Abstract: Continuing Bonds of Bereaved Mothers Who Lost a Child to Cancer in Korea (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

543P Continuing Bonds of Bereaved Mothers Who Lost a Child to Cancer in Korea

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jaehee Yi, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Utah, UT
Eunbin Chung, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Min Ah Kim, PhD, Associate Professor, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of (South)
Bobby Younce, Doctoral Student, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Laura Bradbury, LCSW, Doctoral Student, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Background and Purpose: Parents who lose a child to cancer experience a deep level of grief and a continuous, seemingly never-ending grieving process. Bereaved mothers often utilize continuing bonds as a coping strategy to stay connected to a child after death. Continuing bonds are not only a meaningful form of coping with grief, but also a necessary way to preserve a child’s memory. Early bereavement research conceptualized grief as a linear process, with grief lessening over time; however, contemporary grief theories suggest grief is a more fluid process, with continuing bonds between bereaved parents and their deceased children providing meaningful ways to navigate grief. This study explored how mothers’ relationships with their children lost to cancer continue and evolve over time.

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.