On the web site www.researchgate.com I found an article by Emma Logan, PhD and Lauren Breen, PhD out of Curtin University CERIPH School of Psychology. The article is titled "What Determines Supportive Behaviours Following Bereavement?” A Systematic Review and Call to Action".
The very first sentence of the abstract was so powerful in what it said to me and I think to those of us sharing our grief, loss, mourning, and hope I wanted to share the article, my thoughts on some of the data, and that one sentence quoted above.
We all grieve individually, our way, our speed, based on our life experiences. Grief is unique to each of us. Therefore our ability to change, improve, manage, or engage with our grief cannot be changed easily or simply. What can change is how our social network responds to our grief.
The authors completed an extensive review of bereaved, decedent, and respondent-related determinants of social support. The data demonstrates the power of social support and its failings. More importantly those of us who grieve can say to ourselves and others, so that is why at times I hurt when friends and family try to help.
If this topic is of interest to you download the article and share what you see and understand. This is damn interesting and important.
Helpful and timely social support is the single strongest determinants for those grieving to arrive at positive psychosocial outcomes. The ability to modify many if any of the factors impacting our individual grieving journey cannot be modified after the fact to the extent that social support can. The data shows that those of us in grief do not frequently receive the quantity or quality of social support we would like. Effective social support must be recognized, the potential supporter must be capable and willing, and the gesture perceived as helpful by the receiver.
Informal supports in mediating grief is well recognized yet promoting and enhancing the community's capacity and ability to provide grieve support is limited. Much is written about those of us in the middle of grief yet, little is presented on potential supporter and the determinants that drive supporters perceptions of grief and intentions to provide social support.
How many of us have felt the insensitive comments from friends and others that cut us to quick and wondered WTF? Why did they just do that? There is science to it and a call to action for more study.
The authors set out to present a detailed understanding of the circumstances under which potential supporters (family, friends, etc.) respond to those grieving.
This is a stunning and important set of data points that all of us who have, do, and will grieve should read, understand, and share. In my mind the goal for sharing is to help those who want to support us learn what is needed and how to provide support.
I will review some of the key points and try to link those points to my grieving if possible, but I want to stay out of the weeds and allow you to make your own connections and analysis.
The methodology was well designed. The authors used an extensive search strategy with key words “bereavement” or “grief” AND “social norms” or “judgment” or “social support” or “helping behavior” or “expectation or “belief” or “evaluation”. All studies were original research.
The authors focused on individual'’ behaviors toward a bereaved person. They excluded those who were bereaved.
The majority (n=31) of studies the authors noted were quantitative, three were qualitative, and eight mixed. 21 of the studies were experimental, 19 cross-sectional survey, and two exploratory qualitative designs.
The authors identified 10 determinants across 20 studies.
Gender was highly studied with 10 out of 12 studies reporting effect. When compared to women men were offered fewer opportunities to talk. Men were perceived to have difficulty confronting grief and expressing feeling especially in later life.
Time since death was examined in six studies. All six studies showed that over time grief did not adjust appropriately. Respondents expectations expected fewer grief-related symptoms, better recovery indicators. Respondents expected fewer grief-related symptoms and more recovery related indicators. Time does not seem to heal all wounds.
Relationship to the deceased was reviewed in five studies. Bereaved children, spouses, and parents were given greater value and agency than distant relatives/friends. A surprising finding was interaction between relation to the deceased and time since death. Seeking a romantic partner rated as more appropriate over time and feeling sorrow for oneself was less appropriate if you lost s spouse than a child.
Perceptions of coping was found in two studies. One of the findings were respondents expected less intense grief for women bereaved by anticipate death than sudden deaths, no such finding was observed for men. For me, the moment Donna was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer I began to grieve.
Perceived social support identified in two studies. When respondents perceived social support was high it was assumed the bereaved was coping better. I can't help but think, 'Look at all your friends and family. You're doing great." As if the surface of one's life reflects what lies beneath.
The respondent-related categories that were the most well represented with 26 determinants across 26 studies.
Gender in 20 studies found mixed findings. Men (again the group here are social support not those grieving) expected less distress and shorter recovery time compared to women. Additionally men were likely to expect friends to help the bereave, endorsed more inappropriate and unhelpful behaviors toward the bereaved. Finally, men were more likely to talk with the bereaved three moths post-death and were less likely to believe the bereaved could have prevented the death (suicide).
Bereavement history was assessed in seven studies and five demonstrating a positive effect. Respondents who experienced personal bereavement showed greater empathy, acceptance, and comfort with grieving. Those with a grief history had greater facilitative responses to the bereaved and self rated as having more confidence in supporting those grieving. The remaining studies found no effect of bereavement history on expectations of grief, intentions to support or empathy. Non-bereaved respondents were less realistic in their assumptions about bereavement, underestimating grief-related thoughts'-feelings and over0estimating acceptance of the loss and amount of contact between bereaved and others in the lead up to the death.
This is the first systematic and comprehensive review of the literature on what determines supportive behaviors from the general public following bereavement.
Social support is based on an interplay of variables relating to the bereaved, the deceased, and potential supporter.
The complexity of this entire area of study accounts for why some bereaved persons do not consistently received the necessary support.
Those bereaved persons' perspectives on helpful and unhelpful support are rarely converted into practical support strategies.
Those grieving do so within the context of friends and family networks and do not seek or need formal services.
The authors note there is considerable potential for improving community-wide understanding about the individuality of grief responses and the impact of helpful, timely social support on the grieving process.
Very few factors that impact the grieving process can be modified after the fact to the extent that social support can.
The greatest responsibility for this role lies within the informal relationships surrounding the bereaved person.
The authors this area and the data they presented as a call to action but caution that to promote and enhance the community's capacity to provide bereavement support without and understanding of current grief norms and supportive practices.
There is part of me that wants to say “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” If we who are grieving are allowed to grieve our way no matter what and how that is we should accept that family, friends, and others who are there to support us can only do what they can do. It seems only fair.
The other part of me feels that if we, the ones grieving, can change and learn those who are within our social network can as well. I have seen within my social network of those grieving messages, help, sharing, and learning. You are my social support network. Yet it feels unfair that only those of us who have experienced a loss burden each other when we need support.
Those who have not lost someone and have not experienced grief should learn what is needed find what to say and how to say. Many do and do well. This data analysis points to deep seeded failure on the part of those who want to help us. Perhaps we as grievers can educate those who have not grieved on how to help us. I am not sure what I do know is much of what I see here is what I have experienced. And that experience did not hurt as much as felt empty. I would think those in our support network want to feel they’ve stepped up and successfully made those who have lost a loved one feel sunshine and better.