WW108 September 1, 2021 – The Pandemic Causes Us All to Experience Disenfranchised Grief

Wednesday Wisdom Series September 1, 2021
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September 1, 2021

Following is the latest Wednesday Wisdom article from the Family Assistance Foundation, reminding you that a fully integrated approach for assisting survivors of traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D., and distributed by the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., www.fafonline.org. Reprint is available with written permission from the Foundation.

The Pandemic Causes Us All to Experience Disenfranchised Grief

The term “disenfranchised grief” was coined by Dr. Kenneth J. Doka in 1985, and he described it as grief that is not acknowledged by society.


    In last month’s article, I presented a preview of a survivor and topic that will be featured at the upcoming Member-Partner Meeting September 29-30, in Boise, Idaho. Attendees will meet Missy Jones, a mother whose son died in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy on April 13, 2010. Missy’s story is an example of disenfranchised grief, a term used in the Foundation’s Human Services Response™ Training to refer to grief and grievers who are often invalidated as their suffering is not always recognized by others. The article brought several emails from our readers—many who had their own examples to share with me. This month’s article will expand the discussion on disenfranchised grief and discuss how it relates to all of us in terms of the pandemic.

    Many have lost family members because of COVID-19—by far, the greatest loss. And after that, loss of employment, and in some cases, careers that may never resume are a tremendous source of grief for many. It is also true that almost every one of us have lost something because of the pandemic and in that sense, most would agree that we are all suffering from disenfranchised grief. 


When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its advice to stay six feet apart from others back in March 2020, that suddenly made affectionate touch a scarcity.

-Kory Floyd, Ph.D., Professor of Communication, University of Arizona


    Care and special assistance team members and leaders typically have a high need for belonging and connection. Since the pandemic began, this need has been deprived for many of us. According to Kory Floyd, Ph.D., who specializes in communication of affection, we have all been impacted by what he calls touch hunger. Like regular hunger, touch hunger serves as an alert that something important is missing—in this case, the sense of security and care that comes with tactile contact.

    Dr. Floyd and others who conduct research in this field on the essential nature of touch, tell us that touch hunger is necessary to well-being throughout the life span. Research shows that touch is instrumental for healthy physical and cognitive development beginning in infancy. During adulthood, affectionate touch contributes to both psychological health and the body’s ability to manage stress and reduce inflammation.

    Research also tells us that when people feel deprived of touch, it is understandable that their well-being can suffer. Even in normal times, touch hunger is associated with greater stress, anxiety, and loneliness, lower quality of sleep; and reduced life satisfaction and closeness in romantic relationships. Add to that, the restrictions on touch introduced by COVID-19 and it makes sense why so many are suffering.

According to Dr. Floyd, sharing affection with pets can have stress-alleviating benefits

    Since there is no known date when the pandemic will end, we may feel deprived of being in the physical presence of others for an unknown time. It is therefore important to know what researchers tell us that can be helpful in filling some of our needs for physical touch. According to Dr. Floyd, sharing affection with pets can have stress-alleviating benefits. Self-massage, such as of the hands or neck, can have calming and pain reducing effects. Hugging a pillow reduces the brains experience of stress. 

    While these are imperfect substitutes, as long as the pandemic is part of our lives, these ideas may be useful for those who are suffering from touch hunger.   Whether it is the professional handshake, or hug, that many of us miss sharing with colleagues, or closer touching with loved ones we cannot physically be near—acknowledging this need is important as we navigate through this unprecedented time in our lives.

    Since February of 2020, at the Foundation, we have had no direct physical contact with nearly all of our members and teammates. 

      All communication has been over Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other forms of virtual communication. While we know that the virtual meetings have gone a long way in helping us keep connected, we look forward to the upcoming meeting as a way of connecting in person with many of our team members.

    For those who cannot attend in person, we look forward to seeing your faces and hearing your voices over Zoom, as many are calling during the meeting to check in and to do their best to connect with colleagues and co-workers. We long for the day when we can share a hug or a warm handshake. For certain, we will never again take for granted the opportunity to be in the presence of one another in person and to satisfy the touch hunger that we now know so well.


For more information about our upcoming Member-Partner Meeting registration details, and how you can call in to connect virtually, contact Cheri Johnson at cheri.johnson@fafonline.org

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