At the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference, Dr. Gloria Horsley talks with Dr. Ken Doka about disenfranchisement in grief. This happens when a loss isn’t publicly acknowledged or mourned. For example, it might be a relationship that isn’t recognized, such as a gay partnership that may not be legally recognized in that particular area or recognized by all family members. There are many relationships that aren’t “official” in the eyes of some people, from friendships to pet loss or even suicide. However, being disenfranchised in your grief can make the healing process very difficult.
“Sometimes we’re not even supportive when a good friend dies,” says Dr. Doka. There’s a hierarchy of loss and other times losses aren’t recognized, such as the death of an ex-spouse. Having shame or stigma around a loss can also cause disenfranchisement. Dr. Horsley asks, if she just had a loss and nobody is responding to her grief, if it’s because others don’t “get it.” That may be, since others don’t understand the attachment you had to that person.
Taking Care When Disenfranchised
First, you have to acknowledge your own grief, says Dr. Doka. You have to tell yourself that you acknowledge this loss and it’s an important one. You can create your own ritual, invite others or not, and come up with your own ways of healing. This is also potentially a great loss to discuss with a counselor. You won’t always have an automatic support group around you, but reaching out and creating your own is always possible.
There are many reasons why those around you might not help you and support you in grieving in the ways that you need. It’s the responsibility of those in grief to consider the situation and act according to their own best interests.