Disenfranchised grief is grief over a loss that is
not or can-not be acknowledged openly, mourned publicly, or sup-ported
socially. Circumstances that can result in disenfran-chised grief include:
A relationship that has no legitimacy.
The loss itself is not recognized.
The griever is not recognized.
The loss involves social stigma.
In each situation, there is an attachment followed by a loss that
leads to grief. The grief process is more complex because the usual supports
that facilitate grieving and healing are absent (Schultz & Videbeck, 2009).
In U.S. culture, kin-based relationships receive the most attention
in cases of death. Relationships between lovers, friends, neighbors, foster
parents, colleagues, and caregiv-ers may be long-lasting and intense, but
people suffering loss in these relationships may not be able to mourn pub-licly
with the social support and recognition given to fam-ily members. In addition,
some relationships are not always recognized publicly or sanctioned socially.
Possible exam-ples include same-sex relationships (Smolinski & Colon,
2006), cohabitation without marriage, and extramarital affairs.
Other losses are not recognized or seen as socially sig-nificant;
thus, accompanying grief is not legitimized, expected, or supported. Examples
in this category include prenatal death, abortion, relinquishing a child for
adop-tion, death of a pet (Kaufman & Kaufman, 2006), or other losses not
involving death, such as job loss, separation, divorce, and children leaving
home. Though these losses can lead to intense grief for the bereaved, other
people may perceive them as minor (Schultz & Videbeck, 2009).
Some people who experience a loss may not be recog-nized or fully
supported as grievers. For example, older adults and children experience
limited social recognition for their losses and the need to mourn. As people
grow older, they “should expect” others their age to die. Adults sometimes view
children as “not understanding or com-prehending” the loss and may assume
wrongly that their children’s grief is minimal. Children may experience the
loss of a “nurturing parental figure” from death, divorce, or family
dysfunction such as alcoholism or abuse. These losses are very significant, yet
they may not be recognized. The death of someone who is incarcerated or
executed for crimes carries a social stigma that often prevents family members
from publicly grieving or receiving support for their loss (Beck & Jones,
Nurses may experience disenfranchised grief when their need to
grieve is not recognized. For example, nurses who work in areas involving organ
donation or transplantation are involved intimately with the death of clients
who may donate organs to another person. The daily intensity of relationships
between nurses and clients/ families creates strong bonds among them. The
emotional effects of loss are significant for these nurses; however, there is
seldom a socially ordained place or time to grieve. The solitude in which the
grieving occurs usually pro-vides little or no comfort (Doka, 2006).