Autoethnography, Storytelling, Communicating Grief, Illness, and Loss, Interpersonal Communication, Gender and Sexuality, Queer Theory
B.A. Communication and Women's Studies (St. Louis University)
M.A. Communication (University of South Florida)
Advisor : Carolyn Ellis
“To grieve well is to value what you have lost. When you value even the feeling of loss, you value life itself, and you begin to live again.”
--- Arthur Frank
“Finding ways to bring people with us, those who are no longer living, can make a big difference in people’s lives. When we reconnect with those we have lost, and the memories we have forgotten, then we become stronger. When we see ourselves through the loving eyes of those who have cared for us our lives are easier to live.”
--- Barbara Wingard
What does it mean to hold onto grief? The dominant paradigm of grieving in America places an emphasis on the bereaved to cut off attachment with the deceased and “move on” with their lives. I question the assumption that having a continuing bond with a deceased loved one long after his or her death is pathological. There are many ways one can hold onto grief, including viewing photographs and videos of the deceased, visiting favorite former places and participating in their favorite activities, reading old letters, and having conversations with the deceased and speaking with others about their lives.
My current research autoethnographically explores how I hold onto grief from my mother’s death. Through the use of interactive interviewing, sociological introspection of emotional experience, and friendship as method, I explore how intimate others who share similar experiences of loss help us hold onto grief. Currently, I am developing a paper on this topic with a colleague who also lost her mother at a young age. There is much to gain from forming continuing bonds with a deceased loved one. We can celebrate the life that they lived. We can gain a better understanding of our own lives and imminent mortality. Most importantly, we can enrich our current relationships with others.
Furthermore, I am interested in storytelling processes in general and how we use stories to make sense of our lives and our identities. My master’s thesis was a one-man show that explored how storytelling through musical and drag performances could aid in the understanding of gender identity and sexuality. It also showed how particular performances inspired activism in the queer community. Through this experience and other similar projects, I have come to believe that personal storytelling can challenge canonical narratives and serve as a political tool in the fight for gender equality.
On a personal note, I am originally from southern Illinois. Since moving to Tampa three years ago, I have completely fallen in love with the area. I am proud to call it my current home. I love dancing, eating good food, a nice glass of red or white wine, the beach, music concerts, theatrical productions, reading a stimulating novel, a tasty cup of coffee, and going to the movies. I am also an avid runner, and frequently take jogs on beautiful Bayshore Blvd. in downtown Tampa.
- Paxton, B. A. (in press). Transforming minor bodily stigma through holding onto grief: A "hair raising" possibility. Qualitative Inquiry.
- Rennels, T .R. & Paxton, B. A. (In press). Sudden Death, sudden friend: Exploring the role of friendship in
continuing bonds with the deceased. Qualitative Communication Research.