Parental Grief: Narratives of Loss and Relationship

By Murray, Colleen I. | Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Parental Grief: Narratives of Loss and Relationship


Murray, Colleen I., Journal of Marriage and Family


Parental Grief. Narratives of Loss and Relationship. Paul C. Rosenblatt. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel. 2000. 252 pp. ISBN 1-58391-033-- 6. $59.95 cloth, $24.95 paper.

Parents who experience the death of a child of any age are faced with the need to construct new realities and reconstruct old ones, for common culturally held assumptions about themselves or the world no longer match their experiences. Paul Rosenblatt's book uses parents' narratives to construct an analysis that encourages us to reexamine our notions of grief as individual, couple, and community experiences. He highlights common themes parents discuss, reminding us that what may seem pathological in one situation makes perfect, nonpathological sense in another. The book uses social constructionist and life course frameworks, but its focus is parents' own perspectives, including stories that develop as they make sense out of the loss and its aftermath.

In intensive interviews 58 parents (in 29 couples or former couples) discussed the dying and deaths of their 33 children (age newborn to mid30s) and the interplay of grief processes with couple relationships, as well as aspects of U.S. cultures and institutions that have a major impact on grief. Interviews were conducted a median of 7 years after the death and reflect the complexity, ambiguity, and paradox of parental grief over time.

Examination of what parents said (and did not say) illuminates numerous domains that reflect parents, cultures and historical times. Domains comprise headings and subheadings of chapters 2 through 15 and reflect individual, interpersonal, and societal elements. They include searching for a couple language about the death, the story of dying and the death, ways parents characterize the child, death rituals and decisions, metaphors of grief feelings, language of couple conflict and divorce, the chasm between grieving parents and others in their world (including partners), continuing connection with the child, couple relationships and sexualities, parenting other children, finding (and failing to find) support, learning as well as limiting learning, relationship with God, and meaning-making. Particularly appealing is Rosenblatt's attention to identifying domains and issues that were not present in the narratives. His observations speak to the constraints of how we socially construct meaning in our lives, as well as to misconceptions about grief that pervade academic literature.

An issue that warrants thoughtful attention from scholars and practitioners involves relationships between academic literature, the popular press, and reports of bereaved persons. …

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