Objective: The aim of this study was to identify patterns of family functioning in adult families after the death of a parent.
Method: One hundred fifteen families completed measures of family functioning, grief, psychological state, and social adjustment 6 weeks (time 1), 6 months (time 2), and 13 months (time 3) after the death of a parent (a total of 670 individual responses). Cluster analytic methods were applied to develop a typology of perceptions of family functioning during bereavement.
Results: Five types of families emerged from dimensions of cohesiveness, conflict, and expressiveness on the Family Environment Scale. Thirty-six percent of the families were considered supportive because of their high cohesiveness, and another 23% resolved conflict effectively. Two types were dysfunctional: hostile families, distinguished by high conflict, low cohesiveness, and poor expressiveness, and sullen families, who had more moderate limitations in these three areas; they declined in frequency from 30% at time 1 to 15% at time 3. The remaining type (26%), termed intermediate, exhibited midrange cohesiveness, low control, and low achievement orientation. The typology at time 1 predicted typologies at time 2 and time 3. There were no age or gender differences among the family types, but offspring, as compared with spouses, were overrepresented in the hostile families.
Conclusions: Family types can be identified, allowing at-risk families to be helped to prevent complications of grief. Screening with the family relationship index of the Family Environment Scale would facilitate such a family-centered approach.