Parental Bereavement: Looking Beyond Grief - Challenges and Health

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Dias, Nancy


Brandon, Debra
Tanabe, Paula

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For most parents there is no imaginable event more devastating than the death of their child. Nevertheless, while bereaved parents grieve they are also expected to carry on with their life. The day-to-day activities that were once routine for these parents may now be challenging due to the emotional turmoil they are experiencing. To date parental bereavement has been described as complex, intense, individualized, and life-long and their grief responses are interwoven with their daily activities, but the nature of their daily life challenges are not known.

This dissertation highlights the significance of how parents respond to their bereavement challenges because bereaved parents have higher morbidity and mortality rates than non-bereaved parents or adults who have lost their spouse or parents. Many bereaved parents in their daily routines include activities that allow them to maintain a relationship with their deceased child. These behaviors have been described as “continuing bonds”, but with this dissertation the continuing bonds concept is analyzed to provide a clear conceptual definition, which can be used for future research.

Using the Adaptive Leadership Framework as the theoretical lens and a mixed method, multiple case study design, the primary study in this dissertation aims to provides knowledge about the challenges parents face in the first six months following the death of their child, the work they use to meet these challenges, and the co-occurrence of the challenges, and work with their health status. Bereaved parents challenges are unique to their individual circumstances, complex, interrelated and adaptive, as they have no easy fix. Their challenges were pertaining to their everyday life without their child and classified as challenges related to: a) grief, b) continuing bonds, c) life demands, d) health concerns, f) interactions, and g) gaps in the health care system. Parents intuitively responded to the challenges and attempted to care for themselves. However, the role of the healthcare system to assist bereaved parents during this stressful time so that their health is not negatively impacted was also recognized. This study provides a foundation about parental bereavement challenges and related work that can lead to the development and testing of interventions that are tailored to address the challenges with a goal of improving bereaved parents health outcomes.






Dias, Nancy (2016). Parental Bereavement: Looking Beyond Grief - Challenges and Health. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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