Methods: Fifteen bereaved mothers who had lost a child to cancer participated in face-to-face interviews in 2018. Participants were recruited from a support group for bereaved parents who had lost a child to cancer. Most participants were currently unemployed, and the elapsed time since the child’s death ranged from 8 months to 13 years. Participants were asked open-ended questions regarding their grief experiences since their child died of cancer. Inductive thematic analysis was conducted to identify themes.
Findings: Three overlapping themes with seven subthemes were identified: (a) regret (not doing the best when the child was dying, the child is suffering too much, making the wrong medical choice); (b) longing (intense longing for the child, wanting to reunite with the child); and (c) connectedness (connecting with the child every day, keeping the child’s stuff, keeping the child growing in my heart). Mothers experienced regret and intense longing as their relationships with their deceased children persisted, evolved, and continued to grow in their grief journey. One major source of regret was focusing too much on pursuing a curative treatment to prevent their child’s death and forgetting to show their love toward their dying child. Mothers identified longing for their child as an inexplicably intense and ever-present loss that will only end with death, when they will be reunited. Mothers continued to live and communicate with their deceased child, imagining how their child would have grown up if they were still alive.
Conclusion and Implications: Mothers who lost a child to cancer used continuing bonds to maintain their parental identity and relationship with the child. These findings reflect a theoretical shift in grief from a focus on moving forward and accepting loss to a focus on maintaining a connection with the deceased. Our study findings suggest that continuing bonds can make the grieving process less isolating and promote healthy attachment, which can lead to a better understanding of the grieving process. Health professionals should support continuing bonds that may help parents construct meaning while simultaneously promoting improved adaptation to the death of a child to cancer in the grieving process.