Acute and long-term grief reactions and experiences in parentally cancer-bereaved teenagers

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Bylund-Grenklo, Tove 
Birgisdóttir, Dröfn 
Beernaert, Kim 
Nyberg, Tommy 
Skokic, Viktor 

Abstract: Background: Previous research shows that many cancer-bereaved youths report unresolved grief several years after the death of a parent. Grief work hypothesis suggests that, in order to heal, the bereaved needs to process the pain of grief in some way. This study explored acute grief experiences and reactions in the first 6 months post-loss among cancer-bereaved teenagers. We further explored long-term grief resolution and potential predictors of having had “an okay way to grieve” in the first months post-loss. Methods: We used a population-based nationwide, study-specific survey to investigate acute and long-term grief experiences in 622 (73% response rate) bereaved young adults (age > 18) who, 6–9 years earlier, at ages 13–16 years, had lost a parent to cancer. Associations were assessed using bivariable and multivariable logistic regression. Results: Fifty-seven per cent of the participants reported that they did not have a way to grieve that felt okay during the first 6 months after the death of their parent. This was associated with increased risk for long-term unresolved grief (odds ratio (OR): 4.32, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.99–6.28). An association with long-term unresolved grief was also found for those who reported to have been numbing and postponing (42%, OR: 1.73, 95% CI: 1.22–2.47), overwhelmed by grief (24%, OR: 2.02, 95% CI: 1.35–3.04) and discouraged from grieving (15%, OR: 2.68, 95% CI: 1.62–4.56) or to have concealed their grief to protect the other parent (24%, OR: 1.83, 95% CI: 1.23–2.73). Predictors of having had an okay way to grieve included being male, having had good family cohesion, and having talked about what was important with the dying parent. Conclusion: More than half of the cancer-bereaved teenagers did not find a way to grieve that felt okay during the first 6 months after the death of their parent and the acute grief experiences and reaction were associated with their grief resolution long-term, i.e. 6–9 years post-loss. Facilitating a last conversation with their dying parent, good family cohesion, and providing teenagers with knowledge about common grief experiences may help to prevent long-term unresolved grief.


Funder: Lund University

Research, Adolescents, Bereavement, Cancer, Grief, Loss, Mourning, Oncology, Parental death, Teenagers, Unresolved grief, Young adults
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BMC Palliative Care
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BioMed Central