Bereavement Outcomes for Parents Who Lose a Child to Cancer: Are Place of Death and Sex of Parent Associated With Differences in Psychological Functioning?

Psychooncology. 2004 Nov;13(11):779-91. doi: 10.1002/pon.795.


Despite increasing cure rates, cancer is a leading cause of non-accidental death in childhood. Models of psychosocial care in pediatric cancer may therefore need to address bereavement planning for a 'minority group' of parents (approximately 25%) for whom cure of their child is not possible. This study addresses a gap in knowledge concerning long-term bereavement and psychological outcomes for parents, as a function of the sex of the parent and the place of the child's death: home versus hospital. Fifty Australian parents (25 father-mother dyads), whose child had died at least 1 year prior to study participation, independently completed measures of psychological functioning (depression, anxiety and stress), family functioning, and pathological grieving (separation distress, and traumatic distress). The results showed some support for a hypothesized interaction between place of death and sex of parent. Fathers reported significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress when the child died in hospital rather than at home. By way of contrast, differences for mothers as function of place of death were not reflected in psychological outcomes but were more closely tied to symptoms of pathological grieving. The findings are discussed with respect to the needs for services for surviving adult family members, especially for fathers who may have an enhanced psychological vulnerability after the death of a child in hospital rather than at home.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Bereavement*
  • Child
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires