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Death, dying and bereavement

Death, dying and bereavement has been one of our major research and teaching themes for over twenty years. The synergy between research and teaching has been secured through vibrant student recruitment to the Death and dying course (K260) and End of life care (KG001) as well as securing research funding in this area. Work covers: end-of-life care; death, including all forms of reproductive and neonatal loss; bereavement and memorialisation and focuses on both theoretical and practice-related dimensions. Examples of research include the way in which end-of-life care needs of older people in care homes are met and how care home staff can develop palliative care skills; the way that a good death is understood in adults; the impact of stillbirth and neonatal death on parents and how the care of dead bodies in hospital mortuaries is translated into dirty work and the impact of this upon professional status.

Headstones in a graveyard


Dr Carol Komaromy talks about our research

Current and recent research projects

Spirited Stoke: Spiritualism in the everyday life of Stoke-on-Trent (SpELS)

This AHRC funded project will explore how spiritualism is mapped across the historical and contemporary fabric of the city of Stoke. Led by Dr Sara MacKian, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Professor Steve Pile from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Research Associate Nadia Bartolini, the project will look to uncover the hidden practice of spiritualism in Stoke, going beyond its well recognised industrial past.

The Open University & Macmillan end of life care training packs

In 1997 the OU completed a 3 year research project into the need for palliative care for older people in care homes. The results highlighted that people were not receiving good quality care at the end of life. The OU took 15 recommendations to the Department of Health and were awarded further funding to support the development of education and training materials for care home staff. In 2011, in partnership with Macmillan Cancer support the OU developed and disseminated both participant and facilitator packs that would provide staff with the learning materials they needed to provide quality end of life care. The film below demonstrates the impact of this research.

Investigating mortuary services in hospital settings

In 2010 the British Academy funded an ethnographic study into the role of anatomical pathology technologists. Work was based in the mortuary of a large teaching hospital incorporating all mortuary work and the team into bereavement care services. Dissemination has begun with Carol Komaromy (Open University) and Kate Woodthorpe (Bath University) presenting their report Investigating mortuary services in hospital settings at the Anatomical Association's annual conference in 2010.

At a loss

Open University researchers have developed an iTunes audio 'At a loss' providing accounts from women and parents on stillbirth and neonatal death. Individuals talk about their decisions on the role of post-mortem and the views of mortuary staff and their role in bereavement support are incorporated.

Understanding Reproductive Loss

A co-edited book exploring experiences of pregnancy loss, 'Understanding Reproductive Loss' was published in December 2012. It is edited by Dr Sarah Earle and Dr Carol Komaromy from the Open University Faculty of Health and Social Care and Linda Layne, Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Princeton University.

Death, dying and bereavement workshops

During 2012 the Death, dying and bereavement researchers will be running workshops on neonatal death with mothers and parents as well as neonatal and mortuary staff to capture their perspectives and develop a research strategy around this area of study.


Potential research projects

We’re actively looking for more postgraduate students to join us. The death and dying research team welcomes multi-method approaches to projects – particularly ethnographic methods with a theoretical focus on medical sociology. For further information on potential research projects, supervisors and applying to study please see our Death, dying and bereavement page within The Open University Research Degrees Prospectus.

Death, Dying & Disposal Conference

In September 2013 we held the 11th international Death, Dying & Disposal conference held in association with the Centre for Death & Society (CDAS)