The Role of Music in Healing and Grief Processes of Bereaved Adult Learners

Open Access
Albergato-Muterspaw, Francesca
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 02, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Elizabeth Jean Tisdell, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Patricia Angelica Cranton, Committee Member
  • Felicia Lynne Brown Haywood, Committee Member
  • Glen Alan Mazis, Committee Member
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • music and bereavement
  • music as a coping mechanism
  • music as a way of knowing
ABSTRACT The purpose of this narrative inquiry was to explore how music facilitated the learning and healing for those who have lost a loved one. Set within a post hospice bereavement program context, this research pursued how these bereaved adults, who identified music as a critical component to their grief process, came to understand and accept their loss through musical means. This qualitative study was grounded in a constructivist learning theory, informed by Kubler Ross’s stages of grief and music as a way of knowing. Constructivism offered a strong basis for understanding the individual and social learning which occurred during the grief processes of the participants. Additionally, consideration of factors such as spirituality, culture, emotion, identity and context, which are part of musical knowing and important to the participants of this study, were considered and included within the larger learning theory. Data collection was completed through two individual interviews, a music elicitation exercise, and field notes and journaling completed by the researcher. The combination of the interviews with the music elicitation exercise created a wonderful opportunity to capture perceptions of the past and combine them with new thoughts about how the music impacted and continued to aid in their healing and coping. The resulting narratives provided rich descriptions of their individual stories and specific ways in which music played a role in their learning during the grief process. Consideration of the data revealed that there are three main areas which have implications for the fields of adult education, hospice bereavement, grief counseling, music therapy and related disciplines. The first described the significant relationship between music and emotion, and how it facilitated the expression of, distraction from and reflection on the emotional aspects of the grieving of these participants. Additionally, music’s role in the changed identity of the participants was noted. The second area addressed the interconnection of music with the participant’s sense of community, culture and spirituality, and how that impacted the grief process. The final area relayed the importance of paying tribute to the deceased. It also noted how participation with music and with this research project created new understandings for the six people who shared their stories, and how that impacted their on-going grief processes. Following these findings is a detailed description of how music as a way of knowing, especially in relation to the strong link between musical form and emotion, facilitated the learning in this group of participants. The meaning –making described has implications for constructivist learning theory, as well as how this type of knowing may be included into formal, informal and nonformal settings and practices to help aid the learning, healing, and/or coping of adults who identify music as important to how they know and understand.