Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Cultural Heritage Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Gregory Campbell

Commitee Members

C. Riley Auge, Thomas Foor, Richard Sattler, Roger Maclean


Death Notification Interactions, Distance Management Theory, ethnography, Grounded theory, Memory Management Theory, Responsibility Management Theory


University of Montana


Following a sudden or unexpected death, coroners often communicate the death to the next-of-kin. Death notifications may occur in hospitals, assisted living or dying facilities, homes, offices or workplaces, correctional facilities, schools, or other locations. A death notification has been perceived by outsiders and many researchers as a one-time, unilateral death-telling event. I argue, instead, death notifications are a series of social interactions and processes necessitating multiple actors and mechanisms. The death notification processes begin for the coroner when they are dispatched to a death scene, while the processes begin for the next-of-kin upon the death-telling event. The end is more difficult to distinguish, as I believe death notification processes continue long after a death. This dissertation examines the death notification processes between coroners and next-of-kin using a grounded theory methodological framework. For this study, I gathered interview and observational data from 40 individuals (n=20 coroners/death investigators and 20 next-of-kin). Each participant had at least one death notification experience. As a result, three anthropological grounded theories emerged: Distance Management Theory, Responsibility Management Theory, and Memory Management Theory. Until now, no anthropological study has qualitatively examined how coroners and next-of-kin respond to and manage the tensions and interactions before, during, and after the death notification. Understanding how death impacts those who necessarily interact with it can be transformative for a society who fears or denies it. By stepping from the liminal space of dying to death, this research confronted death where it begins: At the notification. Understanding both perspectives is worthwhile if the goal is to improve the death notification processes for everyone involved; not just the notifier. The implication of this study is the creation of both publicly offered and policy-oriented teaching materials for coroners, grief facilitators, medical personnel, end-of-life professionals, death doulas, nursing home personnel, and other community members involved with death notification interactions and processes.



© Copyright 2019 Teresa Ann 'Lilly' White