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The Death of a Son An Autoethnographical Journal

Loftus, I (2023) The Death of a Son An Autoethnographical Journal. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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Does Self-Expressive Writing Help to Overcome Grief?
This thesis is about the death of my son, Dominic. It is written as an autoethnographical study, and, as the story that follows his death, it is grief driven. As an integrated creative– critical academic work, the thesis examines the extent to which writing produced as we grieve is therapeutic or, as Walters suggests in A New Model of Grief: Bereavement and Biography (1996), can be a lasting memorial for the deceased. This thesis is my creative response to Walter’s biographical question and in it I’ve termed my memories of Dominic ‘our literary DNA’.
In writing the thesis, I searched for connections between bereavement, creativity and mental health. I researched a range of sources, underpinning Dom’s story with my own ruminations on him and his death. Interwoven through this narrative are discussions and analysis of the grief memoirs of other writers, including Helen MacDonald’s H is For Hawk (2014), Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life (2013), George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), and Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers (2015). I also investigated an earlier memoir, the seminal work of CS Lewis, A Grief Observed (1961). In their grief memoirs, writers such as Barnes and Saunders incorporate the factual, the philosophical and the fictional. Is this linked to Walter’s theory in A New Model of Grief (1996) of the grieving person creating a new narrative for the deceased? More importantly, can these works be linked to Worden’s ‘tasks’ (2011), particularly the fourth one, ‘To find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life’?
In examining these texts and the work of eminent philosophers and psychologists, I posed three questions: Why do grieving authors ultimately write about themselves as survivors of the story they are living (Jones, 2013, p. 10)? What compels the bereft to write about their loved one in creative and imaginative ways? Is a grief memoir ultimately about the author, the deceased, or both? My answers to these questions form the basis of the new knowledge of grief that underpins the critical element of my memoir narrative.
My research also drew on models of bereavement counselling that regularly represent grief as progressing through different stages, each with its own set of emotions. These include Kübler-Ross’s work On Death and Dying (1969), which defines the five stages of grief after a death. My research also examined contemporary cultural expressions of grief such as those found in rap songs. I asked what it is we are searching for in songs, poetry or stories that act as a balm to our misery. And I conclude that we search for meaning in everything, including the impossibility of answering the question.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Grief; bereavement; loss; creative and self-expressive writing; grief therapy; therapeutic; depression; mental health; wellbeing; memoir; daily diary; journal; Hell (descent and return); letting go; writing as a therapy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Screen School
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2023 10:02
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2024 00:50
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00019105
Supervisors: Cole, C, Leavey, C and Newton, J
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/19105
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