What Can Death and Dying Teach? An Autoethnography of the Retrospective Transformative Properties of Grief
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This research explores the lived experience of meaningful incidences of post traumatic growth following the death of a loved one. Using an autoethnographic approach the study explores two siblings’ experiences of living through post traumatic growth following the death of their brother. Before their brother’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death, they did not have much of a relationship with death, save for a fear of it and anything associated with it. The experience of walking with him throughout his illness and especially during the last months and weeks of his life forced them to re-evaluate much of what they knew about dying. While the process of caring for him was both heartbreaking and tragic, it was also precious in some ways. Autoethnography allows the researcher to explore, analyze, and convey meaningful experiences of posttraumatic growth related to her and her sister’s, grieving process, in particular, the fundamental changes that occurred for them. The paper follows the two sisters through discussion, shared stories and reflections over a weekend retreat where they explore the concept of post traumatic growth in their own lives, in relation to their brother’s death. This answers the researcher’s questions which include: What has the process of death taught us about living and dying? Have we changed the way we have looked at the world, our lives, or our sense of purpose? How do we mitigate any feelings of guilt we may have around the growth we have experienced? The discussion includes the many ways they have indeed grown and been transformed throughout their brother’s illness and death, and also how that growth honours his life, and allows him to hold a strong presence in their lives. By providing an insiders view of the growth that can occur when an adult sibling dies, this research may serve to open up new understanding of the grieving experience, in particular the post traumatic growth that can occur, allowing counsellors to better support the bereaved.