranchised grief, onto someone that I could potentially have a romantic relationship with, all I will do is try to control them so that I can get what I so deeply long for. I will not be patient and let them decide on their own. I will try to control things so that person will bring me my dreams. It is not healthy.
That much pressure is absolutely not fair on them. It can ruin potential relationships and all others as well. Expectations are premeditated resentments.
My friends said to me the other day “your mind is like a bank account. Every time you think of someone, especially of that person giving you everything you’ve dreamed of, you put another dollar in the bank account. So if you end up losing that account, you have a lot to lose.”
My bank account is empty, and it hurts so much.
I think what we need to learn is that we should let ourselves mourn deeply, we should acknowledge our disenfranchised loss, but we need to direct that mourning at God, not on anyone else, including ourselves. God can take it. Another human being can’t. We can’t.
So go ahead. Grieve. I give you permission right now.
If you want to, walk away from this blog post, call a friend, tell them you need their support because you are mourning, and then cry your guts out. You have every right to do it. If you want to, you can even get mad at God. He won’t be angry back. Then, let him hold you.
Because in the end, what else can we do but bring our frustrations to the Lord and then remember his love? To cry and cry and then to release things that we can’t control?
I will try hard to do that now. And I hope you do too.