Disenfranchised grief is a type of grief that a majority of people stigmatize and/or don’t feel comfortable talking about. This can include suicide, pet loss, death from an overdose, and other losses that aren’t considered mainstream. Dr. Gloria Horsley interviewed Dr. Ken Doka at the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference to talk about disenfranchised grief in American culture. Dr. Doka is a professor and consultant to the American Hospice Foundation. He’s written and spoken about disenfranchised grief for years, and is a leading expert in the field.

It’s a loss where you’re experiencing grief, but you don’t get the normal kind of support that most people get. There can be many reasons for this lack of support. A lack of validation might stem from a lack of understanding. “Why would you grieve an ex-spouse?” he asks. However, sometimes it’s the griever as well as the grief that aren’t recognized. Sometimes it can even be the griever who disenfranchises themselves, such as when a child dies of AIDS. Certain deaths are simply disenfranchising.

Types of Grievers

People who are more emotional may not be disenfranchised early in the process, but may be later. Those who grieve actively may have the reverse experience. If you feel disenfranchised, try to understand what’s stopping you from getting support. Where should the empathy be coming from? Do people not understand? Are you not reaching out for support? It may be that the griever needs to take control of their own support. Saying “I need your help” might be necessary.

Asking for support can be challenging, and grievers don’t want to feel like a burden. However, you likely have many people in your life who want to help but don’t know how. Ask them, tell them, and show them. You’ll be surprised by the reaction.


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: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley062807.mp3

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