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.