Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)


Communication and Storytelling Studies

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Amber Kinser

Committee Members

Andrew Herrmann, Nancy Donoval


This study explores the experiences of people who have lost loved ones due to socially stigmatized deaths. Drawing from eight individual interviews, the author argues that the stigma associated with death due to drug overdose, suicide, substance abuse, or murder can cause traumatic or prolonged grief and can complicate the way the bereaved talk about grief as a part of their healing process. With the mortality rate in the U.S. rising, there is an epidemic of disenfranchised grief affecting millions of bereaved individuals. Using Coordinated Management of Meaning and Communication Privacy Management theories, the author uncovers strategies the traumatically bereaved employ to manage interactions and relationships with others. A qualitative analysis of participant interviews revealed that social stigma, whether experienced or anticipated, affects the way the bereaved communicate and can cause self-silencing. Findings indicate a need for safe, supportive, and non-judgmental spaces for the traumatically bereaved to share their stories.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.