bereavement and the
experience of grief
It is widely acknowledged that bereavement represents one of the major challenges facing people (Payne et al. 1999). But all bereavements are not the same. The nature of the relationship, the stage in life of both the deceased and the bereaved person, the anticipated or unexpected nature of the loss, the nature and reason for the death and the way the dead body is treated all impact on how each loss is experienced and the meaning attributed to it. The starting point of all cadaveric organ donations is the death of another human being and therefore it is essential to understand how loss and bereavement are conceptualized and experienced.
Requests for organ donation are more likely to arise out of sudden, unexpected and untimely deaths (Sque and Payne 1996) and there is evidence that these types of bereavement are even more challenging than those which are anticipated (Stroebe and Schut 2001; Relf 2004). In this situation, family members have little or no time to adjust to the loss. They may struggle to take on the enormity of the events that are unfolding. They therefore cannot experience anticipatory grief which, in expected deaths associated with terminal illness, may allow some rehearsal of how they may manage after the death and an opportunity to develop new skills and interests (Evans 1994). There is evidence that sudden, unexpected deaths that are associated with violence or are perceived as traumatic, such as bleeding to death or drowning, increase the likelihood of grief complications (Stroebe and Schut 2001).
In this chapter I will be arguing that in contemporary western society, there have been a number of discourses that serve to shape understanding of loss and bereavement. In addition, most of the major religions have also provided explanations for loss and accounts of what happens at the time of and after death, which many people find comforting (Parkes et al. 1997). The chapter aims to introduce three perspectives on understanding bereavement and to briefly introduce bereavement support interventions. The purpose is to