Do you have a story to share?
What is secret grief?
Being alive means being exposed to grief. It is an integral aspect of being human, and part of the price we pay for connection.
Most people understand the role of grief when it is linked to death. Grieving after bereavement is natural, generally well supported and socially acceptable.
However there are millions of people experiencing grief every day that they endure privately. For a wide range of reasons, their grief is secret, even though it has a powerful impact on their lives. This is a project to collect stories and honour the pain and the process of people who feel for whatever reason that they have to keep their grief private.
People ask how grief is being defined for this project.
The parameters being used are broad, but a useful guide is the Macquarie Dictionary definition: ‘keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret’.
The secret grief that I am exploring has a lot of overlap with the clinically delineated areas of Ambiguous Loss and Disenfranchised Grief, but some stories I have received seem to fall outside their boundary lines. I am a writer, not a clinician, and I do not need or expect your story to fit neatly into one category or another. If it matters to you, that is enough for me.
Examples of secret grief
This list is by no means exhaustive, but some examples of secret grief that people have shared already:
- Grieving for things that never were
- Grieving the break-up of an affair
- Grieving not having children
- Grieving a family member in prison
- Grieving getting older
- Grieving children moving out of home
- Grieving loss of sexual function
- Grieving marriage to a partner you don’t want or love
- Grieving loss of religious faith
- Grieving a house you have moved from
- Grieving loss of emotional intimacy
- Grieving the end of a best friendship
- Grieving the non-fulfilment of your dreams for your children
- Grieving the destruction of a favourite tree
- Grieving retirement
- Grieving the natural parents you have never met
- Grieving living away from a country you love
Tell me your story
I would love to hear your story. I am currently collecting stories and experiences from people in Australia and internationally, from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. If you are experiencing or have experienced grief due to something other than the death of a loved person (or pet), and feel that your grief has been kept (more or less of a) secret, I am interested to hear about it.
The ultimate aim of this project is to collate stories, seek commonalities, look for threads of meaning, and reflect on a widespread but underreported source of pain. Ideally, together, we can understand secret grief a little better, and be kinder to ourselves (and others). The intention is to present this in the form of a book, although the project may have some other iterations.
Privacy, anonymity & permission
All stories will be allocated a pseudonym. To further preserve anonymity, any details of the story that could identify you will be altered or omitted. No personal information will be shared with any individual or organisation.
If you choose to send your story to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) I am able to respond with follow-up questions or requests for clarification, if needed. Every email communication to me is treated with complete confidentiality.
However , if you prefer completely anonymous communication, please send me your story via the ‘Share your story’ form below and just leave the email box blank. (It will still work.)
By sharing your story with me, you are giving me permission to use part or all of the story in the Secret Grief project, which will primarily take the form of a book. Please note that not all stories are used, but all stories help shape the book and provide areas of emphasis.
Why write this book?
We know that if we live long enough we will encounter grief, perhaps many times over. However the situation of people experiencing grief that they do not widely disclose is a specific and exhausting type of suffering. People are in pain from these secret grief experiences all around the world. If we can identify some of the causes and share stories of individual experiences, we can find commonalities that might break down the devastating sense of loneliness that is a painful part of secret grieving.
What I cannot offer
I am a writer exploring a social phenomenon, not an academic researcher and certainly not a therapist or clinician. All that I can offer is heartfelt thanks for sharing your story with me (and, through the book when it appears, with others) and contributing to an attempt to promote healing via telling and hearing personal experiences. I cannot offer advice, referrals or reduce the burden of your grief. I am sad about that. My best and only offering is the acknowledgment that we are in this together, and my admiration that you are prepared to share something personal and painful in the belief that stories have value, not just for the teller but also for the listener.
I am a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. I started my career as a journalist and current affairs producer, have written and co-written books on a variety of subjects, as well as working in corporate communications. I am utterly committed to working ethically with people, especially those who are experiencing vulnerability or marginalisation. Some of my work can be found here: www.michaelwinkler.com.au
I am very happy to answer any questions about myself or this project, if you drop me a line at email@example.com