Patrick was lucky. He was in love with Joe, starring on a hit TV show, and his college best friend, Sarah, married his brother.
Then everything changed. Patrick’s beloved boyfriend Joe died. Joe’s parents rejected their relationship and excluded Patrick from mourning rituals. Patrick’s TV show ended its run; he transitioned from in-demand actor to has-been. And Sarah died, leaving Patrick to support his brother, niece, and nephew.
Each of these situations left Patrick grief-stricken. But, since he was not viewed as “immediate family” to either of the people who died and empathy for a former TV star runs low, his grief was unrecognized and unprocessed. Patrick experienced disenfranchised grief.
Disenfranchised grief is mourning that is not socially accepted or acknowledged. Grief generally is associated with numbness, sadness, and hopelessness. For people with disenfranchised grief, the feelings linger. And, as people question their feelings, lack mourning rituals, and feel dissonant from a society demanding they “move on,” withdrawal and low self-esteem grow.
Here are some tips to resolve disenfranchised grief:
Reach out for support. Don’t mourn alone. Explain your feelings to friends and family and ask them to support you, even if they struggle to understand. Also, you can process the feelings with an individual therapist, join a therapy group, or seek out a supportive online community.
Acknowledge the loss. It was big and reasonably meant a lot to you. Your feelings are valid and normal.
Sit with the feelings. Disenfranchised grief is a problem related to the heart and emotions. The way out is through. Heartache doesn’t resolve until everything is felt.
Create a healing ritual. Do something specific to mark the loss. Get creative and do something soothing and fulfilling to you. Ideas include writing a goodbye letter, releasing balloons, planting a tree, creating a collage, and composing a song.
Love Steven Rowley? Me too. Check out tips on Cultivating Chosen Family using his book The Celebrants as a teaching example.