Good Grief!!! What is Disenfranchise Grief?
“Grief that cannot be openly expressed
because the death or other loss cannot
be publicly acknowledged.” (Doka, 1989)
Throughout out our lives we will all experience some form of loss and grief. Hopefully, during this time we are all provided with the support, love and understanding to help us during this difficult time. However, there are those of us in the community who have experienced a loss that has not been acknowledged or recognized in society.
Here are some forms of grief that have not been validated by society:
The Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Communities: A form of disenfranchise grief is the alienation of ones culture which includes estrangement from ones language and history. In the context of disenfranchise grief this occurs in the context of social coercion to deny the existence (history) of the stigmatized, hidden and socially devalued relationship and estrangement from the rich narrative account or ancestry of the relationship and it's meaning to the disenfranchised griever (Reynolds, 2002). In the Ways Forward Report of 1994 it acknowledged the multiple sources of grief for Australia's Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islanders and First Nation peoples across the world. Such grief in terms of loss of culture, land, kinship ties, way of life have been profound, and continue to have their impact on social and emotional wellbeing. The taking away of children is one such form of tragic loss with its effects across generations, as indicated in the Bringing them home report of 1997 (Raphael and Delany, 2011). In some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the grief is enduring because of the 'unfinished business' of the Stolen Generations and other impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If this grief remains unresolved, it may be passed on through the generations of a family; this is called intergenerational grief (Australian Indigenous HealthinfoNet, 2015).
Grief from Perinatal loss: McSpedden (2017) describes perinatal grief as the grief that parents experience after the death of a baby during pregnancy, birth or the first month after their birth, which includes miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, termination, stillbirth and neo-natal deaths. This is a form of grief is both ˜disenfranchised" as well as complicated because these deaths often occur without warning and are opposing to our expectations about life (Doka, 1989; Zhang, El-Jawahri & Prigerson, 2006). Many times it occurs in circumstances without an explanation for, or cause of, the death. This lack of information about the factors which have led to the death of the baby can create distress for the parents and other family members as they struggle to make sense of their loss (McSpedden (2017). However, unfortunately others still perceive and view this loss as relatively minor (Despelder and Strickland, 1995).
Grief from abortions: Abortions can contribute to a serious loss whereby women experience a situation of disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is grief experienced by an individual that is not openly acknowledged, socially validated or publically observed. Woman who experience disenfranchised grief may be due to the ideologies of the abortion controversy can put the bereaved in a difficult situation. Many who affirm the loss may not sanction the act of abortion, while some who sanction the act may minimize the loss (Despelder and Strickland, 1995).
Death of a pet: The grief connected with losing an animal is a type of disenfranchised grief, one that is not recognized generally; a grief that is too often borne in silence. But the depth of a relationship between a family and their pet is deep and complex; animals become part of the fabric of our lives. They improve our mental health and general wellbeing. They are company for the lonely, and a comfort to the distressed (Jones, 2016). Yonan (2012), referred to a journal article in 2002 from Society & Animals that had reviewed multiple studies and found that the death of a companion animal can be just as devastating as the loss of a human significant other.
Relationships that are not recognized: When considering the concept of alienation from self or ones personal identity Reynolds (2002) describes this concept as being a self-establishment in the form of disenfranchised grievers need to auto-suppress or deny their subjective experience or grief in the context of the hidden, undervalued or a stigmatized relationship. Grief may be disenfranchised in such situations in which the relationship is not recognized between the bereaved and the deceased as it is not based on identifiable kin ties. There is a belief that the closeness of the relationship exits only between spouses and or/immediate kin. The roles of lovers, friends, neighbours, foster parents, work colleagues, in-laws, stepparents and stepchildren, caregivers, room-mates (for example in nursing homes), professionals such as Doctors and Nurses (Patients and their families), Veterinarians and Veterinarians Nurses (Pets and their owners) as well as Counsellors. These relationships may be long lasting and intensively interactive, but even though these relationships may be acknowledged, mourners may not be provided with the chance to publicly grieve the loss. At the very most, they may be expected to support and assist the family (Despelder and Strickland, 1995).
Then there are relationships that may not be openly acknowledged or socially approved. For example non-traditional relationships such as extramarital affairs, cohabitation and homosexual relationships have tenuous public acceptance and limited legal standings, and they face negative sanctions within the larger community. Those that are involved in such a relationship are often affected by grief when the relationship is terminated by death of the partner (Thompson, 2002).
Even those who previously had a relationship with the deceased may experience some form of grief. Ex-spouses, past lovers or former friends who have limited contact or they may not even engage interaction in the present. However, the death of the significant other may bring about the cause of the grief reaction due to it bringing about a sense of finality to the earlier loss, resulting in ending any remaining contact or fantasy of reconciliation or reconnection (Despelder and Strickland, 1995).
Children, the Elderly and the Developmentally Challenged: The alienation from significant other occurs when the estrangement from one family and group, this idea captures disenfranchised griever alienation resulting from the hidden nature or stigmatization of certain undervalued relationships and losses. It also includes the subsequent denial of access of grievers to the support of their own family/friend network and to the family/friend network of the deceased. There are situations whereby the griever has been identified as not being socially proficient in being able to grieve and consequently there is little or no social recognition for these individuals such as children, the elderly and even the developmentally challenged to be able to mourn the deceased (Reynolds, 2002). In such situations it is usually the elderly or children who are usually perceived by others as having little understanding of or reaction to the death of a significant other. As a result, children and the elderly are often excluded from both the discussions and the rituals. (Despelder and Strickland, 1995).
It is also important to note that individuals who are developmentally challenged or mentally disabled also experience disenfranchised grief. There has been studies that have shown that those who are developmentally challenged do understand the concept of death and also experience grief. These reactions may not be recognised by others due to the person being developmentally challenged and consequently family members tend to ignore these individuals needs to grieve (Despelder and Strickland, 1995).
Tanya Jordan is an experienced Forensic Social Worker and an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker with T n J's Consulting and Support Services
Special acknowledgement and gratitude to Mrs. Melanie Hill Lane of the Yorta Yorta Tribe for supporting the writing of this blog
Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet (2015) Key Facts: What is Grief and Loss? Available online 19 May 2017 http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/other-health-conditions/sewbworkers/grief-loss-trauma/key-facts
Desplder, L. and Strickland, A. (1995) The Path Ahead-Readings in Death and Dying Mayfield, Mountain View, California
Doka, K.J. (Ed.). (1989). Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow. Lexington, England: Lexington Books/D. C. Heath and Com.
Jones, H, E. (2016) The Grief of Losing a Pet is Traumatic and Universal. So Why Don't We Talk About It? Available online 19 May 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/22/the-grief-of-losing-a-pet-is-traumatic-and-universal-so-why-dont-we-talk-about-it
McSpedden, M (2017) Perinatal Grief: A Poignant Form of Bereavement available online on 19 May 2017 https://psychology.org.au/Content.aspx?ID=4090
Raphael, B and Delaney, P (2011) Loss and Grief: â€œClosing the Gapâ€ for Aboriginal People
Reynolds, J (2002) Disenfranchised Grief and Politics of Helping: Social Policy and its Clinical Implications in Doka, K (ed) Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges and Strategies for Practice, Research Press, Champaign, Illinois
Thompson, N. (2002) Introduction in Loss and Grief: A Guide for Human Services Practioners Palgrave, Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York
Yonan, J (2012) The Death of Pet can Hurt as the Loss of a Relative available online 19 May 2017 http://static.petwisewebsites.com/eNrTT87PLUjMq9Q3MzXRLy3IyU9M0U8xTzRMMjBO0itISQNcMLIHCpQ,.pdf
Zhang, B.H., El-Jawahri, A., & Prigerson H.G. (2006). Update on Bereavement Research: Evidence-Based Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Complicated Bereavement. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 9(5), 1188-1203.