Date of Award:

2015

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Advisor/Chair:

Kathleen W. Piercy

Abstract

Grief is a natural condition resulting from human loss. It is also a variable process through which aggrieved persons pass and by which a variety of personal and contextual factors can impact the both the breadth and depth. Concordantly, grief resulting from the loss of a spouse is one of the most difficult psychological and social issues through which someone can pass. Among the variety of factors associated with conjugal grief, loss that occurs outside the normative pattern of life events has received little attention. This study of 232 young widows between the ages of 18 and 55 was conducted to ascertain the factors that were associated with off-time conjugal grief. To do this, the present study utilized data from an online survey that was disseminated largely via social network sites and grief support groups across the United States. Framed in Erikson’s lifespan theory of psychosocial development and utilizing the dual process model of coping with bereavement, this study included an assessment of the impact of quality of life, coping orientation, adulthood psychosocial balance, and sociodemographic factors on grief in young widowhood. Using correlational and regression analyses, many of these variables were individually associated with young widows’ levels of grief. Through additional multiple regression analyses conducted in pursuit of a more parsimonious model, when accounting for the other variables several predictors were no longer found to provide unique contribution to participant grief. In the final model, when simultaneously adjusting for all study variables retained from earlier analyses, higher levels of loss-oriented coping were found to be associated with higher levels of grief. Additionally, higher levels of intimacy balance and participants’ longer length of relationship with their deceased spouse were both associated with lower levels of grief. These findings highlight similarities found in past research regarding conjugal loss, including loss at younger ages, grief work, and the buffering effect of intimacy balance on levels of grief. Contrary to past research on grief, the relative importance of factors such as identity balance, religiosity, and social support were limited in their net influence on grief in young widowhood. These findings can inform future research and intervention regarding the context and impact of conjugal loss that occurs at younger ages.

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