The Family, Larger Systems, and Loss, Grief, and Mourning

Authored by: Alicia Skinner Cook

Handbook of Thanatology

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9781138430815
eBook ISBN: 9780203767306
Adobe ISBN: 9781136726507


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Death is a family event. It occurs within the context of existing relationships and family dynamics. While grief is often viewed as a personal experience, it occurs in two realms simultaneously—the intrapsychic level and the interpersonal level. Grief occurs in a social context and is embedded in a web of complex relationships. In most societies, the closest relationships and attachments are found in family systems. In some cultural contexts the focus is on the nuclear family, while in others family is defined in broader terms and includes a large network of extended family members for whom there is much interdependence. In contemporary life, the definition of family has become increasingly complex and may include stepparents and other steprelatives, both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships in which partners cohabit but are not married, single-parent and multigenerational households, and a wide range of other family structures. With changing demographics, families will increasingly represent four and five generations as the average life expectancy continues to increase (Galvin, Bylund, & Brommel, 2004).

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