Date of Award

12-10-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Dr. Marian Meyers

Second Advisor

Dr. Douglas Kelley

Third Advisor

Dr. Jaye Atkinson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Carrie Freeman

Abstract

This study investigated how surviving family members and their dying loved ones communicate about forgiveness during end-of-life conversations, and how that communication has affected the surviving family members individually, as well as in their relationships. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of 10 participants. The interviews were conversational and open-ended, and provided data through participants’ stories and memories of their forgiveness-communication. Data was analyzed using textual analysis and grounded theory.

Findings revealed three major patterns related to the level of communication about forgiveness: explicit/implicit forgiveness-communication during EOL; explicit/intrapersonal forgiveness-communication after death; nonverbal forgiveness-communication. Additionally, a relevant pattern – family communication patterns contribute to forgiveness-communication during EOL – was related to how forgiveness-communication was initiated and how prior family communication dynamics contributed to whether or how forgiveness was discussed (a sub-pattern included deterrents of forgiveness-communication in the past).

Data also revealed relevant themes and sub-themes related to: how death impacts forgiveness-communication, including death creates urgency for forgiveness-communication (sub-theme: insincerity of EOL forgiveness-communication) and death makes forgiveness-communication difficult; what functions forgiveness has for participants and their relationships (functions of forgiveness) (sub-theme: forgiveness is selfish); and why participants and their loved ones forgave or didn’t forgive (reasons for forgiveness) (sub-theme: reasons for not forgiving). Findings related to the effect of these conversations on participants and their relationships revealed three themes: forgiveness-communication is meaningful, forgiveness-communication is not meaningful, and forgiveness-communication repairs and continues relationships after death.

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