Healing Children's Grief: Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer

Healing Children's Grief: Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer

Healing Children's Grief: Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer

Healing Children's Grief: Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer


In this unique book, Grace Christ relates the powerfully moving stories of eighty-eight families and their 157 children (ages 3 to 17) who participated in a parent-guidance intervention through the terminal illness and death of one of the parents from cancer. Using extensive case examplesthroughout, Healing Children's Grief: Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer provides a detailed examination of how children and adolescents cope with this loss. Covering a critical 20 month period, from 6 months before to 14 months after the death of a parent, Christ reports that a majority of thechildren successfully adapted to the loss during the subsequent months after the death. The book is divided into two major sections. The first summarizes the theoretical background and methodology. The second presents the findings of the five developmentally derived age groups (3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, and 15-17). Using qualitative analytic methods, these findings clarify importantdifferences in children's grief and mourning processes, in their understanding of events, in their interactions with families, and in their varying needs for help and support. The author describes how parents participated in healing their children's grief by: preparing, informing, and guidingchildren through the experience; understanding their developmental needs; supporting and resonating with their unique expressions of grief; helping them construct a positive legacy; and reconstituting relationships without the day to day presence of the parent who died. Healing Children's Grief:Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer provides practical guidance and direction for professionals and physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists, guidance counselors, and teachers.


There is always the unforgettable moment when the biopsy result is relayed by the surgeon, “I am sorry to say that our fears have come true—the biopsy shows that you have cancer.” You reach out your hand to your spouse, your head becomes blurred, there are tears. In a moment, the physician intervenes, “but there are many things that we can now offer… .” A parent’s first thoughts are not with his or her own fate, or not only that. Quickly, it is with the fate of Seth, Deborah, William, Elisabeth … with infants and children who need you as the very source of their own lives, with older children whose weddings you will miss, with grandchildren who you will not see at confirmation and bar mitzvah.

Cancer is a family affair: to be diagnosed as having cancer immediately is to reinforce one’s roles—obligations and hopes—among those one loves and is loved by. These relations become hyper-cathected—they become more charged, meaningful, precious—as time becomes more precious. For those for whom the new and improved treatments have failed, who are now face to face with the Angel of Death, the entire meaning of their lives and of their last days will be measured by these relationships which they, and those around them, will try to make as ideal as possible.

The systematic, scientific study of this complex process offers many opportunities for studying the deepest feelings between spouses and between parents and their children. A great deal has been written about the psychology of death and dying, and this literature has allowed clinicians and families to cope much better with this natural and yet awful process. Much less is known about the impact of death from illness on those who survive, especially on children. The phenomena of grief, mourning, and the capacity for depression during childhood have been enduring interests not only among clinicians but also theorists of child development. What are the cognitive preconditions for children to understand the process of death and its irreversibility? How do children experience the loss of the functions provided by a parent and the loneliness, pains and longings from the separation? What allows a child to give up hope and yet hold on to wonderful memories; to remain in love and yet, also, to say a final, psychological goodbye; to be loyal to mom and yet allow dad to date and bring another woman into their family?

In this volume, Grace H. Christ demonstrates how systematic research can enrich and be enriched by clinical sensitivity, and how theory can guide and be advanced by the careful, empirical study of individual children and families. She has used the unique perspective that is offered to clinicians to be with families at their most intimate times because we offer our care. She has used this privileged position to describe the major variables that shape a child’s experi-

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