Follow-up study of complicated grief among parents eighteen months after a child's death in the pediatric intensive care unit

J Palliat Med. 2011 Feb;14(2):207-14. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2010.0291. Epub 2011 Jan 31.


Objective: We previously demonstrated that parents whose children die in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) have a high level of complicated grief symptoms 6 months after the death. In this study, we investigate the change in the extent of complicated grief symptoms among these parents between 6 and 18 months postdeath and identify factors predicting improvement.

Methods: One hundred thirty-eight parents of 106 children completed surveys at 6 and 18 months. Surveys included the Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG), measures of grief avoidance, attachment, caregiving and social support, and demographics. Multivariable analysis was performed using generalized estimating equations to identify characteristics independently associated with improvement in ICG score.

Results: ICG scores were 33.4 ± 13.6 at 6 months and 28.0 ± 13.5 at 18 months, representing an improvement in ICG score of 5.4 + 8.0 (95% confidence interval [CI] 4.1-6.8, p < 0.001). Variables independently associated with greater improvement in ICG score included traumatic death and greater grief avoidance. Variables independently associated with less improvement included being the biological parent and having more responsive caregiving. Parents with one or two surviving children had more improvement in ICG score than those with no surviving children whereas parents with three or more surviving children had less improvement.

Conclusion: Complicated grief symptoms decrease among parents between 6 and 18 months after their child's death in the PICU; however, high symptom levels persists for some. Better understanding of the trajectory of complicated grief will allow parents at risk for persistent distress to receive professional support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Data Collection
  • Death*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Parents / psychology*