It is essential to our wellbeing for us to process a loss, whether it be after a lingering illness or a sudden death. When other non-death losses are suffered, individuals often do not have a support system to share their sorrow. As with other grief reactions, processing these emotions is necessary if healing is to happen.
Professor of Gerontology Dr. Kenneth Doka routinely explains in books and lectures on grief management that “there are circumstances in which a person experiences a sense of loss but does not have a socially recognized right, role, or capacity to grieve. In these cases, the grief is disenfranchised.” Unlike a loss to death, when these losses happen there is no funeral to acknowledge and honor the loss, no grave to visit, no covered dishes dropped at the door, nor sitting in the company of fellow mourners and supporting each other through the tears.
Often people do not receive the support and comfort they need in order to grieve properly, and can be vulnerable to loneliness and serious, long-term depression.
Examples of bereaved persons who may feel disenfranchised include couples who have miscarriages, given up a child for adoption, women or men whose spouses are missing in military action, and those whose loved ones have died from difficult-to-accept deaths like suicide.
Those struggling with Alzheimer’s and dementia also may feel disenfranchised. The bereaved in these situations may not be grieving loss of physical life, but of crucial intangibles, without which their lives and families will never be the same.
No matter the type of loss, grief is grief and it needs to be heard and validated.
Submitted by Darwin L. Huartson, M.Div. BCC, Porter Loring Community Coordinator