Changes in parents after the death of a child from cancer

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012 Oct;44(4):572-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.10.017. Epub 2012 Jul 10.


Context: Few studies have compared multiple perspectives of changes experienced by parents after a child's death.

Objectives: This study used interviews with bereaved parents and siblings to examine changes in parents during the first year after the death of a child from cancer.

Methods: Mothers (n=36), fathers (n=24), and siblings (n=39) from 40 families were recruited from three hospitals in the U.S. and Canada three to 12 months after the death (M=10.7, SD=3.5). Semistructured interviews with open-ended questions were conducted in the home with each participating parent and sibling separately. Content analysis identified emerging themes, and frequencies were compared between each paired set of reports (mother vs. sibling, father vs. sibling, and mother vs. father).

Results: Parents and siblings identified two major categories of change experienced by bereaved parents. These changes occurred in their personal lives (e.g., emotions, perspectives and priorities, physical state, work habits, coping/behaviors, spiritual beliefs, and feeling something is missing) and relationships (e.g., family, others). Ninety-four percent of the mothers, 87% of the fathers, and 69% of the siblings reported parental changes in at least one of these categories. Parents were more likely to report changes in priorities, whereas siblings reported more sadness in parents after the death.

Conclusion: Positive and negative changes in parents after the death of a child from cancer occur in both personal and relational domains. Additional research is needed to determine the impact of a child's death on bereaved parents over time and to develop strategies to promote healthy adjustment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Bereavement*
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Death*
  • Emotions
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Siblings / psychology
  • United States