Grieving What Never Happened

Kitanya Harrison
7 min readFeb 11
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve stumbled upon discussions on social media about people who couldn’t understand why they hadn’t gotten over something "small" that happened a long time ago. For some people, it was not getting the "dream job" they’d been working towards. For others, it was a love that went unrequited. There were similar stories of feelings of distressing disappointment that had lingered well past their expected expiration date. The pain was also more intense than seemed justified. There was a sense of shame attached to not being able to move on. It’s easy to put the feelings described down to thwarted entitlement (and there may be some element of that in play), but I began to wonder how much of those lingering difficult emotions were about never having grieved a loss.

Grief is a large and important word because of its connection to death and mourning. Every culture has deeply meaningful rituals guiding how to say goodbye to and honor the dead. Quotidian disappointments rooted in rejection don't seem worthy of having the concept of grief applied to them. Even so, the pain of loss is there, and it's often intensely felt. That has to be dealt with. Suppressing these emotions seems worse than processing them as grief.

Whenever I have questions about grief, I always look to the Kubler Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. These stages may not sum up the process of grieving completely and don’t occur in sequence. It’s all messier and more chaotic than we would like. Even so, it’s useful to have a shared framework to discuss these issues. Kubler Ross developed the method when dealing with patients who had been told they were going to die and had to prepare for the ultimate loss. Again, it feels unseemly to shoehorn "my crush doesn’t like me back" or "I didn’t get the job I wanted" into this arena. The origins of the Kubler Ross model point to why this might be appropriate, though. All the situations I’ve discussed are about the finality of losing hope for the future. For at least a time, there will be nothing where we thought there would be something worthwhile and fulfilling. Perhaps not being able to replenish that hope is what keeps some people stuck. Perhaps the people who end up here put most of their emotional eggs in one basket that they weren’t the caretaker of, and the eggs…

Kitanya Harrison

*squinting in Nanny of the Maroons* | Read my essay collection, DISPOSABLE PEOPLE, DISPOSABLE PLANET: | Rep: Deirdre Mullane