Beyond Bereavement: is close kinship enough?
: An exploration of the bereavement experiences and support in Gypsy and Traveller families

  • Carol Rogers

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The purpose of this research is to gain an understanding of the cultural norms and community practices influencing the bereavement experiences of Romani Gypsy and Irish Traveller families in England. The aims and objectives set out to explore the impact of bereavement on individuals and wider family members. To identify whether bereavement has a long term impact on their life experiences, and to explore the extent to which membership of a close-knit family and community, with explicit cultural norms offers effective support for managing the processes of loss, or potentially exacerbates the risk of long-term complicated grief.

The research was undertaken in partnership with the Child Bereavement UK and a number of Gypsy and Traveller support organisations. The study has a phenomenological paradigm and uses a narrative approach, focus groups and narrative conversations to gain an understanding of the bereavement experiences of Gypsy and Traveller women. Consideration is also given to potential bereavement support needs and how best organisations can tailor their policy and practice to meet the needs of these ‘hard to reach’ populations.

Gypsies and Travellers remain one of the most marginalised ethnic minority groups in Britain. Policy enactments and a decline in stopping places have impacted on their cultural tradition of nomadism, leading to significant socioeconomic challenges and rapid cultural change in recent decades. Additionally, Gypsies and Travellers face significant health inequalities, including a reduced life expectancy of between ten to twelve years compared to ‘mainstream’ populations. Furthermore considerably higher levels of suicide, maternal and infant mortality, miscarriage and stillbirth are reported. The numerous intergenerational bereavements experienced can result in complicated and prolonged grief reactions with long term health implications including depression, anxiety and an increase in risk taking behaviours including alcohol and substance misuse.

The research findings suggest that the close knit nature of Gypsy and Traveller communities means that the death of a relative is felt with great intensity, articulated by some research participants as an event that they ‘never come to terms with’. Consequently complex family relationships and stoic attitudes result in personal grief responses often becoming hidden losses as highly protective behaviours place the needs of others above that of the individual; thus family becomes a barrier rather than support mechanism following bereavement.

The research offers new insights and understanding of the bereavement experiences of Gypsies and Travellers, recognising the increased vulnerability to complicate grief responses resulting from the often frequent, multiple intergenerational deaths. These findings highlight the need for specialist community bereavement support resources and services.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
  • Buckinghamshire New University
SponsorsChild Bereavement UK
SupervisorMargaret Greenfields (Supervisor)

Cite this