The Deritualization of Death
Toward a Practical Theology of Caregiving for the Bereaved
The problematic field of investigation for this study was for the care of bereaved human beings in the context of significant cultural shifts now shaping the twenty-first century. Deritualization was identified as a significant interdisciplinary concern that contributes to potential distress in processes of grieving. The objective of the research was the development of a practical theology of compassionate caregiving for the bereaved with deference to the problem of deritualization. The theoretical framework was guided by the Oxford Interdisciplinary Research model and the Loyola Institute of Ministries model of practical theology. The study was designed for applied research for funeral directors and vocational pastors utilizing qualitative research methods. Hermeneutical and empirical components addressed six research questions through two domains of inquiry: disciplinary perspectives and educational dynamics of bereavement caregiving. Using the method of hermeneutics to critically evaluate the first two research questions, three disciplinary fields of knowledge were examined and integrated from the perspective of pastoral care: funeral service, bereavement psychology, and practical theology. Each discipline individually converged upon meaningful caregiving, meaning-reconstruction, and meaning-reframing as significant modes of bereavement care. Using ethnographic semi-structured interviews to critically evaluate the remaining four research questions, data were collected from a Christian university and a mortuary college. The interview questionnaire included twenty-five main questions organized in four parts: Philosophy of Education, Hermeneutics of Bereaved Families, Care of Bereaved Families, and Encounter of Bereaved Families. The study utilized two cycles of qualitative coding techniques to report the findings of each participating school. A hybrid form of in vivo and holistic coding as well as a second cycle of pattern coding distilled the interview responses into actionable statements that reinforced bereavement caregiving. By synthesizing all of the findings, a compelling case was made for a paradigm of comforting presence supported by principles from a Louwian perspective of practical theology, including theological anthropology, promissiotherapy, bipolarity, and hermeneutics. The study connected a philosophy of meaning-reframing and a paradigm of comforting presence to a meta-theoretical framework within a narrative approach to care. The research elucidated an interdisciplinary understanding that contributed toward a compassionate practical theology of caregiving for the bereaved.
About the Author
Dr. Lynn Gibson is a Managing Partner of Smith Life & Legacy, located in Maryville, Tennessee. His organization received the prestigious Best of the Best Distinction in 2014. Lynn is a Licensed Funeral Director, a Certified Funeral Service Practitioner, and a Certified Crematory Operator. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care and a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion and Society. As a writer and speaker, Lynn contributes to several international organizations, including the National Funeral Directors Association, the Cremation Association of North America, and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. Lynn currently serves as a Research Associate for Stellenbosch University in South Africa.