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Int J Aging Hum Dev. 2008;67(3):187-208.

Intergenerational family support following infant death.

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Institute on Aging, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207, USA.


The death of a child is a traumatic, nonnormative family life event. Although parental bereavement has received substantial attention, little research has focused on extended family members affected by a child's death, and still less on how multiple family members perceive and respond to one another following the loss. Guided by a life course perspective, this article examines social support between grandparents and their adult children in the aftermath of infant death. Through structured, open-ended interviews, 21 grandparents and 19 parents from 10 families described how they provided support to and received support from their intergenerational partners. Data were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Six categories of support were identified: being present, acknowledgment, performing immediate tasks, information, unskilled support, and no support. Most support was provided by grandparents to adult children rather than from adult children to grandparents. All families reported significant support from at least one grandparent and nearly all families described ambivalent relationships that complicated support. Gender, family lineage, and family history were major influences. Multiple family perspectives about a significant life event contribute to our understanding about the intersection between individual and family life.

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