Morbidity, mortality, and parental grief: a review of the literature on the relationship between the death of a child and the subsequent health of parents

Palliat Support Care. 2009 Mar;7(1):109-19. doi: 10.1017/S1478951509000133.


Objective: This review was undertaken to analyze the research to date and identify areas for future research regarding the associations between parental grief after the death of a child and the subsequent health of the parents, including both their mortality and morbidity risks.

Methods: Relevant literature was identified through a search of OVID-Medline, CINAHL, and PsycINFO using variations of the terms "parental grief and bereaved parents" combined with "health," "illness," "morbidity," and "mortality." Additionally, bibliographies of selected articles were reviewed to identify additional sources. The final sample includes 17 articles.

Results: The literature search revealed a paucity of publications on the topic. However, it also showed that the studies that have been done examining the relationship between parental grief and health outcomes have produced conflicting results in almost every disease state examined. Additionally, several concerns with the quality of existing studies came to light that may bring their results into question. Three primary areas of concern surfaced including lack of consistency in measurement for psychological variables and "soft" self-report health outcomes, questionable methodologies in bereavement research in general, and the lack of a uniform definition of bereaved parents.

Significance of results: Based on these findings, it is clear that more methodologically sound research is necessary to clarify the relationship between parental grief after the death of a child and the parents' subsequent morbidity and mortality risks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Grief*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Mortality*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological