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.

Ken Doka

Dr. Kenneth J. Doka is a Professor of Gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America. A prolific author, Dr. Doka’s books include Counseling Individuals with Life-Threatening Illness; Living with Grief: Children and Adolescents, Living with Grief: Before and After Death, Death, Dying and Bereavement: Major Themes in Health and Social Welfare (a 4 Volume edited work), Pain Management at the End-of-Life: Bridging the Gap between Knowledge and Practice, Living with Grief: Ethical Dilemmas at the End of Life, Living with Grief: Alzheimer’s Disease, Living with Grief: Coping with Public Tragedy; Men Don’t Cry, Women Do: Transcending Gender Stereotypes of Grief; Living with Grief: Loss in Later Life, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow: Living with Life Threatening Illness; Children Mourning, Mourning Children; Death and Spirituality; Living with Grief: After Sudden Loss; Living with Grief: When Illness is Prolonged; Living with Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve; Living with Grief: At Work, School and Worship; Living with Grief: Children, Adolescents and Loss; Caregiving and Loss: Family Needs, Professional Responses; AIDS, Fear and Society; Aging and Developmental Disabilities; and Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice. In addition to these books, he has published over 100 articles and book chapters. Dr. Doka is editor of both Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying and Journeys: A Newsletter for the Bereaved. Dr. Doka was elected President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling in 1993. In 1995, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Work Group on Dying, Death and Bereavement and served as chair from 1997-1999. The Association for Death Education and Counseling presented him with an Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Death Education in 1998. In 2000 Scott and White presented him an award for Outstanding Contributions to Thanatology and Hospice. His Alma Mater Concordia College presented him with their first Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2006, Dr. Doka was grandfathered in as a Mental Health Counselor under NY State’s first licensure of counselors. Dr. Doka has keynoted conferences throughout North America as well as Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. He participates in the annual Hospice Foundation of America Teleconference and has appeared on CNN and Nightline. In addition he has served as a consultant to medical, nursing, funeral service and hospice organizations as well as businesses and educational and social service agencies. Dr. Doka is an ordained Lutheran minister. Dr. Doka appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart“ to discuss “Dealing with Grief and Loss.” To hear Dr. Doka being interviewed on this show by Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley, click on the following link:

More Articles Written by Ken