Term of Award

Spring 1992

Degree Name

Master of Science in Nursing

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)


School of Nursing

Committee Chair

M. Christine Talmadge

Committee Member 1

Em Bevis

Committee Member 2

June Alberto

Committee Member 3

Sharon Horner


The purpose of this study is to explicate how suffering is experienced and interpreted by sufferers. Nursing and medical literature, until quite recently, has been visibly bereft on the topic of human suffering. The subject is made even more confusing because of a lack of a standardized definition: By its very essence, suffering is a relative experience, highly personalized and intimately interpreted. In the past, it has been related to mental anguish, injury, loss, stress, and pain.

Five individuals from contextually different regions of the world were asked to share their suffering stories. Two lived in the southern coastal area of the United States, two lived in Appalachia, and one lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The stories were audiotaped and later transcribed into written form. With the use of interpretive methods, each transcript was analyzed and important categories were identified. Elements of suffering as lived experience include the categories of loss, trapped, the hard life, the spectre of death, time, and working through the experience. Accompanying themes under each category were also discussed using culturally relevant language.

By uncovering the commonalities among meanings of human responses to profound and commonplace suffering experiences, the nurse can use this information in supporting and guiding other suffering individuals. As the range of human experiences are explored and meaningful practice principles derived, then nursing science is advanced and is more responsive to the needs of the suffering individual.


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Nursing Commons