A gradual farewell with music - exploring the role of music in bereaved people's everyday lives in facing the dying and death of a loved one

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


Music is an integral part of life, including at times when facing loss and crisis. My PhD explores a much-overlooked dimension of everyday interactions with music in the context of bereavement. It is clear that bereavement experiences are inherently social and constantly (re)constructed by varied relationships and wider social norms. Despite this, the experiences of bereaved people have been largely psychologised and pathologised in existing literature, which seeks to prescribe pathways for 'normal' and 'healthy' grieving. As such, music during times of loss and bereavement has been largely rooted in the therapy paradigm, which suggests that guidance from professionals is required to help bereaved individuals successfully interact with music. This focus on formalised contexts (e.g., counselling) has on the one hand evidenced music's unique power; on the other hand, the role of music for bereaved people as an accessible tool has been underexplored. This research gap has restricted academic understandings and public awareness of the value of music for bereaved people in everyday settings.

My PhD will address this gap by marrying sociological and musicological paradigms to explore the embodied experience of music in people's bereavement. To capture the dynamic role of music in bereaved people's ongoing lives, I will focus on their interactions with music both during the dying process of their loved one and post loss. Drawing on the theory of 'musicking', I will explore how individuals both actively and passively draw on music to (re)shape themselves in facing loss and how a 'music literacy' may help better support individual's experiences of loss.

I will be guided by the following research questions:
* How do bereaved individuals draw on music to make sense of loss in everyday life and does it play a continued role in integrating loss into ongoing life?
* Does music help to reinforce bonds with the dying person? Does the dying person use music to preserve their identity?
* Does the use of music during the dying process of a loved one shape the use of music in bereavement?
* How can music shape an individual's identity in the ongoing process of bereavement?
* Should the everyday use of music (musicking) be further encouraged for bereaved people when facing the dying process and loss of a loved one?

I will follow three main procedures, firstly, I will review existing literature to develop 'musicking' as a theoretical lens to explore the role of music. Secondly, I will conduct in-depth and semi-structured interviews with 20 bereaved individuals, exploring how music is engaged with both in the dying process and post the loss of their loved one. This focus on the continuity of their experiences aims to shed a deeper insight into the role of music as part of one's biographical being. I will also interview 10 care professionals to explore how music can enrich bereavement support in a more formal setting. Thirdly, I will conduct a thematic analysis of the interviews, informed by an inductive approach, to understand how music could shape bereaved people's experiences alongside their ongoing lives and what barriers they confront to accessing music as a meaningful discourse.

By working closely with varied stakeholders, my study aims to reshape bereavement support to further incorporate music as a widely accessible discourse, both empowering and enriching bereaved people's experiences. By engaging with leading academics in the field, my project will facilitate novel contributions, innovating health and social care structures for end-of-life care and bereavement support. Findings from this project will further examine a 'music literacy' to shape policy-making both in informal (e.g., family) and formal (e.g., psychiatry and care facilities) settings.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2559306 Studentship ES/P000630/1 04/10/2021 03/10/2024 Alastair Comery