Dawn Bereavement Support is part of the Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Bereavement Animation

Supporting Young Families when a Parent has Died

Our facilitator Alex is an end-of-life matron at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and a Health Services Research Fellow at York St John University. Alex is passionate about supporting bereaved children and families. She chairs the Hull Child Bereavement Advisory Group and is an advisor for the Childhood Bereavement Network.

In 2023 Alex completed her PhD in Medical Sciences at Hull York Medical School. As part of the TRANSFORMing Cancer Outcomes in Yorkshire programme, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research. Children and parents shared their own experiences honestly in the hope we can make a difference for other bereaved families and let them know they are not alone. The findings from the PhD can be found in this animation, created by Anna Bean and co-constructed with bereaved families. Copyright for this animation is with the University of Hull – all rights retained.

Further information can be found here: https://www.hyms.ac.uk/research/transform 

PhD Supervisors: Dr Jason Boland, Professor Fliss Murtagh and Dr Clare Whitfield

The aim of the project was to explore how children and families can best support each other following the death of a parent and to understand how those around them can offer a supportive response.

In the UK, 46,300 children are bereaved of a parent each year. We understand bereaved people need a supportive response from those around them. However, there is limited evidence to inform our understanding of this. Following a systematic review to identify and synthesise the experiences of support for children and surviving parents following parental death, a qualitative study was undertaken. The project was carefully designed with the involvement of bereaved children and families who have experienced the death of a parent, a Young Persons Advisory Group that helped design and plan research with children, and professionals working in services offering bereavement support to

Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, in-depth interviews were conducted with 11 children and 17 surviving parents after the death of a parent to explore their experiences and perspectives of support needs. Data were analysed using constant comparison, following Charmaz’s open, focused, and theoretical coding stages.

Systematic review findings highlighted the limited studies, including children and parents, that explored bereavement support. Seventeen parents and eleven of their children participated in online interviews. Theoretical coding of key categories from both interview data sets culminated in developing a substantive theory, ‘masking your grief – because you feel you have to’, articulating the behaviour patterns amongst children, surviving parents and those around them following their bereavement. Families gave examples of the supportive responses they received from each other and those within their networks.

However, the response was not sustained.
The study resulted in the development of new theory; ‘Masking your grief – because you feel you have to’ is something children and parents do to protect each other and the people around them. It often happens because the immediate bereavement support dwindles as the people around them do not understand what they continue to go through.