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
- A death by suicide
- A death by drug overdose
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a home
- Grieving someone you didn’t know well
- Grieving someone you didn’t know at all (like a celebrity)
- Grieving someone you only knew online (cyber loss)
- The death of a sibling
- Grief that people think has gone on ‘too long’
- Loss of someone elderly
- A death by homicide
- A death from HIV/AIDS
- Getting clean and the loss of drug
- Death of the partner in an extra-marital affair.
- Loss of a job
- Moving/loss of community
- Grieving someone you can’t remember (ex. a parent who died when you were an infant)
- Grieving someone who died before you were born (an older sibling who died before you were born)
- Dying from childbirth
- Death of an ex-spouse or ex-partner
- Death of a same-sex partner
- Miscarriage and stillbirth
- Estrangement from family
- Loss of meaningful objects/belongings
- Not showing ‘enough’ emotion while grieving
- Showing ‘too much’ emotion while grieving
- Loss of language, culture, and tradition
- Loss of hopes and dreams for the future
- Grief following an abortion
- Grief following adoption
- Learning a secret/finding out a person wasn’t who you thought they were
- Grieving someone who is still living (examples #34-41)
- Grieving a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia
- Grieving a loved one with a substance use disorder
- Grieving someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury
- Grieving someone who is dealing with a severe mental illness
- Grieving someone who has run away
- Grieving someone who has disappeared
- Grieving someone who is incarcerated
- Grieving family separation due to foster care
- Loss of physical health
- Loss of independence
- The death of a co-worker
- The death of a patient or client
- Loss of ‘lifestyle’ (losing financial means, getting clean from drugs/alcohol)
- Death of a step-child/step-parent
- Death of a foster child/foster parent
- Death due to child abuse
- Death of the driver in a drunk driving accident
- Death of someone in a ‘stigmatized’ peer group (a gang member, someone else using or selling drugs, etc).
- Loss of faith or religious identity
- ‘Circumstantial infertility’ (wanting a child but not having a partner with whom to have a child).
- Loss of identity or sense of self
- A foster child being reunited with biological family
- Grieving a close friend
- Grieving an unmarried partner
- Feeling abandoned by a parent who is involved but distant after a divorce
- Not having a ‘good’ relationship with a parent, sibling, or another family member.
- Death of a doctor or therapist
- Feeling failed or abandoned by friends, family, or community
- The death of someone you hadn’t seen or been in touch with for many years
- 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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We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: