Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education, Counseling

Date of Defense

5-12-2015

Graduate Advisor

Susan Kashubeck-West, PhD

Committee

White, Kamila

Tom Meuser

R. Rocco Cottone

Abstract

Sibling loss is an important, yet often overlooked topic in the literature on grief. The purpose of this study was: (a) to better understand the phenomenon of sibling grief through personal narratives, (b) to explore common meanings made by bereaved siblings, and (c) to investigate strategies used by bereaved siblings to make meaning out of their siblings’ deaths. A narrative research design was used to identify core themes with regard to both meaning making outcomes and processes. Seven young adults who lost a sibling in adolescence each completed two in-depth interviews averaging almost 90 minutes each. Sibling profiles were created for each participant in order to give voice to the often silenced stories of bereaved siblings and to provide insight into how contextual and experiential factors impact individual stories of loss. Narrative analysis, including both thematic and structural analysis, was used to explore how surviving siblings structured their experiences of loss through stories. Thematic analysis resulted in three major categories of meanings made by bereaved siblings: (a) identity change, with the themes of changed view of self, changed view of the world, and changed view of others; (b) sense making, with the themes of spiritual or religious understandings, uniqueness of sibling relationship, continued connection to the deceased, and embracing the loss; and (c) benefit finding, with the theme of seeing positives that have come as a result of the loss. Structural analysis resulted in nine themes related to the strategies bereaved siblings use to make meaning out of the loss which included: (a) assimilation and accommodation, (b) the use of metaphor, (c) storytelling, (d) meaning making through action or the pursuit of life purpose, (e) affirmation or restoring a sense of self, (f) comparisons of loss, (g) questioning, (h) negotiation through relationships, and (i) seeing ‘signs’ as messages from deceased siblings. This study lends support to meaning making theories of loss while also adding unique components specific to sibling grief by highlighting important meaning making processes, which are often overlooked in grief research. A preliminary model of sibling grief is proposed. Guidelines for counselors working with grieving siblings are presented.

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