Finding meaning in a child's violent death: a five-year prospective analysis of parents' personal narratives and empirical data

Death Stud. 2003 Jun;27(5):381-404. doi: 10.1080/07481180302879.


Finding meaning in the death of a loved one is thought to be extremely traumatic when the circumstances surrounding the death is perceived to be due to negligence, is intentional, and when the deceased suffered extreme pain and bodily harm immediately prior to death. We addressed this assumption by obtaining personal narratives and empirical data from 138 parents 4, 12, 24, and 60 months after an adolescent's or young adult child's death by accident, suicide, or homicide. Using the Janoff-Bulman and Frantz's (1997) framework of meaning-as-comprehensibility and meaning-as-significance, the purposes were to identify the time course to find meaning, present parents' personal narratives describing finding meaning in their experiences, identify predictors of finding meaning, and compare parents who found meaning versus those who did not on five health and adjustment outcomes. The results showed that by 12 months post death, only 12% of the study sample had found meaning in a child's death. By 60 months post death, 57% of the parents had found meaning but 43% had not. Significant predictors of finding meaning 5 years post death were the use of religious coping and support group attendance. Parents who attended a bereavement support group were 4 times more likely to find meaning than parents who did not attend. Parents who found meaning in the deaths of their children reported significantly lower scores on mental distress, higher marital satisfaction, and better physical health than parents who were unable to find meaning. Recommendations for future research are made.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Bereavement*
  • Child*
  • Death*
  • Health Status
  • Homicide*
  • Humans
  • Marriage
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Religion
  • Self Concept
  • Self-Help Groups
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
  • Suicide
  • United States
  • Violence*