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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The long-term effects of loss in adolescence : exploration and extension of a conceptual schema McKintuck, Charlotte Ann


This study was designed to examine the long-term developmental effects of adolescent parental bereavement, to identify the factors or conditions that contribute to these effects, and to extend and refine Davies' (1991) conceptual schema. The method used in conducting this study was the grounded theory approach of qualitative research. Data were collected through a series of interviews with eight adult subjects who as adolescents experienced the death of a parent. An interview guide created from themes in the literature and Davies' conceptual schema was used to guide the initial interviews. Data were subject to constant comparative analysis to uncover the categories and the core phenomenon. Axial analysis was used to re-assemble the data and make connections between the categories. The resulting conceptualization was then reviewed and validated with three subjects. Finally, the emergent fit technique was used to compare Davies' conceptual schema with the categories and core phenomenon found. Results indicated that adolescents experience a phenomenon of disillusionment when they suffer the loss of a parent. The causal conditions of disillusionment were the interaction of the grieving process and the developmental stage of adolescence. Disillusionment was acute at first, became less so as time went on, but never disappeared altogether. Subjects integrated disillusionment into their lives using one or more of five action/interactional strategies: normalizing, rationalizing disappointment, re-sourcing needs, assuming responsibility for others, or self-comforting. Strategies were developmental in nature, with subjects employing unconscious behaviours in the acute phases of disillusionment, and more volitional measures as they matured. What strategies were used and the success with which the strategies integrated the phenomenon were determined by certain intervening conditions. These conditions were personal or situational in nature and included gender, personality, maturity, sibling order, culture, religiosity, circumstances of the death, relationship with the deceased parent, family dynamics and coping styles, characteristics of the surviving parent, availability of support, timing of the loss, and economics. Four short-term consequences of integrating disillusionment were identified: growing up fast, drifting/meandering, taking responsibility for the self, and fulfilling wishes of the dead parent. Four long-term consequences were identified: becoming impermeable, becoming the lost parent, regretting, and discovering personal strengths. Results indicated that the adolescent parental bereavement experience was a complex one. Adolescents responded in ways which resembled normal adolescent behaviour, but also reflected the grieving process. Subjects described feeling `normless' and used the most salient of social cues to guide their behaviours at the time of their loss. Surviving parents were, without exception, poorly viewed. Close peers provided support, but less intimate peers reminded subjects how different they were. In later life, disillusionment affected career choices, interpersonal relationships, self-concept, and health behaviours. Implications for nursing practice included that nurses provide norms for parentally bereaved adolescents, carefully assess coping behaviours as potential defenses, attempt to reduce the estrangement that sets in between adolescents and surviving parents, assess and supplement support systems, and use their knowledge of disillusionment to guide their care of adults who as adolescents lost a parent, and might yet be experiencing its effects. With regard to nursing research, the need for longitudinal, prospective designs using qualitative methods was supported. The results reinforced the need to describe a comprehensive, well-integrated theory of the adolescent bereavement experience.

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