Article Text

A walk through bereavement theory
  1. Isabel Dosser
  1. School of Nursing, Midwifery & Social Care, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Isabel Dosser, i.dosser{at}

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This paper examines and discusses specific grief theories that have emerged over a number of years, resulting in an overview of some of the main theories for the reader. It aims to inform nurses and encourage further exploration of the subject, ultimately resulting in an evidence-based approach to bereavement support. The roots of bereavement theory, found in the health-related literature, lie mainly within psychiatry and psychology, which may explain some of the reluctance of general nurses to engage with this literature and area of health care. The application of bereavement support in practice is important and detailed discussion of a practical application will be discussed in another paper; however, initial understanding of bereavement theory enables staff to begin to support patients and carers in an informed manner. No theory is absolute, and it is unlikely that any bereaved person follows the pattern of an individual theory as written, instead presenting a unique individual adaptation of parts of theories to reflect their personality and history. Notably due to the limitations of this article some theorists are not included. Therefore, disenfranchised grief, although acknowledged as important to the bigger picture is omitted.

Historical context

Theoretical frameworks on death, dying and bereavement have been produced more frequently in the past 25 years than for many years previously. Although the classic theories of the last century continue to be quoted, some theorists such as Buckman (1993a,b), Copp (1996) and Stroebe and Schut (1999, 2005) challenge this early work, and question early assumptions. Bereavement theories reflected over many years consider the multifaceted nature of death and dying and the impact on the patient and families, as well as the gradual shift to holistic care in contemporary cultures (Copp 1998).

Bereavement although not a new concept was only acknowledged and recognised by theorists and philosophers …

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