To mourn and resist stigma : Narration, meaning-making and self-formation after a parent’s suicide

Abstract: Grief following a parent’s suicide has been called ‘the silent grief’: due to a prevailing stigma connected to suicide as a mode of death, the parent cannot be talked about. This silenced or distorted communication complicates grieving youths’ meaning reconstruction centred on the question of why the parent committed suicide – a question inevitably linked to queries of who the deceased parent was, and that ultimately triggers thoughts about who oneself has become in the light of this experience. Previous research has emphasized how vulnerable parentally suicidebereaved youths are by categorizing them as ‘at risk group’ of social and psychological problems and even suicide. However, there is scant knowledge about how these young mourners perceive and manage their own grief and need for social support – knowledge that is essential from a professional perspective. The aim of this thesis is to use a narrative research approach to investigate what and how young mourners tell of their experiences in a variety of social contexts: research interviews, a theatre play and two chat contexts on the Internet. Since they actively seek to achieve something through their communication with others, mourning youths are seen as storytellers and social actors, rather than passive victims of circumstance. This thesis shows how these young mourners search for a context outside of their immediate daily networks where they can normalize and liberate themselves and their deceased parent from stigmatizing discourses. The possibility of narrating experiences in a destigmatizing context supports a renegotiation of how to make sense of the suicide – from a voluntary and selfish act, to an involuntary and desperate act caused by adverse life situations or ‘unbearable pain’ and depression. This knowledge is applicable to encounters with parentally suicide-bereaved youths in a professional context, such as social work practice.

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