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Source: Wikipedia.org article, adapted under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ license.

Disenfranchised grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged by society. Examples of events leading to disenfranchised grief are the death of a friend, the loss of a pet, a trauma in the family a generation prior, the loss of a home or place of residence particularly in the case of children, who generally have little or no control in such situations, and whose grief may not be noticed or understood by caregivers; American military children and teens in particular move a great deal while growing up), an aborted/miscarried pregnancy, a mother’s loss or surrender of a child to adoption, a child’s loss of their birth mother to adoption, the death of a loved one due to a socially unacceptable cause such as suicide, or even the death of a celebrity.

Certain events that are often circumscribed by social stigma can also cause disenfranchised grief, such as the breakup or loss of a secret relationship (e.g. an extramarital affair), botched cosmetic surgery procedures, the diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection as well as other events. Traditional forms of grief are more widely recognized even in nontraditional living situations. However, there are few support systems, rituals, traditions, or institutions such as bereavement leave available to those experiencing disenfrachised grief.

Even widely recognized forms of grief can become disenfranchised when well-meaning friends and family attempt to set a time limit on a bereaved person’s right to grieve. For example, the need to regulate mourning and restore a state of normal work activity severely impacted the grieving process of victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, according to American scholar Edward Linenthal. Grieving for lost children was redefined as post-traumatic stress disorder if parents were not “over it” within two weeks.

Loss is one of the most common experiences that brings about grieving, and although this is often viewed as normal, there are times when it is disqualified. Some examples of when grieving over a loss is disenfranchised include: the loss of a grandchild, of an ex-spouse, of a sibling, or of a child through adoption.

Loss of a grandchild can be extremely difficult for a grandparent, but the grandparent’s grief is often disenfranchised because they are not part of the immediate family. Attention and support is given to the child’s parents and siblings, but the grandparent’s grief is two-fold as they have not only grieving the loss of their grandchild, but are also grieving for their adult children who have lost the child. This phenomenon is termed “double-grief” by Davidson and she explains that this makes bereavement even more difficult.

Loss of an ex-spouse is disenfranchised due to the lack of a current or ongoing personal relationship between the former couple. Although the marriage has ended, the relationship has not, and there are ties between the two people that will forever be there including: shared children, mutual friendships, and financial connections. Research has shown that those couples who never resolved conflicts after the relationship ended experienced much more grief than those who had. The grievers experience guilt and thoughts of “what might have been”, similar to those of widows.

Loss of a child by adoption is often disenfranchised because the decision to give a child up for adoption is voluntary, and therefore it is not acceptable by society to grieve. Birth mothers lack support, and are expected to just move on and pretend the child doesn’t exist. Many birth mothers experience regret and have thoughts of what might have been or of reuniting with the child.

Many types of relationships are not legitimized by society, therefore when one person in the relationship dies, the other may not have their grief legitimized so it can become disenfranchised. For example, following the death of a partner in a homosexual relationship societal supports can tend prioritize the immediate family, invalidating the significance of the romantic relationship and loss for the grieving partner (McNutt & Yakushko, 2013).. Another exampl.

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