Death of a child: Traumatic grief in Finnish autobiographical literature.

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, lecture hall IT116, Zoom link:

Topic of the dissertation

Death of a child: Traumatic grief in Finnish autobiographical literature.

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts Mervi Nyfors

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, The Research Unit for Languages and Literature

Subject of study

Literature and Film Studies


Docent Päivi Kosonen, University of Turku


Professor Kuisma Korhonen, University of Oulu

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Death of a child: Traumatic grief in Finnish autobiographical literature.

The death of one's own child is among the heaviest and most difficult events a person can have to face. Losing a child can be considered an extreme existential event, a limit situation, defined by Karl Jaspers. A limit situation refers to an existential crisis triggered by a traumatic experience.

This interdisciplinary doctoral thesis examines representations of grief related to the loss of a child in Finnish autobiographical literature. Nineteen works published from 1996 to 2019 have been selected as research material. The subject of this research is the phenomenology of grief and its manifestations in the research data. The analysis is built on Lauri Rauhala's theory of the three basic forms of human existence: corporeality, consciousness and situationality. Grieving manifests itself at all these levels: as affects set at the interface of body and mind, as verbalized thoughts and emotions, and in relationships with the surrounding reality.

The theoretical frame of reference for this research consists of trauma theory, psychoanalytic affect theory, theory linked to literary therapy, and philosophy that considers existential issues. As the research material shows, the traumatic experience takes shape along with the psychological processing from a non-verbal core experience into words and stories, narratives of grief. The narratives are interpretations of the pure raw experience, which in itself is difficult to describe in words. With words the authors aim to approach an originally non-linguistic experience with the goal of creating a verbal interpretation of it.

The research data consist of such linguistic descriptions of the experience of grief. The process of producing written material can be considered as therapeutic writing, and the final product of that process, literature about grief, as therapeutic literary material providing the opportunity of peer support and growth in understanding to the reader as well.

The therapeutic writing process in the research material displays itself as a self-constructive and evolutionary process that guides the integration of experience into one's life story: from a non-verbal bodily and affective experience towards emotions and the conceptual dimension of consciousness.
Last updated: 1.3.2023