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What Is the Impact on Family Members After the Death of a Child?

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What is the Impact on Family Members After the Death of a Child?

Introduction

“Three and one-half million children under the age of nineteen, die each year in this country” (Koocher, 1994, p. 377). This paper is a literature review of many aspects of bereavement and the grieving process. The definition of bereavement will be discussed (Kanel, 1999). This paper will include the phases of bereavement (Burnett et al. 1994). Involved in the bereavement process is grieving. Many models of grieving exist, but this literature review will focus on Kubber-Ross’s stages of death and dying, in order to clarify the grieving process (Kubbler-Ross, 1969).

Much of the literature in dealing with the death of a child is broken down into two different categories. The first category of bereavement involves the parents of the deceased child (Rubin, 1986; Spooren, Henderick, & Jannes, 2000-2001). When a parent is notified of the death of their child, many responses and reactions occur at that time, and also later in the bereavement (Wheeler, 2001). Parents dealing with the death of a child search for the meaning in the death, as well as the meaning of their lives after the death. (Rubin, 1986; Wheeler, 2001). Support is crucial to the parents as they begin to realize life after the death of a child (Brabant, Forsyth, McFarlain, 1995; Koocher, 1994; Spooren et al., 2000-2001; Wheeler, 2001). The second category of bereavement involves the siblings of the deceased child (Robinson & Mahon 1997). Siblings have a unique bond, which no one else can experience. So the death of a sibling is considered to be a unique experience (Robinson & Mahon, 1997; Worden, Davies & McCown, 1999). The literature on sibling bereavement indicates there are factors that are considered to be helpful in the process of bereavement such as self, family, social system, and time (Hogan & DeSanis, 1994). However, there are also things that are considered to hinder the bereavement process for siblings (Hogan, DeSantis, 1994). Gender and age differences become factors in the bereavement process of siblings. The age of the sibling at the time of the child’s death, affects the types of reactions they may have during the bereavement process (McCown & Davies, 1995; Robinson & Mahon, 1997). Also, the gender of the sibling of the deceased child affects the bereavement process (McCown & Davies, 1995; Worden, et al., 1999).

After the death of a child, parents and surviving children need to keep communication open (Koocher, 1994; Rubin, 1986; Schwab, 1997). The ways in which parents deal with the effects of the death of a child and the grieving process have many effects on the siblings, or surviving children in the family (Koocher, 1994; Rubin, 1986; Schwab, 1997). The purpose of this paper is to show the impact on family members after the death of a child.

Bereavement

When speaking of bereavement, grief and death, there are many different meanings. For the purpose of this paper bereavement will be defined as “A state involving loss; a period of time when something has been taken away from someone” (Kanel, 1999, p. 117). Bereavement can and will effect people in many different ways, and take on different phases for each person.

Concepts of Bereavement

According to Burnett et al. (1994) there are two phases to bereavement. The first phase is called the acute phase, while the second phase is called the long-term phase. According to Burnett et al. (1994) the acute phase encompasses the first six weeks after the death. Characteristics of the acute phase include: depression, crying, longing for the deceased, worrying about death, a need to talk about the deceased, invasive images and sounds of the deceased, and sorrow involved with reminders of the deceased. The long-term phase of bereavement is considered when the deceased has been dead for at least one year (Burnett et al., 1994). This phase is characterized by depression, invasive images and sounds of the deceased, a need to talk about the deceased, longing for the deceased, and sorrow involved with reminders of the deceased. According to Burnett et al. (1994). There are several items found to have significance in both the acute and long-term phases. These include: invasive thoughts of the deceased, a need to speak with the deceased, and a flooding of pictures and sounds involved with the deceased. Each of these items stated above reveal the connection of the deceased person.

Model of Grief

“After the death of a loved one, grief work is said to be essential in order for individuals to become actively engaged in their own life once again” (Schwab, 1997, p. 259). There are many models used to show the many different steps of grieving. For the purpose of this paper, Kubbler-Ross’s stages of death and dying will be used as the grief model. Kubbler-Ross (1969) identified five stages of death and dying after studying terminally ill patients. Each of these stages has its unique characteristics. The author found that these stages seemed to be universal when dealing with death. The steps are as follows: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Denial and isolation comprise the first stage of death and dying. Denial cushions the families of a deceased person from the initial shock and allows them to deal with their despair. Kubbler-Ross (1969) found that many people after finding out about the death of a loved one become isolated from all other family members as a way to cope with the shock of the death. The nest stage of death and dying is anger. Anger frequently follows denial, as family members begin to feel rage, and fury. The anger stage frequently contains the unanswerable questions, why me and how could this happen. Kubbler-Ross’s third stage is bargaining. During this stage, family members bargain with God, asking for the deceased to be returned, in exchange for something else, many times themselves. After, the bargaining stage fails the families, they move into the depression stage. During this stage, families realize the permanence of the death of a loved on and often become depressed. Depression can include sadness, pessimism, gloominess, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness. Eventually, the depression will lift as the family begins to accept the death of the loved one. Kubbler-Ross (1969) stated that the acceptance stage is described as being almost a void of feelings. The family members go through the process of disengaging from the love one they have lost.

Parental Bereavement

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