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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Bereaved university students’ grief experience : what helps and what hinders? Milis, Lisa


This study investigated what helps and hinders bereaved university students in their experience of grief. Participants consisted of 8 females and 2 males who had experienced the death of a loved one while they were attending university. Nine of the 10 participants perceived their loved one’s death as unanticipated. Participants were individually interviewed using semi-structured, open-ended interviews consistent with Flanagan’s (1954) Critical Incident Technique. A total of 149 critical incidents were extracted from participants’ interviews. Of these, 99 were incidents that participants perceived as helpful to their grieving process. Fifty incidents were perceived as hindering. Using a process of inductive reasoning, the critical incidents were grouped into 17 categories based on the nature of the incident and the meaning the incident held for participants. The study yielded 9 categories of helpful incidents and 8 categories of hindering incidents. A series of credibility checks were conducted to strengthen the credibility of the findings. Nine of the 10 participants provided feedback on summaries of their incidents. An independent rater categorised a random sample of 20% of the incidents and agreed with the researcher’s categorisation in 90% of helpful incidents and 100% of hindering incidents. The main helpful categories identified in this study were: helpful social support; connecting with others who have experienced loss; helpful responses from university staff; connecting with one’s family; maintaining a connection with the deceased; and experiencing school as helpful. The main hindering categories were: unhelpful social responses; not having time to grieve amidst the pressures of school; family dynamics; and unsupportive responses from university staff. The results affirm many of the findings in the existing literature on student bereavement. Dealing with grief can significantly hinder a university student’s academic and social functioning and personal development. It is therefore critical that students have access to support and resources to aid them in their grief recovery. By articulating the factors that help or hinder students’ grieving, the results of this inquiry provide insight into how universities can intervene on behalf of bereaved students to promote their personal, academic, and social well-being.

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