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Becoming the Older Generation: Love, Loss and the Midlife Transition by Bethany Morgan Brett
Becoming the Older Generation: Love, Loss and the Midlife Transition Bethany Morgan Brett University of EssexBSA Social Aspects of Death, Dying and Bereavement Study Group Annual Symposium: Death and theFamily19th November 2012
THE NEGOTIATION OF MIDLIFE:EXPLORING THE SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE OF AGEING How do people feel about getting older? What are some of the common life experiences in midlife? Is midlife a time of existential crisis, or are there other psychical processes are operating in midlife? Creativity, generativity, disappointment and loss... What is the subjective experience of midlife and how is it negotiated psychically, physically, socially and emotionally?
THE SAMPLE 22 British born men and women (45, 2-3 hour interviews in total) Aged between 39-58 All had children, except one man. All heterosexual Predominantly white sample (one black woman)
A PSYCHO-SOCIAL APPROACHHollway and Jefferson’s Free Association Narrative Interview Method(From Doing Qualitative Research Differently, 2000) Two interviews with each participant 1st Free Association 2nd Semi-Structured Field-notes (Recording the Total Situation, Betty Joseph ,1983) Reflexive analysis (What role did I (my SELF) play in the interview situation?) Holistic Approach. (Looked at the Total Situation, Betty Joseph, 1983)
KEY THEMES Situating Midlife “The Fittest Corpse on the Block”: Exploring the Subjective Experiences of the Ageing Body Growing Up and Growing Old: Negotiating the Generational Shift Remembered Pasts and Imagined Futures
GENERATIONAL SHIFT The upward movement of the generations. For those in midlife this places them higher up in the hierarchy of the family tree. Has consequences for the way in which family roles and relationships are arbitrated. Can evoke a range of emotions, from increased sense of responsibility, maturity and wisdom to feelings of vulnerability, insecurity and anxiety. It can have an effect on the way people think about their own ageing process and mortality.
THE GENERATIONAL SHIFTWhen the older generation dies and the midlife individual moves intothe older position, there may be the sense that they are next in lineand the generational buffer between them and death has now gone.„such a death brings to the fore one‟s own mortality…when a parent dies the adult child is next in line, the buffer is gone‟ (Sprang and McNeil,1995, 21).It sort of makes you feel, you know, that you‟re older. Youknow, „cause when your parents are not there… in a sense takingtheir place in the scheme of things....And you just think we‟ve allmoved up one…. (Alex, aged 52)
THE GENERATIONAL BUFFERI mean in some ways, with my parents still, I think well my parentsare still here, so for us to be discussing death and things for our owndeaths seems a bit I don‟t know, not stupid but irrelevant becausemy parents are still here. We haven‟t taken the mantle up, so tospeak, to become the older generation yet, that is the only way I canput it. There is a line to follow. (Anna, aged 46)Anna:…I have got a grandmother. So you see I am third in line.[Laughs]Interviewer: Back of the queue!Anna: Back of the queue! Do you know what I mean?
SHUNTING UP THE GENERATIONSI saw my dad last week for this day out, for the first time I, the wayhe was walking and the way he was looking, he‟s lost a lot ofweight you see, and I thought “my God dad, you look old!” andthat‟s the first time I‟ve really taken stock of how he was walkingand how he was looking and that frightened me because I‟mthinking, especially because of the way my thoughts are, I thought“Oh my God!” because I see everything happening in stages andeverything and I think everything and everybody moves on a stageto another level don‟t they? And I thought “Oh my God, my dad‟smoved on to that next level!” which means I now shunt up and takehis place! And that frightens me. (Angela, aged 49)
SEPARATION AND ATTACHMENT IN MIDLIFE“the loss of a parent evokes all the old fears and threatsof the lost child” (Pritchard, 1995: 153)To lose a parent in adulthood is “difficult to cope withbecause they make the individual‟s personal world anunsafe and unpredictable place”. (Archer, 1999: 213)“when parents die we lose our sense of being a child”.(Anna, 46)“I am now an orphan” (Beverley, 56)
SEPARATION AND ATTACHMENT IN MIDLIFEI suppose I want her to die really. I mean I will be sad. I will be sadin some ways and I think I‟ve purposely distanced myself from theemotional bond sometimes. I think people are very flexible. I couldeasily find myself getting back into more of a sort of son/motherrelationship and being terrified of her dying. (Jeff, aged 48)
SEPARATION AND ATTACHMENT IN MIDLIFE„…what I‟m hoping for when my mother dies, or when we can‟tlook after her any more- that will suddenly be a lot more freedomthan I‟ve had. Yes, I‟m hoping that it will be a comfortable timewhere I can do a bit of travelling and do the things that I want andfeel that when I‟m going to work I don‟t have to. I can just do that‟.(Jeff, 48)
SEPARATION AND ATTACHMENT IN MIDLIFEFor my mother‟s health, one of the GPs diagnosed that my motherhad bowel cancer from the blood tests and this was about a yearback and I suddenly thought I had a thrill go through me, that this isan escape, an escape for me from all this being tied down not beingable to go on holidays and things like that. But it‟s an escape formum from all the pain and all the other things that she has to gothrough. But of course the GP got it wrong so it was nothing of thekind [laughs] I suppose that‟s a good test of my reaction to mum.(Jeff, aged 48)
CONCLUSIONSGenerational shift A psychological buffer? Responsibility Liberating? Conflict Anticipatory mourning The midlife „orphan‟
SELECTED REFERENCES Archer, J (1999)The Nature Of Grief, London: Routledge Craib, I., (1994) The Importance of Disappointment, London: Routledge Erikson, E., (1963) Childhood and Society, New York: W.W. Norton and company Freud, S., (1991, 1917, 1915c) „Mourning and Melancholia‟, On Metapsychology (11) London: Penguin Joseph, B., (1983) Transference: The Total Situation, London: Routledge Jaques, E., (1965) „Death and the Midlife Crisis‟, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, (46) 502-514 Pritchard, C. (1995) Suicide- The Ultimate Rejection?, Open University Press, Buckingham Sprang, G., McNeil, J., (1995) The Many Faces of
E-THESISMorgan Brett, Bethany Rowan (2010) The Negotiation of Midlife:Exploring the Subjective Experience of Ageing, PhD Thesis, TheUniversity of EssexThe University of Essex Institutional Repositoryhttp://repository.essex.ac.uk/2394/The British Library, EThOShttp://firstname.lastname@example.org
A presentation from the BSA Death, Dying and Bereavement Conference held on 19 November 2012.