Grief Talk w/ Vonne Solis

Disenfranchised Grief: what it is and how it impacts us

August 24, 2022 Vonne Solis Season 1 Episode 6
Grief Talk w/ Vonne Solis
Disenfranchised Grief: what it is and how it impacts us
Show Notes Transcript

A Coffee Chat solo show where Vonne discusses what disenfranchised grief is and how not feeling understood, validated, acknowledged and respected in our loss impacts us in our grief experience and recovery.

0:00   Welcome
1:53   Vonne explains what disenfranchised grief is.
5:52  The overall riding feeling of disenfranchised grief.
8:46   What we need for improved support.
11:32 Vonne's personal experienced feeling invalidated in her grief as a bereaved mom.
14:07  Being afraid of our stories and what feeling like we have to "shut up" does to us.
19:27  What we need to do to create change and more holistic support.
22:02  Thank you and closing.


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Vonne Solis  0:00  
Welcome to another Grief Talk Coffee Chat episode. I'm your host, Vonne Solis.

Vonne Solis  0:13  
Okay, so welcome to a another episode of Grief Talk. I am your host, Vonne Solis. And this is a coffee chat episode. As I said in the earlier Coffee Chat episodes, these are solo episodes designed to have you imagine yourself sitting in your favorite coffee Bistro, across from a great friend, taking whatever information you can from the conversation that I actually share, but in your own mind, you can be responding to and reacting to related to your own experiences. Your own story in terms of different subject matters that I'm going to be presenting in these Coffee Chat episodes.

Vonne Solis  0:57  
So this is the fourth one I'm doing. It's my way of sharing with you my journey and what I've learned in grief as a bereaved mom since losing my daughter to suicide in July of 2005. So I've just passed the 17 year mark. And well, I'm always eager to learn from those who have gone before me and have much more experience than I do I still feel that the longer that we're in our process, the more we learn and gain wisdom. And the more that we decide that we want to share any part of this with others, I believe leads to healing.

Vonne Solis  1:38  
You know, taking away the stigma from grief in general. How we talk about grief changes. How we think about each other changes. We become more compassionate and empathetic. And that's what this podcast is all about. Creating all of that.

Vonne Solis  1:53  
So today, I wanted to talk about what I read in in a recent article is disenfranchised grief. And when I saw the term it isn't really a term. It's just the way this article was in an Apple news feed and it was talking a lot about stillbirth. And while that hasn't been my experience, of course, that is a huge community. And it's gained some popularity in the last year or so due to celebrities coming out and talking about their experiences. Trying to raise awareness. Trying to not feel so isolated and alone. And in that community by sharing, letting other women know and dads too, you're not you're not alone in this journey. This happens more than we like to think it does. It's a very painful, painful process. And it is loss. 100% it is loss.

Vonne Solis  2:57  
So in this article, they were talking a lot about how because there is no actual birth, no actual baby to take home from the hospital, you lose employee rights such as time off. Nobody really knows how to treat you therefore in a lot of cases, you're expected just to sort of go back to work and show up as if well, nothing ever happened. And in cases like where stillbirth happens at nine months or later and it actually happened in my own family. We have had two stillbirths on each side of my family. One midterm. One, one actually very, like nine and a half months actually. And at a certain point that the fetus is considered to be a live birth could could survive, those parents have to actually plan a funeral. They have to go through all the same things that we have to go through when we lose our living children or another loved one.

Vonne Solis  4:02  
So it's a very, very complex, painful process that other than having experienced in your own family, knowing somebody, a friend, reading about it in the news, watching some kind of media about it, basically, this is not something we go around talking about.

Vonne Solis  4:23  
So the point of the episode I want to share with you today is on a broader scale about disenfranchised grief. And when I saw somebody from a bereavement center in a city in the States, referring to grief in this manner, that description struck a chord with me. And I love it. And I have never come across it before and not to say it's not out there. I just haven't come across it before and I decided that is exactly, exactly how I feel about my own grief as a bereaved mother. And I'm sure millions of other people feel about their own grief and losses, too.

Vonne Solis  5:12  
So I just wanted to have a short discussion about how I think about disenfranchised grief, and what we can do to help each other and change our experiences after loss. And even in grief that may not be human loss, this podcast is dedicated to remembering that there are different types of loss that aren't human loss that impact people in similar ways to when we lose a human being that we love dearly.

Vonne Solis  5:52  
So the overall riding feeling of grief that feels disenfranchised, is that the loss and the bereavement experience feels invalidating. And when it feels invalidating, it's because it's not discussed, you don't feel respected, you don't feel heard, you feel very isolated, you basically know you're not the only one going through the experience, but it's very hard to connect with others going through the experience too, because it is such a such a culture of silence. So even though people are aware, and in my case, my, my daughter's death was a suicide. And I'm not alone, there are many, many millions of people who lose loved ones to suicide. And while it's okay and even encouraged for us to talk about it culturally, in broader terms, when we get down to the nit grit, and, you know, talk about, you know, our own stories, that becomes much more uncomfortable for people. As does stillbirth, as does anything, anything, I can't make a list of it here because it would be just anything that is impacting any individual in a way that they feel disenfranchised, or that their experience is not being validated.

Vonne Solis  7:22  
So we have a big problem, for sure, in North America, and I often like to remind my audience, listeners and viewers that I am in Canada, so I am not criticizing any system. I'm not criticizing any political, cultural social system. What I'm just doing is relaying the facts. We don't have enough support. And I believe fully in my heart that even in countries, such as in the United States, which states, which is 10 times bigger than Canada, and to me, it seems like Oh, my goodness, they have way more more support than we ever could in Canada. Given that they're 10 times larger than we are, I'm going to say that I'm thinking the support is about on equal footing. I'm not really aware of what's going on in Europe, and Australia, or in Asia, but in the people that I've met, you know, have had the good fortune of meeting that are, you know, able to communicate what's going on in their respective countries, all around, everyone agrees that we do need more education, awareness, support, compassion, empathy for each other.

Vonne Solis  8:46  
And certainly when it comes from professionals trying to understand what those of us that have had very difficult experiences in loss, you know, and they haven't gone through it, that, you know, we need more understanding and, you know, integration of the, you know, their tools, and their processes for treatment needs to be much more integrated with our actual experiences. And that, you know, one size does not fit all for treatment. And a lot of getting help and feeling supported and healing revolves around actually feeling heard, understood, respected, valued, and where we're not afraid to discuss what we're going through. Feeling and you know, our pain and how we're hurting with a medical professional. And while I'm going to be doing another episode on why I believe that a lot of us in bereavement from child loss and suicide or other types of difficult loss, maybe even all loss, but why we avoid, in many, many cases, medical, you know, support and treatment, I'll be doing another episode on that. But largely it is it is centered on really not feeling or believing that our experience can be understood by anybody else.

Vonne Solis  10:24  
So the main point of of this episode today is to just number one, have have you start thinking have everybody start thinking about disenfranchised grief. I don't think I'm coining a new term here. But even if I am, I'm going to be referring to it quite a bit because as I said, it just it feels right for me. It feels like yes, that's what, that's what I have felt like, through all my 17 years, right from the very beginning of becoming a bereaved parent. And the stigma that was attached more to the suicide, I would say, is the stigma, but as a bereaved parent, just feeling so isolated, and alone and almost as the more I I had experience with it, the longer I have been in my bereavement, and the different challenges I've had to face, really having feeling like I've had to fight for what I need. And certainly what would feel like a relief, and in some cases, even what I've wanted.

Vonne Solis  11:32  
So going back to that article that started this, this whole new way of thinking for me, and I want to just focus a little bit on the part in that article, and I'll put a link to it below in the description, but when they talk about, there's no baby, we don't know what to do with this grief, because there's no baby that you bring home from the hospital. Therefore, we're going to treat you as if it never happened. Well, I'm going to say that the same thing happens or feels like it's happening when we lose a child, a living child. And I can't really speak to trauma from other losses personally, because while I've had many other losses, I have never felt so disenfranchised. In those losses, i.e. parents. Mostly it's been it's been parents on both sides or older siblings on my husband's side of the family. And in all those cases, even though we may not talk about it a lot, if you see a Facebook post in someone's like honoring my mom or honoring my dad, you know who passed away. Gone but never forgotten. I'll always remember. All that kind of stuff. We look at that on a on a Facebook post, or, you know, wherever we might come upon this information and say, oh, yeah, I'm really sorry about that, or oh, you know, sending love. That sort of thing.

Vonne Solis  13:03  
But if you start doing that around your child, and you start posting pictures and memories, and you know, remembering never forgotten that sort of thing. I've never done it on social media. And I'm not likely going to do it. But in either case, no one knows what to do with the information not really. And except to you know, so sorry for you hope you're doing better or you know, whatever that would be, that also can feel very disenfranchising. Because we know they don't really know how we feel, and nor should they know how we feel. But it's, it's the and they and people who try to support us in our loss, they don't know what to do. They don't know what to say. And we're not really trained to tell people, "This is what I've gone through. This is where it's okay to talk to me about and this is what I want you to talk to me about". And this applies largely to family and even very close friends. Maybe to some extent, colleagues and so on.

Vonne Solis  14:07  
But it's having this conversation and not being afraid of our stories, not getting I'm not wanting to get stuck in the story. But I'm absolutely one to acknowledge the story. Let us first and foremost acknowledge our stories and what's happened to us. And then let's think about and talk about and teach each other how we respond to information relating to those stories. Information meaning on a good day, you're feeling great. You've had a really successful win at this or that. On a not so good day and you have to miss work, or you're quiet or sullen or crabby or angry or frustrated or lashing out or any of these things and you don't even know why you're doing it. A large part of it is having culturally been been taught to squash the feelings and basically shut up. Don't talk. 

Vonne Solis  15:13  
You know if any of you are watching or listening this that have actually lost a child, I'd love to know in the comments how many of you feel free to talk about that child, your child, say their name. And reminisce. You know? I don't, I literally don't. It's one thing to do it in books and blogs, it's another thing to do it in real life situations. And when you feel that your grief is not is not validated is not understood, and you can't speak your child's name or for in any other loss situation, it might be something that you were a step parent. Or you feel really guilty for your partner's death. Like I as I said, there are so many situations this could be impacting you or someone you know. It's just too hard to itemize them here. But in anything that makes us feel invalidated, disenfranchised, we learn to shut up about it.

Vonne Solis  16:22  
So my point to doing all of this, starting the Grief Talk podcast, doing these Coffee Chat episodes, having chats with other people coming on to share their stories, and inspire others and we can learn about what they did. It's to help us open up and to help us feel safe around each other. So that when we come upon a person with an experience that we don't want to go through ourselves, that we don't really understand, that we don't really even want to think about, let alone talk about it, there's a lot of value in listening to other people. In gathering information. And even when we don't know what to say, just say, I don't really know what to say, if you could help me, that'd be great. And in many cases, those of us that have been in this situation myself as a bereaved mom, and I can't tell you how many times I've had people say to me, actually nothing. They stop when I say, you know if if I have chosen if I have chosen to share with them, that I had a daughter, but she passed away, there's usually "ohhhh, I'm sorry", if that and then dead silence. So it becomes a very awkward moment. It makes the person that I'm communicating with feel uncomfortable, and it makes me or can or has made me in the past, feel defensive, certainly alone, certainly not understood, certainly invalidated. And it certainly makes me feel like I have not got any right to talk about that chapter of my life that included my daughter.

Vonne Solis  18:20  
Additionally, it really makes me feel like I have to wipe her experience on this planet. Her time on this planet. I just have to wipe it, wipe it clean, as though it never happened. And that's the part that I want to relate to the new parents and the new mom who have to leave the hospital without their baby, feeling as if the entire pregnancy never really happened.

Vonne Solis  18:52  
So again, I just want to reiterate, it feels very much the same for those of us who have lost a child, no matter how many years have passed. It can feel the same for people who are struggling with another type of loss, human loss or situation that for whatever reason, they feel disenfranchised, that it wasn't important. That they weren't validated. It could even just be family. A cultural community that refuses to acknowledge that whatever happened was important to that person.

Vonne Solis  19:27  
In whatever way the disenfranchised feeling comes about, it's disenfranchised. And what we need to learn to do is listen to each other. Not be afraid of each other's stories. Not be afraid to teach our medical professionals and employers and anybody else in the community that we have to interact with and that we may need something from because this is a journey that's very difficult to go to go it alone, we have to feel that our experiences can be more integrated so we can learn from each other how we can help each other. How we can help the medical professionals understand us better, and how they can develop the tools to help us heal for example.

Vonne Solis  20:18  
With employers, it would be changing policies around grief, bereavement. If you have a work policy that states you can have eight weeks off, I'm using this as an example from that, you know, from one of the stories in that article, you can have eight weeks off after your baby is born and come home and you bond with that in Canada, it's up to a year and a half, so I'm just using the example in the states of eight weeks, and you don't bring the baby home? And then nobody knows well, when are they supposed to come back to work? Is it three days? Three days sick? Is it sick leave? Is it bereavement leave? Is it nothing? No leave? As if as if the pregnancy didn't happen?

Vonne Solis  20:59  
These are the types of conversations that at every single level from the highest to the one experiencing it, has to have to these conversations have to happen so that changes can be made. And that the people who are going through the experiences aren't driven to desperation and other measures to help themselves cope. This is we can do better we can we can do better as a culture. And we can do better as human beings feeling compassion and empathy for each other.

Vonne Solis  21:35  
So anyway, I don't want to go in on any more about that. I just really wanted to share that I'm excited to see this be raised in a thought-provoking manner. Any information that comes to us that invites us to think on a deeper level is a really, really good start to making the changes. And change always first happens within.

Vonne Solis  22:02  
Thanks for watching. Thanks for listening. Until next time,

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