64 Examples of Disenfranchised Grief

as submitted by WYG readers

Disenfranchised grief is a term that was coined by one of our favorite grief researchers, Ken Doka, about twenty years ago. He defines disenfranchised grief as,

“Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned”. 

He suggests this can happen for a number of reasons that, for the most, fall into one (or sometimes more) of the following categories:

1. The loss isn’t seen as worthy of grief (ex. non-death losses)
2. The relationship is stigmatized (ex. partner in an extramarital affair)
3. The mechanism of death is stigmatized (ex. suicide or overdose death)
4. The person grieving is not recognized as a griever (ex. co-workers or ex-partners)
5. The way someone is grieving is stigmatized. (ex. the absence of an outward grief response or extreme grief responses)

Now, what is interesting about this definition is that it allows for much variability. Disenfranchised grief is not black-or-white, rather it is a relative and subjective experience. You and I may experience the same loss and in your social situation, among your friends and your community, the loss is “openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned”, whereas in my social situation, among my friends and community, it is not.  Though we have experienced the same loss, for me it will be a disenfranchised experience and for you, it will not.

For this reason, examples of disenfranchised grief range dramatically from person to person and community to community. We saw evidence of this a few weeks ago when we asked the wonderful WYG grief community to share examples of losses they have experienced as disenfranchised.  Not surprisingly, we were overwhelmed by the number of responses. We thought today we would share these responses with you in one of our famous (if you know us) ’64 things about grief’ lists.  So, without further ado, 64 examples of disenfranchised grief and loss.

[PS: There is a lot to say about disenfranchised grief, so if you want to read more about the concept and tips for coping, check out our primer on it here]

64 Examples of Disenfranchised Grief and Loss

  1. A death by suicide
  2. A death by drug overdose
  3. Death of a pet
  4. Infertility
  5. Loss of a home
  6. Grieving someone you didn’t know well
  7. Grieving someone you didn’t know at all (like a celebrity)
  8. Grieving someone you only knew online (cyber loss)
  9. The death of a sibling
  10. Grief that people think has gone on ‘too long’
  11. Loss of someone elderly
  12. A death by homicide
  13. A death from HIV/AIDS
  14. Getting clean and the loss of drug
  15. Death of the partner in an extra-marital affair.
  16. Loss of a job
  17. Divorce
  18. Moving/loss of community
  19. Grieving someone you can’t remember (ex. a parent who died when you were an infant)
  20. Grieving someone who died before you were born (an older sibling who died before you were born)
  21. Dying from childbirth
  22. Death of an ex-spouse or ex-partner
  23. Death of a same-sex partner
  24. Miscarriage and stillbirth
  25. Estrangement from family
  26. Loss of meaningful objects/belongings
  27. Not showing ‘enough’ emotion while grieving
  28. Showing ‘too much’ emotion while grieving
  29. Loss of language, culture, and tradition
  30. Loss of hopes and dreams for the future
  31. Grief following an abortion
  32. Grief following adoption
  33. Learning a secret/finding out a person wasn’t who you thought they were
  34. Grieving someone who is still living (examples #34-41)
  35. Grieving a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia
  36. Grieving a loved one with a substance use disorder
  37. Grieving someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury
  38. Grieving someone who is dealing with a severe mental illness
  39. Grieving someone who has run away
  40. Grieving someone who has disappeared
  41. Grieving someone who is incarcerated
  42. Grieving family separation due to foster care
  43. Loss of physical health
  44. Loss of independence
  45. The death of a co-worker
  46. The death of a patient or client
  47. Loss of ‘lifestyle’ (losing financial means, getting clean from drugs/alcohol)
  48. Death of a step-child/step-parent
  49. Death of a foster child/foster parent
  50. Death due to child abuse
  51. Death of the driver in a drunk driving accident
  52. Death of someone in a ‘stigmatized’ peer group (a gang member, someone else using or selling drugs, etc).
  53. Loss of faith or religious identity
  54. ‘Circumstantial infertility’ (wanting a child but not having a partner with whom to have a child).
  55. Loss of identity or sense of self
  56. A foster child being reunited with biological family
  57. Grieving a close friend
  58. Grieving an unmarried partner
  59. Feeling abandoned by a parent who is involved but distant after a divorce
  60. Not having a ‘good’ relationship with a parent, sibling, or another family member.
  61. Death of a doctor or therapist
  62. Feeling failed or abandoned by friends, family, or community
  63. The death of someone you hadn’t seen or been in touch with for many years
  64. The person grieving is thought incapable of grief (someone with a mental disability, a young child)

As always, we like to keep our “64 things” lists going!  Leave a comment to add your experience with disenfranchised grief.

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April 2, 2018

16 responses on "64 Examples of Disenfranchised Grief"

  1. Being diagnosed with a chronic disorder or disease. I have multiple autoimmune diseases that have considerably affected my daily life and confidence. It is a loss of possibility and youth in many respects.

  2. Number 46 is the death of a patient or client. Conversely, in addition to grieving for my husband who died of cancer this past January, I am also grieving the loss of his care team. He was treated for over 3 ½ years by the most amazing team of oncologists, oncology nurses and support personnel. These people became family and they were also deeply affected when he died, even attending his Celebration of Life. I miss them, and the support they extended to both of us. It feels awkward to maintain a relationship with them now.

  3. My son was diagnosed with cancer three years ago when he was five, he is finished treatment and hopefully after seven years clear of cancer he will be ‘cured’. I make people uncomfortable with my grief, I mourn the loss of his innocence and childhood to pain and suffering, I mourn the loss of the child he was so carefree and happy, I mourn the loss of who I was, who my children were and how my relationship was before the illness, I mourn when I have no right to mourn because I still get to kiss my sons head and tuck him in and so many parents ha e lost their children…. I feel guilty when I feel sad, people want to see a ‘fighter’ they talk about what a ‘hero’ my son is, and I feel sad that I have to dress it up and present it to the world on this way.

  4. Grief over loss of parental relationship due to parent having affair with sibling’s spouse and eventually marrying his/her former son/daughter-in-law. Affair happened 18 years ago and they’ve been married for 14 years. I grieve now and hope it will stop when my parent dies. However, I’m afraid that my grief will not end; rather it will become worse. It’s become so painful that no one in my family discusses it anymore.

  5. I’ve had a few people suggest that the death of my infant daughter after surgery was somehow less tragic or even “better in the long run” because she had Down syndrome. So I’d add “grief at the death of a person with a physical or intellectual disability” to the list.

  6. I am an adult who continues to feel loss for both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings who were murdered during the Holocaust. I describe myself as someone who is sad at her core. It has always been difficult to talk with people about this sense of loss even though it is part of my family’s history that has shaped who I am today.

  7. you could only find 64?

  8. 17, 18, 23, 27, 28, 43, 45, 47, 51, 55, 62, 63

  9. My heart aches for all of you. My 89 yr old father died Feb. 22 – he was in a nursing home for 3 yrs 4 months. I went to see him almost everyday. 4 years ago my mom died “sort of” suddenly. She became ill and it took the hospital 17 days to kill her. Shortly after that is when my dads problems began- he fractured his hip in Sept of that year and ended up in the nursing home. I was working at the time and taking care of him – I didn’t have the time to really grieve for my mom. So, last year I was forced into early retirement due to a new, evil management system. It was easier to retire than to try to anticipate their requirements from me. So June 1, 2017, I began going to see my dad everyday – it was literally, my “new job” – which was just fine with me. I spent more time with him then than I did my entire life! When he died, it should not have been a surprise, but it was. He declined so quickly, that I feel as if I didn’t have a chance to really come to terms with what happened. I also feel the nursing home let us down, as did hospice with the way things were handled. I don’t want you all to think, “come on, he was 89! Get over it” I expected his death soon. But not the way things happened. I am also having issues with how I am handling it. I an anxious about everything. I can’t sleep. I am afraid all the time. I went to several bereavement groups, and I was probably the best adjusted person there. I don’t think I am a group person. So what do I do? Wait for it to get better on it’s own? Initially I did everything you are supposed to do (in addition to the groups)- I went to a yoga class twice a week to get me out. The teacher suddenly changed her approach and It was causing me more anxiety. I think losing an elderly person like my dad is anticipatory grief. We knew it was coming, but when? 89 yr olds don’t live forever and we KNOW that. He was at a party on Friday before he died. He was visiting with me and my sister on Saturday (same as always). Sunday he went to breakfast and lunch (but ate nothing, first clue). His catheter was suddenly pouring out blood (they told me it was “blood tinged” urine – sure). He was talking to me and was his normal self. I asked if It was OK to go home (sometimes he would say, please don’t leave me) and he said it was OK – he’d see me to morrow. I got a call 5 AM Monday, telling me they are giving him a new medication. I got there as soon as possible and he wasn’t responsive. Never said another work to me and died at 8PM that night. They say the most stressful things in life are loss of a loved one and loss of a job. SO, I lost my mom, my dad, my job (where I was an employee) and my job taking care of my dad. I am grieving all of these things. Society gives you 3 days to get over a loss (you know, bereavement days off at work). Three days aren’t doing it. When people ask how I am I say “not good”. They practically leave skid marks as they leave. I will not say I am fine. Sorry to ramble on, but I just felt the need to say something.

  10. People suck. Worse yet, we get to share space with them on earth.
    Is it necessary to shove any kind of grief under the rug? What purpose does it serve other than not making those around us uncomfortable? And should we care that much about their comfort?
    I lost my son to suicide and the reaction of friends were amazing. The day before I had plenty, soon after I realized that almost none were left. Now, six years later, I get to laugh about some of it a little – like the one who ducked behind a shelve so that I would not see her. Well, it was already too late by then 🙂 Their avoidance made me feel unworthy or having some dreadful disease.
    Humans really have a lot to learn about compassion. But then, you don’t know until you know it.

  11. Most of my life has been surrounded by loss… taken from parents for child abuse, siblings adopted out to other families (now estranged), failed foster care homes, being aged out of foster care to the streets, therapist that love you so much till your insurance runs out, only known relative (a grandmother) dies, estranged parents die, late-in-life divorce condemns me to poverty and loss of “our” friends, moving across country to the only place I know as home, yet, left some 40 years ago, none of my old colleagues come around, an estranged teenage granddaughter I’ve met twice, retirement, old age and with each blow, I have to redefine or reinvent myself, frame my world in a way I can live with or at least talk about it, without having to give a narrative.

    This past year, I lost both of my children. One died of complications from drug addiction and the other was murdered and both within two months of each other. Oh, and the murdered son’s girlfriend was pregnant when he died. She told us it was his child, he thought it was his child, and I was crushed when the DNA for social security (the baby was 4 months old) told us it wasn’t his baby… the mother reunited with the child’s biological father and that’s good but… they ended my relationship with the baby. She was just gone, it’s been 8 months since I’ve seen her.

    I’ve lost my sense of self. My story seems to force other people to deal with their own mortality issues and it makes them uncomfortable. I’m angry, alone and can’t leave the house without falling apart, feeling sorry for myself or worse… ashamed. I go for days without speaking to anyone but my dog. I have no faith, no joy and feel like I’m free falling. I don’t know who I am without my children and have no relationship with these other estranged people… I’m old now and while my life sounds tawdry or salacious when strung together by these losses, it’s not really… people tell me how strong I am and I want to scream at them. I don’t. It’s as if, I fell on the floor and couldn’t get up or killed myself, only then would they see, oh poor dear, she WAS in that much pain but, I can’t. One foot in front of the other. I keep going and doing and for that I’m strong. If only they really knew how I wish for sleep and yet, I wake every morning to the nightmare — it starts all over again and it’s been a year since my son’s murder… “time to get on with living” they say. I have a murder trial to attend and a victim impact statement to write. How has this affected me? I don’t ask for anyone’s opinion yet, everyone I encounter, given the trial and media accounts, people feel they need to pat me on the back and tell me to get over it.

    I still have my dog… but, my heat, the coffee pot and my printer all died this past week… for a second, I had to laugh, I mean, really? but, honestly, EVERY. LITTLE. LOSS. feels like another death, another 20 lb bag of sand on my back. I’m tired, the clock is ticking and somehow I’ve got to reinvent myself, yet, again. Really life?

  12. Mary Ann, +1 to what you are experiencing. My husband has had a heart transplant for over 20 years and is know waiting for another. ‘Sword on a thread’ is the perfect description. Sometimes when trying to explain, I feel like people are looking at me as if I have 3 heads. It just doesn’t compute. So mostly I don’t talk about it. It just so complex.

  13. I like number 10 most of all. My son died 11months ago of accidental opiate overdose (prescribed but who cares?). My husband and others are starting to act like it’s gettingbtoo long -my grieving-and I should move on. I think of him along with my grief for my daughter that died 8 yrs ago) every single day. They were mine for over 40 yrs. how can it be too long?

  14. This may be partly covered by “loss of physical health” and/or “loss of dreams/hopes for the future”….
    but I think it warrants a separate category.

    It’s the loss that comes with a devastating diagnosis — either your own, or your spouse’s/partner’s.

    My husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. It’s a type of cancer that’s being kept at bay with rounds of drug treatment. But it isn’t “cured”… it hasn’t “gone away”….
    In fact, it still hangs over our heads like a sword on a thread.
    I don’t think people understand the threat, or the dread.

    Yes, it’s been 17 years, and yes, he’s still doing well. He’s been lucky that way. But at any time during those 17 years, the cancer could have stopped responding to drug treatment. There was no certainty about that at all. As we were living through those 17 years, we didn’t know how much time he had before the cancer re-emerged. And the same goes for the coming years….

    There’s a name for this: anticipatory grief. When I talk about this (which is seldom), people don’t understand the fear or the sadness.

  15. I gave birth on Thanksgiving to my daughter who was Stillborn. Her father who I had been with for 8 years chose to leave me midway through the pregnancy because “He didnt want it” He came back for about a month after I called him and told him she had died. I was so out of my mind with grief that I let him back in the door. He never asked what her name was and wouldnt even look at a picture of her. I have chosen to keep it quiet. I simply can’t handle anymore right now. But it leaves me mourning both of their losses completely alone.

  16. I was told ( in regards to a divorce and extreme betrayal and my whole life being a lie ) at least nobody died ! Well actually , my life as I knew it did. My general trust of people gone. My openness with people. Gone.

    That being said. I’m back. I’m good. Independently owned and operated !!

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