Childhood bereavement and its long-term sequelae: a phenomenological investigation of adjustment to early parent death
Turnbull, Frances L.
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This phenomenological study has elicited the remembered mourning reactions of twenty-four men and women who were bereaved of one or both parents between the ages of seven and seventeen. Qualitative methods and a retrospective design were used to explore how subjects grieved, avoided the mourning process, and in ways more or less adaptive, endeavored to master their loss. The major objectives have been to identify some of the shared reactions of this group to premature parent death, and to illuminate their experience of being in the world subsequent to this loss. The study has further explored how parent loss was experienced when bereavement occurred at certain developmental stages (latency or adolescence) , or as a result of particular circumstances (suicide, sudden or anticipated death). The loss experience was remembered as a constellation of changes which both preceded and followed from the parent's actual death. In retrospect, the death was described as a nucleus or formative event around which later developments had been organized. The loss had usually been interpreted by subjects, and the meaning that was made emerged as a deeply personal, idiosyncratic formulation. Parent loss resulted for all in some alteration of their sense of self, in a loss of innocence, and an end of childhood. Particular circumstances had seemingly imposed some special strain or trauma; when the parent's death occurred at a younger age, as a result of prolonged illness, sudden accident or suicide, these deaths appeared to have been more difficult for subjects to resolve than those which resulted at a later age, or from natural causes. Gender differences were also noted: father-bereaved subjects (male and female) were more likely to feel overburdened or engulfed by their widowed parent than were their mother-bereaved counterparts. The phenomenon of early parent loss was described as a complex and multi-faceted event, the understanding and treatment of which may be enhanced by using a variety of theoretical perspectives. Treatment objectives should include helping the bereaved to resume and advance their mourning process and to further those developmental tasks which were not accomplished before the parent's death.
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