What is 'Chronic Sorrow'

Lately I find myself using this term a lot when talking to clients.
(For those that don't know, I am a social worker and work with children and families who have a child with a disability/developmental concern).
Chronic sorrow is often described as a natural and normal grief reaction that changes throughout the course of your life. Parents who have a child with a disability, whether they realise it or not, all could be described as having chronic sorrow.
Big call to make?

When you first realise something is wrong with your child and then subsequently get a diagnosis, it is assumed that you go through a normal process of grieving and then you are ok. Acceptance is reached and you are expected to function the same as everyone else. I mean, you just have to 'get over' your dreams and get stuck into therapy because otherwise you aren't coping, you are depressed and you are failing your child even more?
As if the thought of going through a normal grieving process wasn't enough, people actually expect you not to ever feel sad again.

A sociologist by the name of Simon Olshansky (1962) challenged the notion of grief and it's relevance to parents who had a child with a disability. He believed that parents needed to give themselves permission to feel and acknowledge that there would be times that they felt overwhelmed and sad, and that there should be no set time that they reach a level of acceptance.
Many parents find that there is pressure from people (family, friends, professionals) to not ever feel sad, and to get on with things and ensure they are doing lots of therapy all the time.
Parents who have a child with a disability are seen as not coping if they cancel appointments, don't catch up with friends or avoid social outings with family.
This is far from the truth.

In fact, it is essential for parents who have a child with a disability to recognise the need to really allow themselves to feel sad. Embracing the sadness, or anger, or the feeling of not coping is crucial for them to maintain a sense of "normality".
There are plenty of triggers for the feelings of sadness, and many people wouldn't know that simple things like starting Kinder or School, having another parent compare your disabled child with their neurotypical child, a visit to hospital, doctors results, assessment results..etc etc etc. all can make a parent who has a child with a disability feel overwhelmed with emotion.
But this is OK!

In this very brief blog entry, I am trying to highlight the importance of allowing yourself to feel your emotions. Often I have days where I shut out the world. I cuddle my boys (all 3 of them) and ignore everyone else. Usually because something has happened to trigger my feelings of sadness. I accept and acknowledge that is normal and healthy and that I am not depressed or not coping. I am actually strong and mentally stable (more so than lots of people probably).

So if you know of someone who has a child with a disability, don't worry if they cancel a catch up. Sometimes it is just too hard and they need their space. If you have a friend who seems sad, let them talk about it (if they want to). If you have a child with a disability, don't be afraid to just cry if you need to, ask for time out to gather your thoughts, communicate how you are feeling with your husband, partner or friend.

There are some great links on the internet if people want to read more about chronic sorrow. I have only really briefly touched on it here and haven't even talked about the grieving process that all families go through. It is a process that is very different to those that experience a death of a loved one, though the basic principles can be applied.

After all of that, I am off to make tea and to cuddle my gorgeous boys xx


  1. Anna I am overwhelmed by the things you write on this blog. I am learning a lot from reading it. Heaps of love to you and your three boys. xoxo


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