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The loss of a spouse in the elderly : bereavement, grief process and consumption of social support services

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Marketing research has focused on the stages of the life cycle to understand, explain and predict the impact of transitions on consumption. In this field of research, our work aim to understand the role of consumption of formal social support during the experience of loss of a spouse. We develop our thesis in two stages. The first step is theorical oriented. It led to a conceptual framework that structures the experience of loss of a spouse. The latter is considered as a multidimensional event that includes an initial stress, the death of the spouse, and secondary factors of stress. This event precipitated the individual in mourning and loneliness. To adapt to this event and its consequences, the individual develop an adaptation process: grief defines it. The latter includes strategies that target the initial stressor and strategies which focus on secondary factors of stress. Social support is considered as a second adaptive component. It is an appropriate response to deal with loneliness. However, if social support is seen as a key element for well-being, research has focused on informal support. None has been undertaken on the formal support, which includes the personal home services. In this context and based on this conceptual clarification, the research problem is formulated as follows: what are the representations associated with the formal support services for people in mourning following the death of a spouse? To address this question, we opted for a comprehensive methodology. The sensitivity of the topic requires appropriate methodology. Similarly, in the case of an intimate and personal event, we must adopt a scientific approach that is most likely to understand the difference in individual experiences. These considerations have thus led us to adopt an interpretative approach. In such a posture, the researcher seeks to understand the reality from an individual point of view. The second part of our thesis is empirical. The first step aims to identify how individuals understand the experience of grief. Indeed, if social support plays an adaptive role in the experience of loneliness, it is important to understand what this latter means. Analyses show that loneliness of widowhood is part of a social construction: the gender on the one hand, the advancing age on the other. This dual representation of loneliness explains the vulnerability and the marginalization of widows. In the same time, loneliness is part of advancing age. The social construction of widowhood is thus considered as a moment of personal history that enables the identity process. This invites the individual to define themselves according different roles: the single woman, the widow, the older person. In this identity process, the individual oscillates between building its identity on what has been lost, gaps are then identified. Individual defined themselves regarding what they are and or what they want to be, motivations are then identifies. Gaps and motivations are the ways from which social support may find its place and its justifications. Social support has made the subject of the final step of this research. The challenge is to understand how representation of loneliness impact social support consumption. The results show that personal home services are anchored in the symbolic life stage. Personal home services consumption illustrates dependency and vulnerability. But in the same time, it appears that personal home services play an adaptative role during grief. Personal home services and formal social support are not neutral and participate to identity construction. It is thus necessary to consider that those services are parts of the social construction of gender and advancing age. This requires thinking personal home services and social support as components of the extended self.

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