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Aubrey Hammack

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Member Since: Sep, 2002

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Disenfranchised Grief
By Aubrey Hammack   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, December 31, 2006
Posted: Monday, September 30, 2002

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This is about grief that is not publicly acknowledged.


 By Aubrey Hammack

The best definition of disenfranchised grief that I have read is grief that is not publicly recognized. There are several examples of this kind of grief that we will explore.

 The first is that which involves infidelity. Many times when an affair is found out, these relationships are stopped cold turkey. There is shame and guilt on both sides usually. Of course, the big problem with grief here is that many of these people do not feel they can share feelings about this. The affair after all has been clothed in secrecy. When we are unable to talk openly about the affair, we have already set the stage not to be able to deal with grief when it ends. When this is done we have set in motion problems that could last a lifetime. Repression of one’s feelings will cause one’s heart to ache with pain perhaps forever if never properly addressed.

 A good example of this was seen in the movie a few years ago, The Bridges of Madison County. Francesca and Robert Kincaid had an affair and had fallen in love. She was married and they had a four-day affair that would haunt her for the rest of her life. She was finally able to tell her best friend.

 Her adult children found out after her death in a letter to them from their mother. This is a good example of what I call ending an affair but not ending it. There is no closure. When both parties involved have really not dealt with good-byes, there will always be questions such as what if we had not went our separate ways. Or one might always wonder, was this person the love of my life.

 As you can see when one has grief that has not been worked through, some serious emotional scarring can be done.

Recently, I was made aware that someone involved in a situation as described above, found out that the person they had been involved in had been killed in an automobile accident. The affair had lasted three years and had ended 8 years ago. Did this help bring closure? Perhaps in the long run it might. But for the short haul I am sure there is only more guilt and depression because of having no closure. The emotional damage will probably last a lifetime in this example.

Other types of grief not publicly acknowledged involve those people who have divorced, those who have died from acts of suicide, crime, aids, and those with dehabilitating illnesses. People involved in these losses many times are too ashamed to talk with others about the losses.

 Mothers who have had miscarriages are another example of people with grief that is disenfranchised. The unborn child has not been publicly recognized.

I was in a workshop several years ago when a lady attending the seminar stated that her boyfriend of 6 years had been tragically killed in an automobile accident a few years before. Some of her friends had told her that at least they weren’t married as if the 6-year relationship was not that meaningful.

 I believe it is absolutely crucial to deal with grief whatever kind it is. One grief expert put it best. We need to talk grief to death. We also need people to lend us their ears. Most people are not asking for advice. They just want someone to listen. 

In this article,  I hope that at least it will introduce the reader to grief that is not publicly recognized. It is my belief that if we can become more sensitive to this area, then we can become more thoughtful for those that are hurting because of disenfranchised grief.   


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Reviewed by Shirley VanScoyk (Reader) 8/13/2010
Yes. Yes. yes. The horrible loneliness created when no one will simply listen to how it is for YOU is crippling and wounding. Thank you for this article.
Reviewed by Jacquie Kubin 7/1/2008
It has been my experience that people base the validity of your grief by their ability to internalize it. Thus said, if someone cannot accept that the loss of your pregnancy, or lover, causes you emotional pain, it is because it has no relevance in their realm, never having been pregnant or having had a lover, they cannot validate, or express emotion about it.

I hate the term, "I know how you feel," because they don't usually and why does my grief have to be about them knowing. Should not the words of condolence be "I am so sorry that you are feeling so badly - lost - hurt - pained?"

As humans, we have not developed unconditional compassion or love. We must always wrap how we feel, respond, think or value another situation based on the conditions we apply to their lives. And this is sad.

I have never heard the term Disenfranchised Grief and it is enlightening. I would bet that it is the basis for a lot of the depression being suffered today and treated, not with compassion, but pills.

As an individual whose life is ruled by emotion, I can honestly say that a lot of my less than joyful periods in life are those when my emotions or being were seen as less than valid by others - particularly family, those whose fielty should be unconditional.

Jacquie Kubin
Donne Tempo Magazine
Reviewed by Staci Gansky-Wagner 8/24/2007
Excellent writing
Reviewed by Stuart West (Reader) 5/1/2007
Heartfelt thanks to writer Aubrey Hammack for this article and many of her others which touch on lost love. I am in this situation and this article has been a balm to the soul. Death of former classmate: she fell in love with me first, then I with her, then mutual platonic affection spanning decades until year of her death, not legitimate in anyone else's eyes, way too threatening, different family backgrounds and religions. Yet I am not sure about society's treating grief as an illness that needs to be cured. Maybe there is no closure. Maybe those who say that "limerance" (as per Dorothy Tennov) will die after the death of the beloved have got it wrong. I will never forget her total absorption in the shared warmth and affection when I last saw her before going overseas for a year. The visual clinch left me reeling. Four months after that day she left the world. Almost twenty years after her passing (I am 49) and the heart-flame truly burns stronger than ever. And I am a better person for it.
Reviewed by Julie Donner Andersen 4/22/2007
Having experienced both my husband's infidelity as well as my subsequent divorce from him, I can attest to the wisdom of your words here, Aubrey. As a bereavement recovery group volunteer, I believe your wise words of advice are crucial in helping the bereaved to move on. And as someone remarried to a former widower, I can add to your list - the women who date and/or marry widowers deal with their partner's grief in many different ways.

Great article!
Reviewed by Connie Small 12/4/2006
You bring up many valid points for people to think about. I hope many read your article and take it to heart. Society barely deals with the grief of death and most of the time, does so badly. Dealing with other kinds of death is even harder. What a shame.
Reviewed by m j hollingshead 1/23/2006
poignant read

Books by
Aubrey Hammack

The Winning Edge by Aubrey Hammack

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