Sophie And Athena

Published on Nov 22, 2015

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Methodological Journal, entry 1:

"Stigma and social non-recognition leads to assumptions, disenfranchisement, silence, and loss. I make this assertion in study after study.

Every research study I have conducted in women's mental health has touched on loss...especially reproductive loss...either intentionally or inadvertently. This silence keeps calling to wasn't the dissertation question, it isn't the fundable question, it can't be neatly measured, and its outcomes are unpredictable. But, expanding my methodological expertise to socially construct meaning emergent in women's stories may help break this cycle of silence."
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Reflexive journal, Entry 1

"I have settled on the question, "What is the meaning of grief and loss in the lives of older adult women."

This question doesn't stem from my research. It emerges from the inspiration that propelled me to pursue my research. It is sourced in the life review of the older adult women who bared their soul, and shared their narratives. Their narratives were marked by grief, loss, and personal growth. So many of these women had carried loss with them...reproductive loss especially...for years. Some, for decades. Women did not even recognize these hidden losses until they were speak of them. Then, their words began to flow.

I have carried their search for meaning with me into my scholarship. Their questions are my soul questions. But I haven't had time to ask their questions. Until now, at this juncture. My mid-career beckons me to ask my soul questions.


I love learning. I was voted "class brain" and have relished my nerdiness, always. I am a first generation academic, descended from dairy farmers. No one was surprised when I went to college, but I think they were baffled when my co-interests in Theology and Medicine culminated in a degree in Social Work. That is a story for another auto-ethnography, though. But, I am an acquirer of academic knowledge, and I position myself as I approached this Constructivist Inquiry as a quantitatively trained researcher trained in a Tier 1 school, who has a PhD, an MSW, and a recently earned MS in Clinical and Translational Science from our medical school.

Yes. Knowledge is power to me.
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...But knowledge isn't everything. Wisdom comes to me in the stillness of meditation, and through the sacrament of daily mystery and divine serendipity. I am not simply a cognitive learner; I am a biopsychosocialspiritual being, just like each and every one of us.

My direct practice, my research, and my vocational identity embraces grief, and finds enlightenment within the questions and complexities of the soul. Wisdom speaks to me where knowledge is silent.

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I decided to take my colleague's Constructivist Research course as a full on learner...along with PhD students from other departments along with students in the program I direct, who had me as their Quantitative Research instructor. I decided...and was do all assignments, and participated fully in peer review and auditing. My identity was also under construction as I jumped in to the methodology with both feet, co-constructing meaning with colleagues and students.

In retrospect, I had two methodolical muses on this journey:


Athena, who mythically sprung forth from the forehead of her father Zeus is the embodiment of reason and intelligence. Athena's presence was vivid and authentic:

My Methods journal: "
"return to your question!"
"Critical ethnography was essential to identifying the power differentials among participants"

My peer reviewer:
"Your picture has twelve labels which is above the 7 +/- 2 that were recommended by MKO...that's a problem, right?

Extended field notes and interviews:
"I needed to get information, to understand why this was happening to my body. I asked and asked, seeking the answers that I hoped would ease my grief."

Athena was there unitizing data points with me, nagging me when I wanted to lump too many phrases together, reminding me of my audit trail, glaring at me from my methodological journal when I failed to write exactly what I had done to lock in the logic.

Photo by Great Beyond


But, it was Sophia, Wisdom herself, that sat with me among my piles of unitized data, spinning circles with a pencil on paper, wrapping reflections into patterns of meaning.

I did invoke her, I think I need to admit that. I actually read in my personal journal an entry I wrote one autumn afternoon; it began with my reflections on my morning meeting with my spiritual director, and it concluded by talking about the unexpected emergence of my constructivist case study.

Photo by K. Kendall


Knowledge and wisdom were both present in my interviews, in my case report, and in my own professional development. I gave "Sophie" and Athena leading roles in my final case narrative, two old friends sitting and talking about what meaning they had gathered across their lives from grief and growth.

The case study that emerged produced evidence of transformation. Non-emotional participants had an emotional reaction. Those with little power had the most powerful, visceral growth from their story sharing.

I also shared my learning openly with my students. We struggled jointly to meet deadlines, to not feel like an ice pick was being rammed into our eyes after unitizing, lumping, and sorting our hundreds of data points. They also realized that I had facets to my intellectual...and existential...curiosity that challenged the meaning they had constructed of who I was, what I studied, and even what roles I was playing in their PhD journey.

My final interview ended with participant sharing an anecdote she pictured of two older women sitting next to each other, having finally uncovered all the mysteries of life as they sat together in their dotage and laughed together over tea, passers-by never realizing that life had taught them everything they needed to know. That image framed the presentation of my case study, and my decision to build my hermeneutic circle with each participant, sharing the case study over tea.

In this mid-career inquiry, meaning emerged. Meaning for my participants, my students, and meaning for me.
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Reflexive journal
Methodological journal
Personal (discernment) journal
Peer review journal and notes
Extended field notes
Audit trail review
Constructivist case study
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