Parental grief after losing a child to cancer: impact of professional and social support on long-term outcomes

Ulrika C Kreicbergs, Patrizia Lannen, Erik Onelov, Joanne Wolfe
Journal of Clinical Oncology 2007 August 1, 25 (22): 3307-12

PURPOSE: It is still uncertain whether or not parents can ever come to terms with the loss of a child and whether professional or social support facilitate the long-term grief process.

METHODS: A Swedish population-based study, which sent an anonymous, mail-in questionnaire to parents who had lost a child to a malignancy 4 to 9 years earlier, gained the participation of 449 (80%) of 561 parents. Parents were asked whether, and to what extent, they had worked through their grief. Questions were also asked regarding those who provided parents with support. We examined candidate factors to determine their associations with greater likelihood of working through parental grief.

RESULTS: Overall, most parents (74%) stated that they had worked through their grief "a lot" or "completely" at the time of the follow-up. Parents who had shared their problems with others during the child's illness (fathers: relative risk [RR], 3.0; 95% CI, 1.8 to 5.0; mothers: RR 1.9; 95% CI, 1.2 to 2.8) and who had access to psychological support during the last month of their child's life (fathers: RR 1.4; 95% CI, 1.0 to 1.8; mothers: RR 1.3; 95% CI, 1.1 to 1.6) were more likely to have worked through their grief. In cases where health care staff offered parents counseling during the child's last month, the parents were more likely to have worked through their grief (fathers: RR 1.5; 95% CI, 1.2 to 1.8; mothers; RR 1.2; 95% CI, 1.1 to 1.4).

CONCLUSION: Most parents eventually work through the grief associated with losing a child to cancer. In the long term, sharing the emotional burden with others facilitates the grieving process.

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