Disenfranchised Grief … and HYSTERECTOMY

Disenfranchised grief … I remember first finding this term during a time of loss … a loss that I couldn’t express to most everyone and definitely not publicly.  It was unacceptable.  It still is.  I found a niche where I could fully express the pain and grief of this loss … it has made all the difference in the world.  However, there is still an occasional urge to open up and talk about this period of disenfranchised grief … this heartbreaking loss.

But I don’t.

I hold back.

I keep it in.

Locked away.

Only a few people have access to this part of my ❤

 Disenfranchised grief …

cant speak

Disenfranchised grief occurs when an individual’s grief experience is not recognized or acknowledged by others. Disenfranchised grievers are frequently overlooked or ignored, lack opportunities to express their emotions, receive diminished social support and sympathy from others, and may be deprived of opportunities to participate in mourning rituals. In other words, these individuals are denied the ‘right to grieve.’ Disenfranchisement is a significant problem for grievers because it can inhibit coping and complicate the grief process. ~ Hannah M. Davidson (2010).

Some examples of disenfranchised grief include but are not limited to:

  • Infertility issues
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth … any perinatal loss
  • Pregnancy termination
  • Giving a child up for adoption
  • Job loss
  • Incest
  • Rape
  • Break-up between same sex partners
  • Diagnosis of HIV
  • Surgery
  • Death of:
    • an ex-spouse
    • a co-worker
    • a pet
    • an online friend
    • a same-sex partner
    • a step-parent or step-child
    • other non-blood relationships (friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, in-laws, neighbors, celebrity, et al.)

Dr. Kenneth Doka gave this experience a name in the mid ’80s. Dr. Doka’s book on this topic is the foundation for much of the further theory and discussion of disenfranchised grief.  HERE is the man himself (see video below).

BTW the video with Dr. Doka is NOT some stuffy old man going, “Blah, blah, blah” boring you to pieces.  It’s actually a very thoughtful video only about five minutes in duration — only five minutes for a an enlightening concept.

One helpful article explaining this concept is:  Disen-whaaaat? Understanding Disenfranchised Grief.

Another insightful article by Elizabeth Kupferman is: the shame experience of disenfranchised grief.

In regard to hysterectomy it may be difficult to talk about this with others.  Many people see surgery as a solution to a problem and when the organ or “problem” is removed there’s a misperception that there’s nothing further to discuss.  The loss of a uterus can be emotionally upsetting to many women.  Some women view a hysterectomy as a loss of their femininity or ability to produce and have children.

On top of the loss of a uterus a woman may be dealing with a cancer diagnosis.  A sudden diagnosis with a need for hysterectomy often doesn’t allow a woman time to accept the loss and immediately she nosedives into grief; in the meantime, family and friends have side-stepped her loss focusing only on a surgery to increase her chance of survival.  This woman’s grief over loss has now become trivialized by her supporters … she has now entered the realm of disenfranchisement where her grief cannot be acknowledged.  She is told things like, “You are lucky to be alive!”, “Glad they got the diagnosis when they did!”, “You still have one (two, three, etc.) other children,” and other comments that completely dismiss her desire to speak about her loss.  She is left saying only things that are palatably acceptable to those around her.

Hysterectomy is difficult to discuss with most men because they can’t relate to problems this organ may have caused the woman.  Others feel squeamish when the word surgery comes up.  And there have even been friends or family members who refuse to discuss others’ personal grief because they feel forced into a voyeuristic role; these individuals fail to understand just how important it is for most women to have the ability to open up to communicate their loss …  to speak words out loud making the loss real initiating the grieving process leading to emotional healing.

Personally, I have been able to open up to enough people about my hysterectomy … the right people who were able to provide the emotional acceptance and support I needed when I needed it.  The most difficult part of deciding to have a hysterectomy in my experience was coming to terms with the emotional aspect — the realization of never birthing my own children.  Once I came to this pivotal acceptance, the physical part, the loss of a life-time organ was easy.

Whatever our loss, when grief is acknowledged it is easier to bear. ~ Gina Stepp


See also:

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