A recent national survey of bereaved partners found high levels of complicated grief and psychological distress, with evidence that loneliness and isolation may contribute to these outcomes. However, the mechanisms of action for this have not been explored. To advance grief theory this paper reports analysis of the survey free-text data to examine the relationship between social support and emotional responses to bereavement. Individuals bereaved of a civil partner or spouse 6-10 months previously were identified through death registration data. 569/1945 (29 %) completed surveys were received. Of those, 311 participants (55 %) provided responses to two free-text questions which asked about their 'feelings since the death of their partner or spouse', and 'about the support around' them. Data were analysed using corpus-assisted discourse analysis and the discourse dynamics approach for figurative language. Participants described diverse emotional responses to the bereavement (e.g. sadness, anger, denial, acceptance), and the value of formal and informal bereavement support. Although many of the experiences described are accounted for in existing grief theory, some participants described a liminal experience not recognised within these theories. They felt trapped, unable to engage with loss or restoration, and unable to move forward as their planned future no longer existed. They sought out 'communitas' (solidarity in experiences), but often found support from their social networks had diminished. Metaphors were used to describe this liminality, with partner grief expressed as a dark agentic force, a monster, an abyss, and as water. The findings of this study offer original insights into experiences and trajectories of bereavement, and our understandings of prolonged or complicated grief. A novel model 'Between Loss and Restoration' is presented to include these experiences. Recognition of the place for liminality within the spectrum of grief experiences could enhance grief literacy and improve formal and informal bereavement support provision.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116616
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date23 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


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