Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Losing a Child: Finding Meaning in Bereavement

Academic journal article European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Losing a Child: Finding Meaning in Bereavement

Article excerpt


Losing a child: finding meaning in bereavement

Julia Bogensperger and Brigitte Lueger-Schuster*

Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria


Background : Confronting the loss of a loved one leads us to the core questions of human existence. Bereaved parents have to deal with the rupture of a widely shared concept of what is perceived to be the natural course of life and are forced into meaning reconstruction.

Objective : This study aims to expand upon existing work concerning specific themes of meaning reconstruction in a sample of bereaved parents. More specifically, the relationship between meaning reconstruction, complicated grief, and posttraumatic growth was analyzed, with special attention focused on traumatic and unexpected losses.

Method : In a mixed methods approach, themes of meaning reconstruction (sense-making and benefit-finding) were assessed in in-depth interviews with a total of 30 bereaved parents. Posttraumatic growth and complicated grief were assessed using standardized questionnaires, and qualitative and quantitative results were then merged using data transformation methods.

Results : In total 42 themes of meaning reconstruction were abstracted from oral material. It was shown that sense-making themes ranged from causal explanations to complex philosophical beliefs about life and death. Benefit-finding themes contained thoughts about personal improvement as well as descriptions about social actions. Significant correlations were found between the extent of sense-making and posttraumatic growth scores (r s=0.54, r s=0.49; p <0.01), especially when the death was traumatic or unexpected (r s=0.67, r s=0.63; p <0.01). However, analysis revealed no significant correlation with complicated grief. Overall results corroborate meaning reconstruction themes and the importance of meaning reconstruction for posttraumatic growth.

Keywords: Complicated grief; posttraumatic growth; death; parental bereavement; meaning reconstruction

*Correspondence to: Brigitte Lueger-Schuster, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, Liebiggasse 5, AT-1010-Vienna, Austria, Email:

For the abstract or full text in other languages, please see Supplementary files under Article Tools online

Received: 25 September 2013; Revised: 22 February 2014; Accepted: 1 March 2014; Published: 31 March 2014

European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2014. © 2014 Julia Bogensperger and Brigitte Lueger-Schuster. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC-BY 4.0) License (, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, for any purpose, even commercially, under the condition that appropriate credit is given, that a link to the license is provided, and that you indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

Citation: European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2014, 5 : 22910 -

The loss of a child is one of the most devastating experiences for a parent and is associated with diverse maladaptive developments (Znoj, 2004). Bereaved parents are at risk of anxiety disorders, depression (Kreicbergs, Valdimarsdóttir, Onelöv, Henter, & Steineck, 2004; Rogers, Floyd, Seltzer, Greenberg, & Hong, 2008), complicated grief (Kersting, Brähler, Glaesmer, & Wagner, 2011), psychiatric hospitalization (Li, Laursen, Precht, Olsen, & Mortensen, 2005), and mortality (Li, Precht, Mortensen, & Olsen, 2003). Despite these alarming results, research dealing with bereaved parents is still rare (Rogers et al. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.