The Death of a Parent

Topics: Grief, Death, Grief counseling Pages: 6 (2060 words) Published: April 16, 2011


Parental death is one of the most traumatic events that can occur in childhood. Studies show that the death of a parent places children at risk for a number of negative outcomes. These outcomes vary depending upon the age of the child (Haine, R., Ayers, T., Sandler, I., Wohchik, S., 2008). For children and teenagers, the loss of a parent if not handled sensitively can be a lasting trauma. Losing a parent as an adult can be just as difficult. Every individual grieves differently and many are able to adapt well. For those that are having trouble coping with the loss, there are a number of support groups available. The earliest relationship between a parent and child is a natural connection with communication of feelings that gives the child a sense of competence, security, hope and strength and that provides the seed out of which self-esteem unfolds and ripens (Lerner, H. 2004). It is difficult to study the effects of the death of a parent as it relates to the very young but researchers have discovered responses that are quite illuminating. Reports of withdrawal, obsessive behavior, and anger were of the most common. A child is often faced with the denial of the loss. They may harbor a fantasy with deep conviction that the dead parent will return. Many children appeared to go through extended periods of anguish in which they seemed lost, confused, and angry. For instance, a young child may stop playing, may lash out, or may lose interest in things they enjoyed before. The way their surviving parent is grieving may also impact the surviving children. If a child is left with a parent that has lost control of their emotions, that child is only going to feel more upset (Lehman, Darrin R.; Lang, Eric L.; Wortman, Camille B.; Sorenson, Susan B., 1989). For very young children, the predominant emotions will be confusion and anxiety. The actual death may not make much sense, but the sudden disappearance of a parent is invariably the cause of very immediate concern and distress. A young child may search for the missing parent or ask repeatedly where they are and when they are coming back. The idea of a Mother or Father never coming back is hard to understand at any age, but for young children the concept of death may simply be impossible to grasp. Most young children will be openly upset, crying and clinging, or else expressing their anxieties by being aggressive or misbehaving. Young children will need plenty of love and affection as well as patience and kindness. It is also imperative that children are not left in the dark and given honest and factual information (Abrams, R. 1999). The death of a parent creates a period of stress and sadness for surviving children. Multiple ecological factors influence the grief process. Research has demonstrated that children who experience parental loss display lower levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Bereaved children may experience depressed states and increased levels of anxiety. Children intermittently mourn, confront, and manage the emotional impact of loss in a manner consistent with their cognitive and emotional abilities. They mourn according to their current developmental level, and then may postpone further grief work until they reach a new stage when developmentally appropriate mourning will resume. The surviving family members, a potential support system for the grieving child, experience altered functioning as they attempt to reorder and adjust to life without the deceased parent. As the family may be unavailable to facilitate the child's grief process due to its own grief, the bereaved child often expresses his or her sense of loss at school. For this reason, professional school counselors need to understand how bereaved children narrate their grief story and how to be supportive to their needs (Eppler, C., 2008). A teenager or young adult’s reactions to the death of a parent may include mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, somatic...

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Abrams, Rebecca. When Parents Die: Learning to Live with the Loss of a Parent Pages: Publisher: Routledge. 05/1999. pp. 213
Barner, John R., Rosenblatt, Paul C. Giving at a loss: couple exchange after the death of a parent. Mortality, Nov2008, Vol. 13 Issue 4, pp. 318-334
Eppler, C. Exploring Themes of Resiliency in Children after the Death of a Parent. Professional School Counseling. 2008. pp. 189-196.
Gibbs, D., Jimerson, J., Life After Death: How College Students Cope with Dead Parents (A Preliminary and Personal Investigation). Conference Papers: American Sociological Association, 2007. pp1.
Haine, Rachel., Ayers, A., Sandler, T., Irwin N., Wolchik, S. Evidence-based practices for parentally bereaved children and their families. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 39(2), Apr, 2008. pp. 113-121.
Lehman, Darrin R.; Lang, Eric L.; Wortman, Camille B.; Sorenson, Susan B. Long-term effects of sudden bereavement: Marital and parent-child relationships and children 's reactions. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 2(3), Mar, 1989. pp. 344-367.
Lerner, Howard. Themes of Early Parent Loss in My Life as a Dog. Psychoanalytic Psychology, Vol 21(3), Sum, 2004. pp. 463-472a.
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