This chapter reviews the major findings of the Tubingen longitudinal study of bereavement, an in-depth study of younger widows and widowers that provides information about health deterioration following bereavement, the course of recovery and coping strategies over a 2-year period, and the risk factors that affect adjustment to the loss. The study employed methodological safeguards to avoid some of the pitfalls that typically threaten the validity of in-depth studies of bereavement.
When we planned our longitudinal study, the decline in mental and physical health and general well-being following marital bereavement had already been well documented (for reviews, see Osterweis, Solomon, & Green, 1984, and W. Stroebe & Stroebe, 1987). A few earlier studies (e.g., Clayton, 1979) had tended to minimize the severity of these effects. However, epidemiological, clinical, and in-depth interview and questionnaire investigations strongly suggest otherwise. Although the majority of bereaved manage to adjust to their loss without professional help, a significant minority do succumb to a variety of ailments and ills, and the risk of this persists for a considerable time.
Therefore, instead of merely charting the health consequences of marital bereavement, it seemed important to identify the characteristics of people who were likely to suffer long-term health impairment, because they were the risk group that would need professional help. We investigated whether bereaved individuals' adjustment to loss was influenced by sociodemographic (e.g., socioeconomic status, age, gender) and individual (e.g., personality traits, religiosity) characteristics, by antecedent situational factors such as the quality of the marital relationship, by mode of death (sudden vs. expected loss), or by circumstances after the loss, like the extent to which the bereaved received social support (cf. W. Stroebe & Stroebe, 1987).