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Psychol Aging. 2013 Jun;28(2):402-13. doi: 10.1037/a0029986. Epub 2012 Oct 22.

Parental bereavement during mid-to-later life: pre- to postbereavement functioning and intrapersonal resources for coping.

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Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA.


The death of a child when parents are in mid-to-late life is a traumatic event for aging parents. In order to evaluate adjustment, the impact of unanticipated versus anticipated deaths, and the effects of internal resources for coping with bereavement, we examined pre- and postbereavement functioning, using the 1992/94 and 2004/06 waves of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, for parents (M age = 54 and 65 years, respectively) whose adult child died between these dates (n = 175). The results revealed a general pattern of adaptation in which most bereaved parents were functioning as well as a matched comparison group (n = 175), though more depression symptoms were present both before and after the death of the child for the mothers of children who died from long-term illnesses and the fathers of children who committed suicide, suggesting that conditions predating the death were chronic strains for these parents. Intrapersonal resources, including a sense of purpose in life and high levels of agreeableness, were associated with better functioning, particularly for bereaved parents whose children's deaths were not anticipated. The study places parental bereavement in the context of normative aging and the framework of chronic life strain.

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