Can A Parent Get Over The Death Of A Child?
An average of 18 years after the death of a child, the characteristics that significantly distinguished the bereaved and the non-bereaved parents in this study were consistent with research on shorter term outcomes showing that depressive symptoms are common features of grief, that depressive episodes tend to follow the death of a child, and that bereaved parents are at risk for health problems and marital problems. Most bereaved parents were not experiencing clinical levels of symptoms or substantial disruption in midlife. Instead, the elevated depressive symptoms paired with somewhat poorer well-being and lower sense of life purpose suggested sub-clinical levels of distress. Furthermore, the fact that better functioning was not more likely with greater time since the death indicated that bereavement for a deceased child might contribute to persistent problems lasting over several decades for many parents. Neither traditional conceptualisations of grief as having a time-limited impact followed by a return to normal functioning nor the concept of a traumatic grief reaction in the form of persistent severe symptoms following a death captures the type of long-term difficulties revealed by the current investigation. Instead, the findings are more consistent with a picture of lasting grief associated with this highly significant, often unexpected, and unexplainable loss. Whereas short-term grief reactions are generally associated with disruptions in occupational, social, and family roles, these difficulties were not apparent in the current findings. The normative functioning in these areas for the bereaved parents likely reflects recovery and a return to typical roles and activities. In this regard, the contrast with psychological distress and health problems as lasting challenges is striking; it suggests that these negative internal experiences may not be evident in social roles and, thus, may not be recognised by others. Accordingly, clinical work with bereaved parents (e.g., Rando, 1993) has suggested that a source of difficulty for these parents is the failure of family and friends to recognise the need for continued emotional support when individuals return to other life roles and their outward signs of grief are not so apparent. Credit: Journal of Family Psychology April 2008: Long-Term Effects of the Death of a Child on Parents’ Adjustment in Midlife.
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