Parental Grief Following the Death of a Child from Cancer: The Ongoing Odyssey

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Abstract

Background.

The death of a child is a devastating event that results in profound grief and significant psychosocial and physical morbidities in parents. The parental grief journey is a complex phenomenon necessitating the utilization of newer models of bereavement with a focus on relationships and exploration of parents’ perceived meanings of the experience.

Objectives.

To further characterize the grief journey of parents whose child died from cancer in order to better identify parents who can benefit from additional bereavement support and design strategies to improve bereavement services for these parents.

Design.

We conducted focus group sessions with 11 bereaved parents. The parents were given two prompts to describe their grief journey before and after their child's death, and their responses in a narrative form were audio-recorded. The responses were coded and studied independently by semantic content analysis.

Results.

Collation and analysis of the coded responses to both prompts results in the emergence of four concepts from the parental narratives: (1) description of the grief trajectory and evolution of grief over time, (2) mechanisms of parental coping throughout the grief journey, (3) factors that exacerbate parental grief, and (4) sources of parental support throughout the grief journey.

Conclusions.

The narratives highlighted that parents whose child died of cancer experience a unique and evolving form of grief and they wish to continue their bond with the deceased child. We recommend that healthcare providers and institutions incorporate support systems into a comprehensive bereavement program for families of children who die from cancer.

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