The Relationship Of Cause Of Death To Attitudes Toward Funerals And Bereavement Adjustment examined how multiple factors might combine to affect the bereaved. Whether someone died suddenly, or after an illness, whether they were close or distant, and other circumstances of death would seem likely to influence how survivors adjust to the loss. Funeral activities have also been suggested as factors affecting participants’ later adjustment. The researchers used multivariate analysis to explain how various factors combine to affect mourning.
Subjects: 438 adults who had experienced the loss of a family member or friend within two years (90% had occurred within one year). Average age of subjects: 35.
When the person’s death was expected, survivors tended to have better bereavement adjustment.
When the death was expected, and the mourner was emotionally close to the deceased, they saw the funeral as more meaningful and they participated more in post-funeral activities.
For older bereaved persons, the type of death did not have as big an impact on how well they adjusted, or how much they participated in the funeral rituals.
People whose loved ones died from violent, sudden, or stigmatized causes had the worst grief and bereavement adjustment overall, and received the lowest levels of social support. These mourners do get more involved in the early stages of the funeral process, which may be beneficial for them. But the study does not show better adjustment for such bereaved persons as a result of funeral participation.
Regarding type of death:
Continue reading 1999: Funeral Participation And Type Of Death As Factors In Bereavement
Funeral Behavior and Unresolved Grief is the preliminary report of a psychiatric research project titled “Mortality and Grief Studies in Alachua County,” which was funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health. Its purpose was to study people with “unresolved grief” by comparing their “sociotemporal characteristics and funeral behaviors” with people whose grief was considered resolved.
Subjects: 24 adults who had lost next-of-kin approximately a year earlier. 16 were under the age of 65, and 8 were over 65. Half were judged to have resolved their grief; the other half were still suffering from unresolved grief. Alachua County, Florida.
The idea that mourners who grieve for a longer time and/or more intensely than others are in any sense abnormal has been questioned by many people since the 1970s when this study was conducted. But whether classified as unresolved, complicated, traumatic, or by any other name, some grief experiences are more extreme than others. Without saying it is pathological, we can say some grief remains unresolved longer.
To better understand if there are certain external factors that might cause people to have longer-lasting grief, or certain behavior associated with long-lasting grief, researchers compared experiences of the two groups of subjects.
Continue reading 1976: Funerals And Unresolved Grief After One Year Of Bereavement
The First Year of Bereavement reports results of the Harvard Bereavement Study, which was conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Laboratory of Community Psychiatry. Studies of people who have recently experienced funerals are rare because it is hard to find the people. In addition to its prestigious pedigree, this project had access to data from the local office of vital statistics, and thus the researchers found good number of participants who fit the demographic requirements of the study.
Subjects: 49 widows and 19 widowers, whose spouses had died within the past year from causes other than suicide or homicide. All under age 45. Several interviews were conducted the first year after death, and a follow-up interview 2-4 years later. Boston.
Topics covered in this project go well beyond funeral experiences but it is extremely valuable for its extensive focus on the latter—which even now, more than half a century later, has only been done a few times. As such, this Harvard study is an important snapshot of one aspect of funerals in the 1960s.
Continue reading 1965-1969: Young Widows and Widowers During First Year of Bereavement
In the field of archeology, Jill Baker uses the concept of a “funeral kit” to describe combinations of elements in burials that seem to indicate “routine practice, rite, ritual, and ceremony” within a culture. We can use “the twentieth-century funeral” to identify the American funeral kit of the recent era.
The industry’s explanation of this funeral kit was spelled out many years ago and stayed consistent for decades—in fact, there are people today who use the same explanations as those used 50 or more years ago to describe the functions of the various funeral parts. That is not a criticism, because it just means there came a time when people had to come up with clear ways to describe their businesses, and they did a good job of it.
We usually explain practices when they come under attack. Obviously, throughout the entire history of religion in the West, we find the councils, creeds, and confessions emerging during times of division or in response to some heresy or other challenge.
Ethnicity is played out the same way. As Fredrik Barth fascinatingly noted, groups view their distinctive symbols as most important at the margins, where they interact with others.
In the same way, the American funeral concept was formulated and rationalized in large part as a response to the five Cs—critics, consumer advocates, clergy, cooperatives, and cremationists—in the twentieth-century.
Continue reading The Funeral, Deconstructed