Bereaved parents of adult children : a discursive study of relationships
Carverhill, Philip Alan
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Although significant growth has occurred in some areas of the grief and bereavement literature, little attention has been paid to the phenomenon of adult child loss from the perspective of parents. Simultaneously, there have been mounting challenges to the traditional grief work hypothesis, which translates 'detachment' as healthy grieving, by proponents of the 'continuing bond' model. While the notion of an ongoing connection with the deceased seems to more accurately describe the experience of bereaved parents, there has been minimal research to explore evidence for this. The intent of this qualitative study was to examine the written and spoken discourse of parents bereaved of adult children in an effort to understand the ways that language is used to give account to that experience and to discern something of the nature of the parent-adult child relationship in death. A discourse analytic approach (Potter & Wetherell, 1987) was taken in order to understand more specifically the function, structure, and variability of written and spoken accounts of bereaved parents. Discourse was collected from diverse sources, including solicited written submissions, face-to-face interviews, published writings and Internet chat between bereaved parents. The findings revealed a range of discursive devices and practices available to participants, through which they achieved reconstructions of their deceased adult children, their relationships with their children, and their experiences of parental bereavement. The most prominent result was the discovery of the use of extreme case formulations (Pomerantz, 1986) by bereaved parents. This particular discursive device had only previously been identified in contexts of conflict. Additionally, participants used categorization, detailed description, characterization, comparison, contrast, paradox, evidence-building, and metaphor as discursive strategies and devices. The social actions performed in the process included: constructing/reconstructing, convincing, remembering, evaluating, describing, and demonstrating parental investment. The discursive content ranged from talk of how special the child was, to the constancy of thoughts about the deceased child. There was also discursive evidence in support of the of 'continuing bonds' model. This study promises to inform the literature on parental bereavement as well as to widen the field of discursive psychology to now include research in grief and loss.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeChartier, Brian M.
Copyright DateSeptember 2000