Disenfranchised grief
There are times where people’s personal experience of grief is not acknowledged or permitted to be expressed. This is known as disenfranchised grief (Doka, 2002).

“That right to grieve may not be accorded for many reasons, such as the ways a person grieves, the nature of the loss, or the nature of the relationship. So, although the person experiences grief, that grief is not openly acknowledged, socially validated or publically observed” (Doka, 2002 p5). 

Disenfranchised grief is also referred to as ‘empathic failure’ (Neimeyer, 2002).Even widely recognized forms of grief can become disenfranchised when well-meaning friends and family attempt to set a time limit on a bereaved person's right to grieve.

Social stigma associated with particular forms of loss can constrain a young person’s ability to grieve and receive support. The following are examples of this kind of loss:

  • Suicide
  • The termination or miscarriage of an unplanned pregnancy that had been unwanted or a source of shame
  • The breakup or loss of a secret relationship
  • Forced removal or willing surrender of a child to protective services

In relation to children and young people, questions regarding their capacity to understand and experience grief have often meant that their grief is not properly acknowledged. This is demonstrated by exclusion from rituals such as funerals and can stem from a sense of protection or perhaps a desire to avoid the potential depth of feelings that may be conveyed (Kissane & Bloch, 2002).

A lack of peer, familial or social recognition can compound the experience of grief and result in young people hiding their grief, not sharing their sense of loss, worrying they are abnormal and possibly experiencing shame (Rowling 2002). This can potentially increase young people’s sense of the isolation and be a precursor to the development of a range of other issues and health concerns.

Youth AOD practitioners can ensure that young people’s grief is not ignored or minimised and that it is understood as a natural response to a difficult circumstance.

Complicated grief
Complicated grief is an intense and long-lasting form of grief that takes over a person’s life. People experiencing complicated grief often say that they feel ‘stuck.’ It is not appropriate or helpful for youth AOD practitioners to define or label the grief of a young person or family as ‘complicated’. It is possible though to sensitively help young people and families recognise the signs and where necessary arrange for further support and assistance. The indicators of complicated grief are described in the ‘practices for working with grief’ section of the module under the heading: ‘Recognising complicated grief and linking clients to expert help’.

Grief and disaster
When someone dies in a disaster like a flood or bushfire, it can be even harder to cope with. Disasters are usually unexpected, so you have no time to prepare. Disasters usually have an effect not just on you, but also on your friends, family and community.

Dealing with the disaster itself can be difficult enough. Dealing with the loss of friends or loved ones, the loss of your home or school, or major disruptions to your life can add to the emotional stress. 

Cultural Considerations
While each person grieves in their own way, people belong to cultures and societies with norms and rituals associated with how loss and grief are acknowledged, expressed and worked through.

Aboriginal peoples and communities across Australia have differing ways to cope with loss and grief. There are similarities in how Aboriginal people grieve and the issues associated with grief and loss. Australian youth AOD practitioners should strive to develop an understanding of the needs and preferences of Aboriginal people in relation to grief and loss. However, Non-Indigenous Australians should never assume knowledge.

Experiencing grief and coming to terms with loss is a deeply personal experience that varies in duration and intensity. Even so, in cultural contexts people are encouraged and even expected to ‘move on’ from painful and difficult events reach ‘closure’ whereby grief is resolved or finalised. Culturally determined expectations of this kind are generally unhelpful and can be a reminder of the starkness of loss for a grieving person who is not ready or able to comply.

Grief- the theoretical context
Foundational theories providethe background to the development of ideas and interventions in the area of grief and bereavement.

The stages model of grieving (Kubler-Ross, 1969) is probably the most popularized and widely known account of grieving processes. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are to be negotiated for the successful resolution of grief. Worden (1991) introduced the idea of ‘tasks’ of mourning. These models about the process of grieving are essentially prescriptive; something needs to be achieved, a feeling experienced, a reality confronted, in order to have ‘grieved well’. An implicit assumption here is that separation and emotional detachment from the deceased is a necessary process and that a sense of distance and movement away from that relationship is a sign of managing the grief process.

Contemporary grief theorists have been less preoccupied with identifying phases of grieving. A key shift has been to illuminate the deep attachment in the relationship with the deceased and to use this relationship to talk, explore and understand the grieving process through experience rather than phases. The desire for the bereaved to continue a relationship with the deceased and to take the relationship with them into their future lives is articulated in concepts such as ‘continuing bonds’ (Klass, Silverman & Nickman,1992). Constructivist perspectives (Neimeyer, 1998) have emphasised exploration of meaning making around loss and expanded the therapeutic potential for using narrative therapies to assist in the grieving experience.