Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Interpersonal and Family Communication

Department or School/College

Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Dr. Christina Yoshimura

Commitee Members

Dr. Steve Yoshimura Dr. Keith Anderson


grief, family grief, communicated narrative sense-making, death and dying, home


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Communication | Counseling | Health Communication | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Other Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Work


This study utilized communicated narrative sense-making theory to explore the process of sorting through a deceased loved one’s belongings and changing the home after loss (referred to as “cleaning out the closet”), as the site of family communication and storytelling. Through storytelling, families make order of the disordered experience that is bereavement by negotiating meaning, identity, and family. The stories told about and within the process of “cleaning out the closet” elicit rich insight on each family’s experience with bereavement, loss, and life with each other. “Cleaning out the closet” narratives shed light on the interactions that occur between family members experiencing grief across a timeline, providing insight on grief communication, sense-making, and communal identity performance. “Cleaning out the closet” narratives provide insight on the discursive and material influences upon grief experiences and storytelling processes. Finally, analyzing storytelling content and processes of “cleaning out the closet” yield awareness of broader themes within the family and grief communication, providing translational implications for scholars, practitioners, and grieving families alike. Through 14 semi-structured interviews, retrospective storytelling content and interactional storytelling behaviors are identified. Family stories about “cleaning out the closet” included content of motivations, communication, and impacts. Storytelling interactions are discussed, including engagement, turn-taking, perspective-taking, and coherence. The findings suggest that the home is not merely a backdrop where grief takes place, but a dynamic and polysemic place imbedded in sense-making, identity, grief, and family. Changing the home, then, is an agentic and rhetorical act: a dense and significant story within the family’s whole grief narrative.



© Copyright 2020 Kendyl A. Barney