Grief, Mourning, and Death Ritual

Grief, Mourning, and Death Ritual

Grief, Mourning, and Death Ritual

Grief, Mourning, and Death Ritual


"a must for any specialist and advanced practitioner's bookshelf." Journal of Interpersonal Care

This book focuses on what happens after a death has taken place. Drawing on social theory and anthropology, contributors examine responses to death as they occur within the unique set of cultural, social and historical circumstances which characterizes post-war society. The book does not just document and make sense of contemporary practices but also critically reviews the ways grief, mourning and death ritual have been approached by academics and practitioners in the field. It does this by combining substantial reviews with shorter illustrative examples of grief, mourning and death ritual as they are manifest in specific settings and with defined groups. These illustrative examples include personal and institutional responses to death at different points in the life cycle, and responses to different sorts of death - the death of children and death in disasters for example. The examples include commentaries on bereavement work and on changes in both the funeral industry and memorialization practices.

Grief, Mourning and Death Ritual is aimed at advanced students in sociology, anthropology and psychology with an interest in death, dying and mortality. It is also directly relevant to those concerned with loss and how to respond to it. The book is therefore suitable for use on courses in nursing, palliative care, social work and counselling.


The opening lines of Douglas Dunn's poem 'December' bid the reader to write their grief into their poetry until there is none left, a task which may take many years. His lines indicate a sea change in the attitudes of the English speaking Western world to grief and mourning. It reflects an emergent postmodern view that grief can accompany what remains of a lifetime. The message here is clear, that grief is work, and that this is not necessarily bad, nor time limited. On the contrary it suggests that it might fruitfully occupy the time of mourners and even be productive in some way.

The explicit expression of this perspective (the assumption that grieving could be productive and indeed constitute legitimate creativity) is something of a departure from the popular assumption that grieving should be time limited and that one can expect to recover from loss. This latter view was based on Freud's claim that recovery usually includes transferring the emotional energy previously invested in the deceased into a new relationship. It also included the concept that grief is a process; one moves through stages of accepting one's fate or stages of grief (Kübler-Ross 1969; Worden 1991). This was in many ways contrary to the cultural tradition, encompassed in art, music and literature, which has enriched Western society for centuries. Requiem masses were commissioned for monarchs and other luminaries of the age; composers, poets and artists gave expression to their own grief through works that focused specifically on their personal losses – Mahler's kindertotenliede is a notable example. In very few of these artistic forms was there any suggestion that the deceased could be replaced.

In contrast, within Anglophone Western societies, the late twentieth century saw much attention being given to grief and mourning as mental health 'problems' that could be 'solved'. This is often thought to represent an . . .

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