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Death Stud. 2011 May-Jun;35(5):420-40.

Comparison of continuing bonds reported by parents and siblings after a child's death from cancer.

Author information

  • 1School of Nursing, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 37240, USA.
  • 2School of Nursing, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 37240, USA.
  • 3Department of Family Health Care Nursing, University of California San Francisco, USA.
  • 4School of Nursing and Department of Biostatistics, School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
  • 5Department of Psychology, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  • 6School of Public Health, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, Colorado, USA.
  • 7Center for Biobehavioral Health, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, USA.


Few studies have distinguished similarities and differences between continuing bonds as they appear in various bereaved populations, particularly parent versus sibling cohorts following a child's death. This mixed-method study compared how parents and siblings experienced continuing bonds in 40 families who lost a child to cancer. Thirty-six mothers, 24 fathers, and 39 siblings were recruited 3-12 months post-loss (M = 10.7, SD = 3.5). Nearly all participants (97%) reported engaging in purposeful bonds with deceased children, while only 14% reported nonpurposeful connections. Over half of participants (58%) experienced comforting effects from reminders of the deceased child, whereas only 10% of family members experienced discomforting effects. Mothers communicated with the deceased, thought about the deceased, and did things that the deceased child would have liked more often than siblings. Mothers also reported significantly more comforting effects than siblings. Additional research is needed to further delineate continuing bonds for different types of loss and examine associations with positive and negative outcomes for bereaved individuals.

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