In the early 2000s, Hayslip, Guarnaccia, and colleagues conducted an extensive survey of several hundred bereaved adults, collected a large amount of data, and ran numerous analyses on the data in order to publish two reports in the Omega journal. The relevant conclusions, for my purposes, overlap and are modest in number. Therefore, since they are based on the same data pool, I am going to combine the two reports into a single, longer review.
Proximal And Distal Antecedents Of Funeral Attitudes: A Multidimensional Analysis attempted to learn whether close/direct or distant/indirect factors are more likely to affect how people think about funerals. Close, or “proximal,” influences include emotional reactions to and personal feelings about death, and involvement in funeral-related activities. Distant, or “distal,” factors would include things like socioeconomic background, age, general health, and personality characteristics. Portions of the data were also used to determine the “pragmatic” versus “emotional” reasons behind opinions about funerals.1
Assessing Adults’ Difficulty In Coping With Funerals took a different perspective on the data from the same surveys, in order to explore characteristics of people who report positive or negative experiences from different aspects of funeral participation. The survey questionnaire, described in more detail below, was composed of many questions from many separate tools inquiring about personality, health, experiences, and opinions. One of the tools asked about participation in all of the different elements of funeral and burial rituals—before, during, and after the main ceremonies—and how difficult it was to cope with each element. Results from this set of questions were analyzed as to how they varied according to other factors in the data collection.2
Subjects: 348 adult volunteers “who had experienced the death and funeral of a close family member or close friend within the past two years” (90% within the previous year, average length of time since death = 11.83 months). Recruiting of volunteers took place through various support organizations such as bereavement groups, churches, and hospices, as well as through university classes and newspaper ads. Age range was from 18 to 88, with average age = 34.21.
The subjects’ opinions on funerals appear to have been mainly formed by their personal experiences with funerals and death rather than by more distant or indirect factors.
People who showed the most positive attitudes toward funerals were those who had been more personally involved in pre-funeral ritual activities, and who also reported positive grief adjustment.