Together with Daniel Shemwell, Dr. Gloria Horsley discusses stigma surrounding some deaths. It exists on a continuum, explains Shemwell who’s currently a graduate student at Purdue University. It can occur in many ways, from socially avoiding the topic and ignoring it to outwardly and overtly shunning a person who’s going through a loss. Shemwell mentions a favorite book, The Reminder of Death, where the small reminders of death are seen as a trigger for a stigma. These triggers are avoided because they can remind people of death, and it’s important to note that triggers can be a person, too.
An educator about a stigma can make a big difference in the community. Dr. Horsley points out that people can be very cruel, if unintentionally, when there’s a stigma around death. What you think will be your social support group can “turn” on you and react negatively to the griever. There are many types of stigmatized losses, from suicide and drug overdoses to the loss of a pet or ex-spouse. You never really know for certain if your loss will be “validated” by those around you.
What Supporters Can Do
If you know someone who’s going through a loss, whether you believe it’s possibly a stigmatized loss or not, a supporter can help by being there, being available, and if necessary educating others about the loss. Stigma of course impacts the people who lost a loved one, but also the community as a whole. An example Dr. Horsley gives includes loved ones of those involved in mass killings, from both the victim and perpetrator’s side.
Remembering that a stigma can poison an entire demographic can help kick-start the drive to become an educator. Stigmatized loss, by nature, isn’t openly discussed but every little bit helps. Stigmatized loss is regularly discussed at ADEC events.