In a study titled ‘Long-Term Effects of the Death of a Child on Parents’ Adjustment in Midlife, a group of researchers set out to understand how much of an impact the loss of a could cause. What they found, was that when parents lose a child, the effects can follow them throughout their lives.
Losing a child is an extremely traumatic event, and perhaps one of the most traumatic things a person can endure. Every year, over 50,000 U.S. Children die, according to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. One of the hardest problems, the researchers write, is the ‘dissolution of the attachment relationship with the child,’ because it ‘elicits severe anxiety and other negative feelings associated with loss.’
Additionally, the authors write, extreme guilt can follow the death of a child. Many parents blame themselves for not being able to protect their children. Ultimately, the fact is that it is not the order of things for a child to die before their parents. The natural order is that children lose their parents (optimally well into their adult years, instead of the other way around.)
Even with it being understood how much the loss of a child impacts their parents, the research is still pretty limited. In order to carry out this particular study, the researchers identified 530 participants who reported the loss of their child in a collection of data in 1992. They observed these parents for decades and what they found was that even well into their lives, many of the individuals suffered from depressive symptoms, struggled to find purpose in life, and has a decreased sense of psychological well-being.
Additionally, the majority of the participants experienced health conditions, such as high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and acute angina.
One thing the researchers wrote that I found extremely worth noting is that most parents did not seek out specialized interventions for bereavement. Due to the fact that this was lacking across the board, the researchers wondered if there was some form of helpful intervention for parental grief and if they may have better outcomes.