What is Mobile Mourning?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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The term “mobile mourning” is used to describe the extended grieving process experienced by survivors of someone who has experienced a traumatic and life-changing injury. Most commonly, people discuss mobile mourning within the context of traumatic brain injuries, as such injuries can be very stressful for family members and loved ones of the person who is injured. A growing recognition of the stress and grief associated with the often nebulous and uncertain prognoses associated with such injuries has led to greater support for people who may experience mobile mourning.

This term was coined in 1984 by researchers Muir and Halley, in the course of doing research on rehabilitation, loss, and family strain. It is also sometimes referred to as chronic sorrow or recurrent sadness, in a reference to the fact that mobile mourning can go on for an extended period of time, and it may come and go in waves as people adjust to changes in their loved ones. Mobile mourning can also be influenced by medical setbacks; for example, someone with a traumatic brain injury might improve for some time, and then suddenly experience a regression.


When someone experiences a traumatic brain injury, the prognosis is often uncertain, because the brain is extremely delicate and unpredictable. For family members, this can be extremely stressful, as they may not know if the patient is going to live or die, and what the patient will be like when he or she comes out of the crisis period. This is typically the start of mobile mourning, as people realize that the patient will never be the same if she or he recovers, and that radical changes may be ahead.

Once someone with a traumatic injury is pulled through the crisis state, mobile mourning often continues as people come to realize the patient's new limitations. The patient may need a great deal of assistance, for example, to perform basic tasks, and the patient's powers of speech, reason, and understanding may be limited by the brain injury. For family caregivers, the stress of caregiving is compounded by the fact that they are taking care of a profoundly altered member of the family, and this can be a very intense experience.

Some form of mobile mourning has obviously been recognized for centuries, as numerous discussions of parents caring for injured children and family members caring for each other when injured indicate. Parents of ill children, for example, have historically been described as being in a constant state of grief as they cope with the illness. However, it wasn't until the late 20th century that chronic sorrow was formally recognized, and that health professionals began to take steps to help people cope with it.


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