Mortality Salience and Cemetery Memorialization

An Inquiry of Thanatological Concepts for Pastoral Care


  • C Lynn Gibson Stellenbosch University



Pastoral Care, Grief and Bereavement, Mortality Salience, Cemetery Memorialization, Deritualization, Nostalgia


The investigation focuses on two previously unrelated thanatological concepts that support pastoral care when facing the loss of a loved one to death: mortality salience and cemetery memorialization. Two research questions are explored: (a) What positive psychological structures from mortality salience buffer existential death anxiety? and (b) How may pastoral deathcare providers reframe modern cemetery memorialization practices to influence the outcomes of mortality salience among the bereaved? Findings from current literature discuss the priming of worldview defenses, self-esteem, and nostalgia as important buffering mechanisms to strengthen psychosocial and spiritual well-being. To assist in the healthy adaptation of loss, the investigation examines the contemporary practices of cremation and permanent placement of dead human bodies and the interplay between mortality salience and cemetery memorialization within the death-avoidant context of deritualization. The investigation elucidates how deathcare practitioners may assuage grief and support active mourning among the bereaved.

Author Biography

C Lynn Gibson, Stellenbosch University

C. Lynn Gibson, PhD, DPhil, CFSP, is a Research Associate with Stellenbosch University’s Department of Theology and is also a Managing Partner for the Smith Life & Legacy Group in Maryville, Tennessee. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Tennessee, a Master of Arts with highest honors from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford Graduate School’s American Centre for Religion and Society Studies, and a Doctor of Philosophy from Stellenbosch University. His research interests include practical theology and pastoral care for the bereaved. Dr. Gibson is a Licensed Funeral Director and a Certified Funeral Service Practitioner. Lynn and his wife, Dr. Angela Gibson, have three boys and one daughter, and are members of First Baptist Church of Maryville. Dr. Gibson is the recipient of the East Tennessee Historical Society Award of Distinction for his recent book on the local history of Grandview Cemetery. He has also been awarded the Rollin Thomas Chafer Award in Apologetics and the Oxford Chalice Award in recognition for academic research and on the basis of research with the greatest potential for Christianity. One of his firms, Smith Funeral & Cremation Service, was awarded the Best of the Best Award by the National Funeral Directors Association’s Pursuit of Excellence program.