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Title:Intrapersonal and interpersonal meaning-making: The process of identity reconstruction after the loss of a spouse
Author(s):Wehrman, Erin C
Director of Research:Knobloch, Leanne
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Knobloch, Leanne
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Caughlin, John P.; Poole, Scott; Hardesty, Jennifer
Department / Program:Communication
Discipline:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):Communication
grief
spousal loss
identity
Abstract:Mourning the loss of a loved one can be a life-altering experience. Grief survivors are at risk for both physical (e.g., decreased sleep and weight) and psychological (e.g., increased depression and anxiety) changes, and symptoms can be short-term or permanent (Parkes, 1998b). Additionally, individuals can also experience significant shifts in their identity after the loss of a close loved one (e.g., Hastings, 2000). Previous research has proposed that reconstructing identity after a major loss is an important element of managing grief. Current scholarship, however, has yet to explore how people deal with shifts in the way they see themselves during grief. Using the context of spousal loss, the goal of this study was to understand how people manage identity changes after bereavement. Utilizing elements from both identity theory (Stryker, 1980) and the meaning reconstruction model of grief (Neimeyer, 2001a, 2001b), this projected explored the role of (a) aspects of grief, (b) sense-making and benefit-finding, (c) communication, and (d) identity fractures and role conflicts within identity reconstruction processes after spousal bereavement. Interviews with individuals who had lost a spouse within the last five years before data collection (N = 35) were analyzed using grounded theory procedures. The results supported a model of how people made sense of their changing identities following loss. More specifically, survivors underwent a process of reconciling their past and present, which included managing changes to both their personal and social identities. People had to find a way to make sense of the significant changes to how they viewed themselves without the presence of their spouse. Meaning making experiences were interrupted by several stressors and then facilitated through the receipt of social support from others. To reconstruct identity and to reconcile their past and present, individuals utilized six strategies that reduced stressors and built sources of social support. Theoretically, these findings add explanation to how people reconstruct their identities after bereavement and highlight the importance of communication during grief processes. Practically, these findings offer important strategies for how practitioners, family, and friends can facilitate meaning-making in bereaved individuals following the death of a spouse.
Issue Date:2018-06-12
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/101487
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Erin Wehrman
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-27
Date Deposited:2018-08


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