Recovering the body in grief: Physical absence and embodied presence

Pearce, Caroline and Komaromy, Carol (2020). Recovering the body in grief: Physical absence and embodied presence. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 26(4) pp. 393–410.



This paper addresses the complex issue of the embodiment of grief. It explores how a theoretical shift to the body has influenced scholarly literature about grief and bereavement. Despite this shift, we argue that bodily interpretations and experiences are undertheorised in western psychological literature on bereavement. Specifically, we argue that linear stage models of grief have encouraged the view that grief needs ‘working through’ in the mind, and not necessarily the body. We draw on empirical data from interviews with bereaved people undertaken in England to illustrate aspects of the embodied experience of grief that differ from how psychological grief theories conceive of the bereaved person’s body. Findings highlight the role of the bereaved person’s body in managing grief and how the absence and continuing presence of the deceased person is managed through embodied practices. We conclude that understanding grief as an embodied experience can enable the development of grief theories that better capture the complex negotiation between the psychological processes of grief and the materiality of bodies.

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