In this chapter we provide an overview of our program of research on how people cope with loss. Most of this research has focused on bereavement (see Wortman & Silver, 1987, 1989, 1990, for reviews), although we have studied other types of loss as well, including physical disability (Bulman & Wortman, 1977; Silver, 1982), criminal victimization (Coates, Wortman, & Abbey, 1979), and incest (Silver, Boon, & Stones, 1983). We have had a special interest in understanding the impact of sudden, irrevocable losses - that is, events that involve permanent change and over which one has little, if any, control. Such losses can challenge people's beliefs and assumptions about themselves and their world (Janoff-Bulman & Frieze, 1983; Wortman, 1983) and disrupt their hopes and dreams for the future (Silver & Wortman, 1980). Our goals in this work are to clarify the processes through which people try to come to terms with the inexplicable events in their lives (Tait & Silver, 1989) and to understand the theoretical mechanisms through which such events can have deleterious effects on subsequent health and functioning (Kessler, Price, & Wortman, 1985).
We begin this chapter by tracing the development of theoretical ideas that we have employed in studying these events. In developing a conceptual framework for this research, we drew from two very different theoretical approaches: (1) the so-called stage models of grief, which represent the most influential theoretical approaches to the study of grief and loss (e.g., Bowlby, 1961, 1973, 1980/1981), and (2) the stress and coping approach, which has been influential in the study of life events more generally (e.g., Kessler et al., 1985).