International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Meaning-Making in Memories: A Comparison of Autobiographical Memories of Death and Low Point Experiences

Michael M. Mackay

University of Florida

Abstract

Attitudes towards death and the use of meaning-making strategies (e.g., finding benefits, declaring personal growth) in relation to death-related experiences were explored in hospice volunteers. A highlight of the study was the assessment of meaning-making via an ecologically valid (i.e., no demand characteristics) method; that is, through the coding of open-ended narratives of death-related experiences. Hospice volunteers (N = 52) wrote memory narratives of death and low-point (i.e., comparison) experiences, provided ratings of each memory, and completed the Death Attitude Profile-Revised (Wong, Reker, & Gesser, 1994) and Templer-McMordie Death Anxiety Scale (McMordie, 1979). Narratives were reliably coded for meaning-making strategies (Kappa = .78). Results show that death narratives (vs. low-point narratives) exhibit more meaning-making strategies, are rated as more emotionally positive, and are more frequently recalled. Results also reveal that experienced hospice volunteers (vs. novice volunteers) exhibit lower levels of death anxiety. The long-term significance of using meaning-making strategies is discussed.

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