Grief is like a well. We walk to the well and we know exactly what we will find. If it’s a functioning well there will be a pulley and a bucket and as we lower it down it will hit water and then we will bring it up and in the bucket will be a refreshing bucket of water.

What would happen if you lowered the bucket and when you brought it back up it was instead filled with mud?

What would happen if you instead brought up nothing?

What would happen if you get to the well and realize it’s not a well at all?

Grief has been long favored to fit in a very specific frame of mind: its association to death.

Someone dies and we grieve it.

What if I told you that it was all wrong?

What if I told you that there is a disenfranchisement of grief?

Disenfranchisement is defined as a deprivation of a legal right, privilege or immunity. Typically, it is used in relation with the right of suffrage (voting).

For the purpose of how it is used according to Kenneth Doka, is that there is a deprivation of rights associated with grieving.

Doka suggests that there are 5 broad categories relating to the disenfranchisement of grief.

The relationship is not recognized
The mistress of the one deceased

The loss is not recognized
Death of a beloved pet

The griever is excluded
A person with a cognitive disability is left out of the funeral

Circumstances of the death
A person being executed on death row

Ways individuals grieve
A widow goes back to work full time right after the funeral

These examples are very small examples of ways these categories can be interpreted. Loss is experienced in multiple ways psychologically, biologically and physiologically and affect us in physical, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual ways. The difficulties with loss is that if it does not fit in with the societal parameters that have been created then one may not receive the healing or support they need to move on from the loss.

One of the ways this has been determined is through our workforce. Many organizations or employers have bereavement time that can be used in place of sick time or vacation time. However, they decide what constitutes bereavement. Oftentimes it is strictly for immediate family, and even that can be defined to an even smaller group to just parents, spouses or siblings, excluding grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws or step-family.

Yet, loss can affect us in so many different ways. Some of the losses not recognized are things like a divorce, relocation, incarceration of a loved one, relinquishment of a child for adoption or foster care and many more things in-between. Not only are these not recognized, but neither are relationships outside of that immediate family dynamic that has been defined by our workforce. These leaves out the deep emotional relationships people create among friends, clergy, patients, clients, neighbors, pets and so much more.

Why is grief so disenfranchised? Kamerman’s work tries to answer this questions by implying that the traditional family structure was so important to society that by denying close relationships with outsiders, it in essence protects the strength of the traditional family unit. Kamerman also acknowledged that if grieving outside of the traditional family unit were to be recognized by organizations, it would create confusion, potential abuse of the leniency and a burden for them.

What is the solution?

Although there is no concrete solution, we can start to acknowledge all losses as what they are to a person, a deep and emotional loss. By normalizing and bringing awareness to the fact that losses are not just the typical standardized loss that has been defined all these years, we begin to break down that barrier. We can instead start to nurture and provide support to those who need it, and help others heal from whatever loss they are experiencing.

Beyond this are the ways we grieve. There is more than one way to grieve and it is not a step-by-step process. More on that to come.

So the next time you decide to fetch water from a well, be prepared that what you may find is something completely different than water.