Conversations in Grief Blog: Homelessness of Grief
After her husband’s death, due to a rent increase that she couldn’t afford, she was immediately forced to find somewhere else to live. Several months later, she was completing a survey regarding her financial situation. One of the questions asked, “Have you been homeless in the past year?” She reflected with me about how she had never been technically homeless but that she moved several times and had felt transient before settling into her current home.
While she was reflecting on physical homelessness, she led me to wonder how her grief may have also caused her to experience emotional and spiritual homelessness?
While homelessness is a very real problem in our society that I do not want to diminish, the predicament of physically being homeless often parallels the experience of grief for people. If we compare the two experiences, we may better understand how grief can leave one rudderless and lost.
By definition, the homeless have no place to lay their head; the bereaved also may lose their sense of home as a safe place. My grief group participants shared the following: “Home is not home.” “I had a home, now I just have a house.” “There are all these rooms, and I’m the only one there.” “I talk to my pets; they don’t talk back.” “I don’t call it home; this is the place I live.” They concluded that no place can be home when they don’t get to share it with their person.
The homeless are exposed to the elements and eyes that judge; the bereaved also feel the eyes of people watching, often from a distance, and judging how they are grieving. One person felt as if she were living in a glasshouse. As a result, the bereaved will often choose to hide how they are truly feeling. Grief Counselor and Thanatologist Alan D. Wolfelt calls this a “collaborative pretense about mourning.” Because others don’t want to talk about death, the bereaved simply take the path of least resistance and deny that they are mourning for their loved one.
There are times when the homeless may feel shame; the bereaved also feel shame if they think they should be coping better than they are. Yet grief is an expression of love for the person who has died. Wolfelt writes that grief must be experienced rather than overcome.
The homeless survive by getting through the day in front of them. The bereaved also express the sentiment of living one day at a time. Grieving is also about survival, where success is measured by performing the minimum of tasks, waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast.
The homeless are stuck in their plight while it feels the rest of the world moves on around them, walking past them; the bereaved also experience that life as they know it has come to a standstill because of the death of their person. They often share their bewilderment that the rest of the world has kept on going, leaving them on the side of the road.
The homeless may have lost more than a home. The bereaved also discover that they have lost not only their loved one, but also their future plans, dreams, financial stability, and a sense of identity.
A man dealing with homelessness held a sign stating “Seeking Human Kindness.” Just as the homeless are seeking compassion from their fellow humans, the bereaved are seeking compassion. Human kindness is a touch, making eye contact, giving of ourselves, honoring the other person, honoring their loved one. More than anything, both the homeless and the bereaved are seeking no more than human kindness.
To my readers who are grieving, how have you felt homeless?