Date of Paper

5-2014

Type of Paper

Clinical research paper

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (M.S.W.)

Department

Social Work

First Advisor

Ande Nesmith

Abstract

The experience of parental loss in childhood and adolescence is often a trauma unparalleled as the most stressful period during the first decades of life. The literature cites contributory factors in the etiology of parentally bereaved children’s grief experience as relationship to the deceased parent, circumstances of parental death, and adjustment of the surviving parent. The research explored the contextual variables that are protective or increase the risk of vulnerability of complicated grief. Eight adults who experienced the death of a parent or custodial grandparent during childhood or adolescence were interviewed. Primary themes related to complicated grief include the surviving parent’s grief response, pre-existing internal toolbox, normalization and affirmation of the grief experience, and meaning making. The secondary themes include isolation and disenfranchised grief, grief as a unique experience, sibling, family, and other support, and experiences of professional support. The relatively small sample size and dearth of cultural diversity is a limitation. Implications for future research include early intervention for at risk children and surviving parents and improved therapeutic modalities for parentally bereaved families.

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