Reflections on Experiencing Parental Bereavement as a Young Person: A Retrospective Qualitative Study

Angel Marie Chater, Neil Howlett, Gillian W. Shorter, Julia K. Zakrzewski-Fruer, Jane Williams

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Background: It is estimated that approximately 41,000 children and young people experience the death of a parent each year. Grief responses, such as anxiety and depression, can follow. This research investigated the adult reflections of experiencing parental death as a young person.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with adults (N = 14; female n = 8) who experienced parental death as a young person, which occurred over 5 years ago (time since death, M = 12.9 years; age at death, M = 16.4 years; age at interview, M = 30.9 years). The data were analysed inductively using thematic analysis. Results: Seven themes revealed that parental bereavement can lead to (1) “Distance and isolation” and is an (2) “Emotional journey” with (3) a “Physical impact”. Many experienced (4) “Post-traumatic growth” but acknowledged that (5) “Life will never be the same”, highlighting the importance of (6) “Support and understanding” and triggers for (7) “Re-grief”.

Conclusions: Parental bereavement has significant emotional and physical consequences, but can also lead to personal growth. Talking therapies were rarely accessed, often due to a lack of awareness or desire to engage, revealing a translational gap between existing support services and uptake. Enabling open conversations about grief and identifying suitable support is a public health priority. This need has been amplified since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may be a trigger for grief empathy and re-grief in those who have already been bereaved.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2083
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH)
Issue number4
Early online date13 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Feb 2022


  • bereavement
  • death
  • parent
  • young person
  • grief
  • emotion
  • post-traumatic growth


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