Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2020-08-04, 15:37 authored by Daniel Alan ShemwellDaniel Alan Shemwell
The purpose of the present study was to develop the Descriptive Death Scale (DDS), a brief, descriptive and multidimensional measure that assesses individual perceptions of single death experiences. The DDS has the potential to expand how death experiences are understood in the literature because it can serve as a tool for grievers to quantitatively contextualize their single death experiences instead of indicating only the mode of death. From a constructivist perspective, the adjectives included in the DDS are parcels of meaning that symbolically contextualize grievers’ subjective understanding. Drawing from qualitative research, I compiled a broad list of 65 adjectives that grievers and terminally ill patients have used to describe past and impending deaths. My online recruitment process resulted in a sample of respondents (N = 572) who identified primarily as White/European American, cisgender female and heterosexual (83%, 85%, and 83%, respectively). Their ages ranged from 18 to 80 (M = 43.13, SD = 13.40). The results of the EFA indicated a 5-factor structure; however, the CFA analysis/ESEM indicated that a 4-factor model better fit the data. The DDS subscales (i.e., Incomprehensible, Warm, Withering, Ostracized) include a total of 27-items and scores on each subscale displayed good internal consistency and convergent and discriminant validity. The results from the regression analysis indicated that the Incomprehensible, Warm and Withering death subscales contributed significantly and positively to grief distress, beyond closeness to the deceased and age of the deceased. The DDS assesses the nuanced and unique profiles of grievers’ perceptions of single deaths. It can serve as an important and novel tool for researchers and clinicians to capture grievers multidimensional and subjective understanding of their death experiences. With single word items, it is brief, easy to use, and versatile across domains.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Educational Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Heather Servaty-Seib

Additional Committee Member 2

Eric Deemer

Additional Committee Member 3

Susan Curtis

Additional Committee Member 4

Susan Prieto-Welch