People who have never suffered the loss of a loved one tend to believe that the bereavement process has a far more destructive and devastating effect on a person compared to those who have actually suffered such a loss in the past, according to a new study by the University of Haifa's International Center for the Study of Loss, Bereavement and Human Resilience.
The study was presented on April 10 at a conference organized by the Center entitled "Memorial Days and Other Days."
"Loss is a personal experience, but it's also a social and cultural one," says Prof. Shimshon Rubin, who heads the Center and was one of the study's authors. "The way society relates to people who have suffered a loss is critical to the way the grieving process is managed, because the social component is very important in coping with bereavement."
The study, which was conducted with psychologists Hagar Tehelet-Rubinov and Maya Halevi, questioned more than 200 men and women of different ages, a portion of whom had suffered loss or trauma in the past. Participants filled out a variety of questionnaires that included stories of people who had suffered different types of trauma or loss. The participants were asked to rank the severity of that person's situation based on the way he coped with the painful event he had experienced.
The study found that events that happen to a loved one are perceived by society as causing a greater and more negative change in one's life than suffering a personal trauma; Losing a loved one was ranked as a greater emotional difficulty that has a more negative impact on one's life than suffering a personal trauma, such as a road accident in which the person himself was involved.
Participants also said that an interpersonal trauma - an accident in which a relative was involved and remained alive - was perceived as more difficult and having more impact than a personal trauma.
According to Prof. Rubin, what was surprising was that most of the study participants didn't ascribe any importance to the length of time that had passed since the loss occurred - in other words, whether the loss had occurred 18 months earlier or five years earlier, participants said the emotional impact and the assistance the bereaved requires don't change.
"From studies we've conducted on people that suffered personal losses, we found that the length of time it takes for them to return to a regular routine is about five years, thus the fact that society doesn't ascribe importance to the passage of time is very significant," said Prof. Rubin.
According to Prof. Rubin, although the results testify to society's sympathy toward the bereaved, there are still layers of coping with loss that must be understood.
"The bereaved are seeking meaning in the life of the deceased and in the personal relationship they had with him," Prof. Rubin explained. "Today the environment is very sensitive to the personal suffering and the concern with the meaning of life that the bereaved person himself feels after a loss. But we tend not to ascribe enough importance to the bereaved person's need to find meaning in the life of the deceased. Finding meaning in the life of those who have died is a very important component in enabling the bereaved to better adjust to their loss."
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