Bereaved Parents' Stories of their Emotional Relationship with their Surviving Children Following the Death of Another
Shankar, Sarah Jane
Background: The death of a child can be a devastating experience for many parents; research suggests it results in an intense and enduring grief which can negatively impact on parents’ psychological well-being. Parents with surviving children face the task of navigating their own grief and continuing to parent. Surviving children’s responses to the loss of a sibling is complex and sometimes problematic; it is suggested that family functioning is a key aspect of the sibling’s response. Psychological literature shows that sibling bereavement has been under-researched (Woodrow, 2007) with little attention given to the quality of the emotional relationship between parent and child, before and after sibling loss. Aims: Research to explore the stories of bereaved parents and how they experienced their emotional relationship with their surviving children after the death of another child can build on and expand existing literature; resulting in suggestions for clinical psychologist on how to better support surviving relationships at this difficult time. Methodology: Qualitative methods allow for richness, context and allow parents to tell stories of their emotional relationships with surviving children. Stories are the way in which we give order and meaning to the events in our lives (Gilbert, 2010). Consequently, a narrative analysis was viewed as the most epistemologically and ethically appropriate research method; and most appropriate to answer the research question. Analysis and Findings: Parents told stories of connection and disconnection in their emotional relationship with their surviving children after the death of another child in the family. Emotional connection and disconnection is influenced by the competing and potentially incompatible tasks of ‘parenting’ and ‘grieving’. Stories of connection with surviving children were constructed as ‘putting my living children first’ and ‘avoiding the fog’ of grief; these stories illustrated less connection to the deceased child and parental grief. Conversely, stories of disconnection with surviving children were constructed as getting ‘stuck in the fog’ of grief and ‘remembering’; these stories illustrated more connection to the deceased child and parental grief.