Monday, October 8, 2018

Disenfranchised Grief: Mourning The Loss of a Stepson

[Reviewed and updated February 13, 2022]

Disenfranchised grievers experience strong feelings that are often complicated or exacerbated by the relationship, by the type of loss or by isolation. These lead to the central paradox of disenfranchised grief: though grief is often intense, the social support that assists other grievers is absent.  ~ Kenneth J. Doka

A colleague writes: I hope you can give me some advice. One of our staff members lost her 18-year-old stepson last week in a car accident. She and her husband married six years ago, combining two families. Each had three children by previous marriages. They all lived together as a blended family, although their children's other parent remained involved. I went to the wake and it was painful to see my friend excluded from all the collage photos. Her kids were there in some of them and all the kids are very close. Her daughter and his son (the one who died) are the same age and were close. She's got a lot of disenfranchised grief going on. I know there is information out there on step-parent grief, but wondered if you knew of any books or resources that are particularly good?

My response: I’m so sorry to learn this awful news. Your staff member is grappling with grief on many different levels: first, her own grief at the loss of this boy, then the grief of her husband at the death of his son, then the grief of the kids at the death of their sibling. And as you say, because this was her stepson, there is “a lot of disenfranchised grief going on.” Wow. Way too complicated, and way too much to handle all alone. I think the best thing you can do for your staff member is to gently but firmly encourage her to seek out a family therapist who is knowledgeable about grief as well as family dynamics. She could begin by seeing the therapist alone or with her husband, which would give the therapist an opportunity to assess the situation and make further recommendations.

With the exception of the one I've listed below (a 25-page Kindle edition on Amazon), I’m not familiar with any particular book that specifically addresses this unique type of grief, but I was able to find a few good articles on the topic. At the very least, such reading would help your friend to better understand what she may be feeling and why.

I hope this helps, and please know that I am sending peace and healing to this bereft family.

I Loved Her Too: A Step-Parent's Journey through Grief

The Grief of Stepparents

Disenfranchised Grief in Stepfamilies

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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