• This paper describes the process and outcomes of a project to learn about qualitative research methods.
• A small study of family participation in decision-making was conducted with 7 family members who were interviewed after an inter-unit patient transfer.
• The data analysis used strategies derived from grounded theory, family life-cycle framework and storytelling.
• The interviews indicated respondents' concerns about the patient, their efforts to balance their lives during a time of disarray and their sorting through crises in their lives (`working through').
• `Working through' discourse has identifiable features, including: linking the past, present and future; refrains; rhetorical questions; and self-talk.
• Clinicians should encourage the `working through' process by family during the hospitalization of a family member.