Looking beyond the mean in grief trajectories: A prospective, population-based cohort study

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Most individuals adjust to the loss of a close person, but some experience adverse grief that challenges everyday life. No previous study has examined the development of grief symptoms in trajectories over time. We aimed to investigate trajectories of grief symptoms in bereaved partners and non-partners of severely ill patients starting before death until three years after death of the patient.

We conducted a prospective population-based cohort study including 1138 partners and 597 non-partners of terminally ill patients. Participants completed the Prolonged Grief-13 scale pre-loss, six months post-loss, and three years post-loss. On this basis, we developed semi-parametric group-based trajectory models. Multinomial logistic regression models estimated, odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) between selected characteristics: age, gender, educational level, the patient's survival time, and types of grief trajectories.

We identified five specific grief trajectories for partners and four for non-partners. Low grief was identified in 34% of partners and 45% of non-partners, moderate/decreasing grief in 30% of partners and 31% of non-partners, high/decreasing grief in 20% of partners and 16% of non-partners, and high grief in 7% of partners and 8% of non-partners. In addition, a late grief trajectory was identified in 10% of partners. Low education compared to high education was associated with adverse grief trajectories (OR = 0.19 (95% CI = 0.80, 0.43) for partners following a high grief trajectory).

This study is the first to systematically describe specific trajectories of grief based on grief symptoms. The majority had a low or decreasing grief trajectory, whereas minor groups of partners and non-partners had a high grief trajectory, and a group of partners had a late grief trajectory. A consistent vulnerability factor was low education. Bereaved individuals may benefit from information on possible patterns of grief development, including adverse grief trajectories.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Pages (from-to)460-469
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019

    Research areas

  • Grief, Bereavement, Mourning, Relative, Cancer, Terminal illness

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