Emeritus Faculty, Acad Council, Psychiatry & Behavioral Science
"Ask not for whom the bells toll; they toll for thee." John Donne's admonition, though written 350 years ago, endures with astonishing freshness; it speaks to something self-evident, to a truth that is well known to many who have experienced bereavement--that the death of a significant other has the potential to hurl the survivor into a confrontation with his/her own death. A confrontation with death--should we seek it? There is evidence in the clinical literature that in terminally ill patients such a confrontation may lead to pronounced positive psychological changes. Research (Yalom 1980) has documented that terminally ill patients may undergo a series of positive personal changes; they communicate more openly with family and close friends, they experience fewer fears, they rearrange their life priorities, they are less preoccupied with the trivialities of life, they live life more immediately rather than postpone experience and pleasure into the future. Does spousal bereavement in our culture confront individuals with their own personal death? Does it cause some widow/widowers to regard their existence in a different manner? If so, might it be possible that those bereaved individuals who examine their life deeply may have a different course of bereavement than those who do not look within? Might it even be possible that bereavement, for some individuals, results in psychological shifts analogous to the positive changes reported by terminally ill patients? These are the basic questions of our research inquiry. We designed a project which would allow us to determine, in a nonclinical sample of bereaved spouses, differences in the degree of existential awareness and the consequences of such awareness on the course of bereavement. We also attempted to determine which subjects were more likely to develop heightened existential awareness. The participants studied were part of an intervention project on bereavement in which we studied a sample of widows and widowers in the first few months of bereavement and then offered them an opportunity to participate in an eight-meeting support group. Reports of the clinical issues emerging in our short-term bereavement groups and of the efficacy of these groups were published elsewhere (Yalom and Vinogradov 1988; Lieberman and Yalom 1991).
View details for Web of Science ID A1991GM81600003
View details for PubMedID 1788364