Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gonzalo Bacigalupe

Second Advisor

Laura Hayden

Third Advisor

Melissa Pearrow


Emerging adulthood is a developmental period that spans roughly the ages 18 to 29. Some individuals have difficulties navigating emerging adulthood and struggle with such issues as substance use disorders, depression, and relationship concerns. Bereavement is a critical incident that also has a significant negative impact on how individuals experience emerging adulthood, especially for those who lose a parent. Among college students, the death of a parent has been associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, withdrawal from social interactions, an increased risk of suicide, and a decline in academic performance. The construct of resilience can be used to better understand parentally bereaved individuals who successfully navigate emerging adulthood. Studies primarily operationalize resilience in emerging adulthood as competence in the age-salient tasks of adolescence and adulthood. Resilience as defined by emerging adults has not been qualitatively studied. Relying on benchmarks from adolescence and adulthood presents a significant methodological limitation of resilience research in emerging adulthood. This study addresses this limitation by exploring the following question: What are the age-salient tasks that define resilience among parentally bereaved emerging adults? This study used grounded theory as the guiding methodology. Participants were a purposeful sample of parentally bereaved college students (n = 10). In-depth interviews addressed the reasons participants considered themselves to be “doing OK” following the death of a parent. Participants defined resilience according to the following age-salient tasks: (a) returning to their “old selves,” (b) feeling connected to and/or engaged in life, (c) being able to face reminders of their deceased parent with comparatively less sadness, and (d) staying in school. Based on these themes, a theory of resilience is proposed and the clinical implications of these findings are discussed.


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