Narrative identities of late adolescent males who experienced the loss of a parent

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Schouwink, Frederik
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University of the Free State
Many children in South Africa have lost a parent through various causes, including HIV/AIDS. In 2021 alone, a staggering 2 920 000 children were affected, with 960 000 young people losing a parent to this disease. Additionally, South Africa recorded the highest number of children who lost their primary caregiver to COVID-19 between March 2020 and April 2021. The death of a parent can be a significant turning point in a young person's life, altering the construction of their narrative identity. Hence, this qualitative study aimed to explore and describe the emerging narrative identities of late adolescent males who had lost a parent between birth and 14 years of age. The current study explored these narratives around parental loss and the subsequent bereavement stressors using the Dual Process Model of Coping with Grief and Bereavement and the Continuing Bonds Model. Furthermore, the study aimed to understand the meaning that the late adolescents ascribed to the loss using the Meaning Reconstruction Theory. In addition, the Gender Role Strain Paradigm was used to explore how the narrative identities and meaning-making processes of late adolescent males have been shaped by gender roles. Being positioned within an interpretivist-constructivist paradigm, this qualitative study was interested in the meaning of individual participants’ experiences. Using a narrative research design, the study specifically focused on turning points or significant events in the participants’ lives. The participants were late adolescent males between the ages of 15 years and 19 years who had lost a parent between birth and 14 years of age. In this study, data were collected through a semi-structured interview using the Life Story Interview method (Atkinson & Hagenah, 1994), and subsequently analysed using thematic narrative analysis. The results suggested that parental loss brought about significant personal changes, secondary losses, and particular challenges as participants came to terms with their grief. Specifically, the grieving process reflected how grief occurs throughout the developmental years. Furthermore, participants’ views signified how gender-related changes in society have affected how male loss is expressed. The participants' views on gender roles indicated significant changes in how society perceives traditional gender roles. The role of significant others was also highlighted as a salient theme and suggests that the surviving parent, extended family, teachers, and peers play a pivotal role in the grief process. Finding meaning in the loss was considered and how participants were engaged in the meaning-making process was demonstrated. The importance of agency and goal-directedness was central in the narratives of parentally bereaved late adolescent males. Lastly, the value of telling the story of loss was also highlighted. This study contributed to the limited research that has been conducted on narrative identity and parental loss. Furthermore, the unique focus on late adolescents who have experienced parental loss using a narrative inquiry approach highlights potential areas of intervention for this population.
Thesis (Ph.D. (Child Psychology))--University of the Free State, 2023
narrative identity, life story, late adolescence, parental loss, bereavement, grief, meaning reconstruction, dual process model of coping with grief, Bereavement, continuing bonds, gender role strain paradigm, masculinity