Death of an Ex-Spouse: Lessons in Family Communication about Disenfranchised Grief

Behav Sci (Basel). 2017 Mar 24;7(2):16. doi: 10.3390/bs7020016.


The death of a loved one is an emotional-laden experience, and while grief and mourning rituals are less formal today in many communities, there remain some social norms for individuals to process loss. The death of an ex-family member, such as a former spouse, is more complicated and expectations for how to respond are fraught with uncertainty. While grief has been studied and is primarily understood as an individual cognitive process, scholars in sociology and communication are considering the ways in which grief and mourning are social and take place in dialogue with others. This manuscript explores Kenneth Doka's concept of disenfranchised grief, which is "grief that is experienced when loss cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned" through the author's experience of the death of her ex-husband. The narrative will recount how the author learned about her ex-husband's death (via text message), and will challenge definitions of family and family communication about death and grief, particularly the communication strategies used to cope with this unique type of loss.

Keywords: autoethnography; loss; narrative; text message.