Who Did You Lose?


BY: Chemarra Bryant, MA, LPC

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​In our society, it is common for a grieving person to be asked: Who did you lose?  However, the reaction of those asking can lead the bereaved individual to feel as if their loss does not qualify because it does not fall under the “normal” category of what society considers a significant loss.

For example, the death of a spouse may put a person in a position where they can compare this loss to other losses in their own life. But, because the experience of grief is unique to each person, we cannot compare different types of losses between people. The death of a friend or a parent may be as devastating for one person as the death of a spouse is for another. To try to compare them creates the experience of disenfranchised grief in the person whose loss is seen as less significant.  

Kenneth Doka, a professor, author and well-known grief expert defines disenfranchised grief in three parts. He defines it as “a grief not openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned.” In other words, this type of grief leaves the bereaved person feeling devalued and isolated, which can create major complications in what could have been a healthy, normal grieving process.

Reverend Sandra L. Bochonok led a presentation on disenfranchised grief at a conference in Chelan, Washington in 2012. She used both Doka’s definition and a well-known beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” to explain how acknowledged grief leads people to mourn and in turn, find comfort in both God and humanity. Bochonok’s inclusion of this beatitude in her presentation is spot on when it comes to explaining disenfranchised grief.

One must first understand the power and healing that comes from acknowledged grief. The concept of grief being acknowledged provides both permission to the bereaved to openly mourn while expanding the opportunity to be comforted. However, when grief is ignored by those in the bereaved person’s circle or daily life (i.e. family, friends and/or coworkers), it is then defined as disenfranchised grief. The process of grief is difficult enough, but think of how painful it must be for those who grieve without acknowledgment. 

Bochonok suggests five ways to “enfranchise the disenfranchised.”  Let the person know:

1.) That you see them grieving

2.) That you hear them

3.) That you recognize and honor their loss

4.) That you respect them

5.) You acknowledge their loss as valid.

Grief is hard enough without putting limits on which deaths we are “allowed” to mourn. Take time to acknowledge your grief, and know that your feelings are valid. 

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