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

Department of Communication Studies, University of San Diego, 5998 Alcalá Park, Camino Hall 126, San Diego, CA 92110, USA
Academic Editor: Maureen Keeley
Behav. Sci. 2017, 7(2), 16;
Received: 28 February 2017 / Revised: 17 March 2017 / Accepted: 21 March 2017 / Published: 24 March 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Family Communication at the End of Life)
PDF [188 KB, uploaded 24 March 2017]


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. View Full-Text
Keywords: autoethnography; loss; narrative; text message autoethnography; loss; narrative; text message
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Tullis, J.A. Death of an Ex-Spouse: Lessons in Family Communication about Disenfranchised Grief. Behav. Sci. 2017, 7, 16.

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