Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Out of Sight-Out of Mind: The Reality of Disenfranchised Grief

One of the most powerful and frightening articles I read this summer was Leslie Jamison’s Opinion piece, “Rape, Race and the Jogger”. She starts by reminding us that this summer three female joggers, all around 30, all white, were murdered. The information about one of these joggers caught my attention when it was first reported, because the murder occurred close to my childhood home and closer still to my childhood fears. The warning, “ Never go into the weeds alone!” that had carried too much weight as a child was unlocked and now seemed proven to be true…

After years of working with trauma victims, and years of pushing aside fear for the joy of running, I know about the urge to blame the victim for not heeding “the warnings.” I know about the urge to distance ourselves from the horrific events of life that can’t be controlled. I know too that in such dismissal we disqualify the impact of violence, murder and traumatic grief suffered by others.

Reflective of this and even more frightening is Jamison’s report that during the same-two-week period this summer, three other women were murdered whose deaths received much less attention- Skye Mockabee in Cleveland, Erykah Tijerina in El Paso and Rae Lynn Thomas in Columbus, Ohio. They were all young, transgender, minority women. Why did we not hear about their murders?

When I interviewed Jane Baker on Psych Up live for the podcast on her book, Trading Places- When Our Son Became a Daughter, one of her greatest fears was possible violence toward her transgender daughter. Three other mothers faced that reality with their daughters this summer. Few people knew about their loss.

In his chapter, “A Mosaic of Transmissions After Trauma in the book Lost in Transmission,” Howard Stein raises the question of unacknowledged and unacknowledgeable grief. He asks, Who counts? Who is treated as though they do not matter? Who is remembered? Who is forgotten?

Stein describes “Disenfranchised Grief” (Doka, 1989) as the loss and grief that individuals, families, organizations and whole societies refuse to recognize as legitimate. It is loss and grief that is given “ no space and no time”. The unknown murders of the three young transgender, minority women exemplify this.

Sadly, the other poignant example from Jamison’s article that can be considered as “disenfranchised grief” is the unrecognized trauma and loss of the five young men now exonerated for the rape of the Central Park Jogger. These young men, The Central Park Five, came of age behind bars. Most know of  them as perpetrators of violence. How many now recognize them as victims of violence?

When the experience of violence and grief suffered by some becomes “ cut out” of the social discourse, we all suffer. Unrecognized trauma and loss returns as resentment, anger, despair and fear – the most dangerous consequence of all.

Even the personal awareness by each of us, regarding the disenfranchising of  another’s trauma and grief, is a major step in a world where we are all connected.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”Mother Teresa


Listen to Podcast of Dr. Connie Siskowski, founder of the American Association for Caregiving Youth who awakens us to the reality that 1.4 million children in this country sacrifice their education, health, and childhood to be caregivers to sick or disabled parents and family members.