Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Committee Chair

Meeks, Suzanne

Author's Keywords

Bereavement; Resilience; Grief; Late-life grief


Bereavement in old age; Resilience (Personality trait); Loss (Psychology) in old age; Adjustment (Psychology) in old age


Though much of the recent focus in bereavement literature has been examining the nature and correlates of complicated grief, it is important to recognize that many older adults endure bereavements without major disruptions in emotional and daily functioning, despite the likelihood of having experienced numerous losses over a lifetime. This suggests an adaptive or resilient coping style within the context of late-life bereavement. However, much less is known about the underlying mechanisms and correlates that contribute to different bereavement outcomes. Broadly, the aim of this project was to expand our current knowledge of varying bereavement-related outcomes in an effort to enrich the current conceptualization of late-life bereavement. The current study investigated the relationships between cumulative lifetime loss, engagement in resilience-related coping/emotions-regulation strategies (affective complexity, positive emotions, and repressive coping), and resilient and non-resilient bereavement outcomes. A total of 74 recently bereaved, community-dwelling older adults completed study questionnaires assessing a variety of bereavement-related variables, including depression history; history of loss; retrospective affect; current experiences of grief, depression, anxiety, and well-being; and social and emotional functioning. Results revealed that cumulative lifetime loss was largely unrelated to bereavement-related outcomes. However, engagement in positive affect one month post-loss and the absence of a depression history were strongly associated with the following resilient bereavement outcomes: lower post-loss depression and grief and unimpaired social and emotional functioning. Although considering an individual's prior experience in coping with loss is an important aspect of the broader conceptualization of his/her current bereavement experience, the results suggest that other factors, such as psychiatric history and emotional engagement, may be more strongly related to resilient outcomes, provide implications for grief-related assessment and help discern who may benefit from grief interventions. In light of some of the methodological issues of this project (i.e. reliance on participants’ retrospective report of affect), suggestions for future research involve using a prospective and longitudinal study designs that allows researchers to capture grief reactions as they unfold in an effort to minimize biased recall and examine the effects of co-occurring stressors on the grief process. Future research can also examine the relationships between cumulative impact of having experienced multiple bereavements, lessons learned/wisdom gained in the context of coping with multiple losses, and bereavement outcome.