How feasible is caring for the deceased at home in the UK, and to what extent does this help bereaved families?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences

Abstract

The study will explore the benefits and challenges of caring for a deceased person's body at home, and the extent to which this helps (or hinders) bereaved individuals, families and communities in coming to terms with the death and their grief experience. Extending work undertaken by members of the University of Bath's Centre for Death and Society, including work on dying at home in old age, the project seeks to contribute to the socio-political development of the natural death movement and 'death positive' movement that are reimagining all aspects of death and dying across the UK. The study has the potential to lead to better societal understanding of caring for the deceased at home leading to attitudinal, social, cultural or policy changes, and improved experiences for people who have suffered a bereavement.

The project stems from the decline in caring for, or even locating, people in their homes after they have died. Until 150 years ago, before the advent of Victorian hospitals, mortuaries and the modern day funeral director, it was commonplace for people to die at home and for their body to remain there until the day of its burial. Now, most people die in an institution (either a hospital, care home or hospice), and for those that do die at home the vast majority are transferred to a mortuary facility for cold storage before their cremation or burial.

Very little is known about the potential benefit that may be derived from caring for the deceased at home after they have died, or having them 'return home after their death in an institution. Previous research has found that viewing (and potentially holding) a stillborn baby can improve the wellbeing of the mother (Radestad et al, 2009) arguably similar benefits to the bereaved could be found in spending time with a deceased adult. Anectotal evidence points to spending time with the deceased allowing the reality and finality of the death to sink in.

Key research questions in this project will include:
1. How feasible is caring for the deceased at home, and to what extent does this help bereaved families?
2. To what extent does spending time with the body after a death effect bereaved individuals' perception of their own mortality or their experience of bereavement?
3. What is the feasibility of caring for bodies at home in terms of costs, healthcare/deathcare, staff cooperation, and national/local policy on end of life care?

The project will be conducted using semi-structured interviews focusing on the experiences of bereaved families who have cared for a deceased family member at home and will be analysed using thematic analysis. The interviews will be complemented by a comprehensive questionnaire to professionals involved in the care of the body after death which will gather information on awareness of the practice of caring for the body at home (and any relevant policy), their willingness to help facilitate it, any perceived barriers and whether they have experienced it in practice.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2381255 Studentship ES/P000630/1 28/09/2020 27/09/2024 Samantha Hooker