University of Bath

The relationship between cremation and grief 1-2 years post death

We will examine how the material, economic, psychological and socio-cultural experience of cremation relates to the experience of bereavement and grief.

Background

Studies to date have provided insight into perceptions of what constitutes a ‘good funeral’ based on alignment with beliefs, ritual participation, and the destination of ashes post-cremation in the environment and in artwork.

Despite this body of work, very little is known about the constituent parts of a cremation (body storage, viewing, ceremony, post-cremation memorial services); nor what is drawn on to inform decisions about said constituent parts; nor, importantly, the relationship between these constituents and experiences of bereavement and grief.

Project aims

In light of changing funeral practice within the UK and beyond this 2.5 year multi-disciplinary project will examine the psychological, socio-cultural, material and economic features of cremation in the UK and how these relate to the experience of bereavement and grief.

The project seeks to identify the constituent parts of the cremation and what drives decisions regarding these, including:

  • cost
  • necessity/lack of choice
  • disposal preference(s)
  • deceased preference(s)
  • client/deceased relationships
  • family negotiation and tradition
  • spiritual and religious platforms
  • personalisation of cremation service/content
  • the choice to not have a service and why
  • post-cremation practices and memorialisation

Drawing on psychological, sociological and anthropological literature and expertise, in examining experiences of grief via a mixed methods longitudinal approach the project will cover amongst other things:

  • contemporary cremation discourse and its origins
  • (changing) cremation practice
  • the history of cremation in the UK and beyond
  • unattended cremation ceremonies
  • direct cremation (where the body goes from storage to cremator without a ritual service)
  • client and familial decision making for cremation, for example body location and viewing
  • the destination of ashes
  • memorialisation

Uniting all aspects of the study is wanting to know how choices about a cremation are formed, how they relate towards the experience of bereavement immediately following a death and the subsequent behavioural, emotional, physical, social and cognitive experiences in the following 1 to 2 years.

The research will take place over 1.5 years, seeking to quantitatively investigate how over a period of time decisions regarding a cremation relate to experiences of grief and qualitatively explore the experience of cremation and bereavement. In so doing, it will produce guidance for consumers and industry on the decisions to be made at the point of determining a cremation and their potential impact.

Project team

Funder

Outputs

  • A number of academic peer-reviewed papers on the results of the study
  • A short report on the history of cremation
  • Consumer guide on cremation options
  • Industry guidance on bereaved client needs
  • Report for practitioners
  • Report on the cremation and grief journey

Pilot

1 NOV 2017  to  1 MAR 2018

A draft survey will be piloted on a small group of participants. Respondents will then be invited to participate in a qualitative survey.

Initial survey

1 MAR 2018  to  1 JAN 2019

Following discussions between the quantitative and qualitative teams, the initial stage is to distribute an in-depth survey to 2,000 Dignity Funerals clients. A purposive sample of respondents will be invited to participate in a follow-up qualitative interview. The discussion and topic guides for these interviews will be informed by the initial findings of the quantitative data.

Follow up survey

1 MAR 2019  to  1 OCT 2019

Respondents to the initial survey will receive another survey one year on. The content of this survey will be informed by the findings of the initial survey and qualitative interviews.

Consolidation of findings

1 OCT 2019  to  30 APR 2020

This phase will pull together all of the findings from the qualitative and quantitative research. The findings will then be presented in a number of outputs, detailed below.