New Study Examines Effect of Bereavement on Parental Mortality

One of the most intense and painful losses is the death of a child. Whether the child is grown or still young, this type of loss contradicts the life cycle and typically is the result of an unexpected illness, accident, or tragedy of some sort. The grief resulting from such a loss is something that can only be understood by people who have experienced it. Research has shown that parents who lose a child have more negative health consequences than nonbereaved parents. Some studies have evidenced higher rates of post-traumatic stress, worry, guilt, depression, and divorce among individuals who experienced the death of a child. But until recently, the long-term effects on mortality had not been fully explored.

To address this gap in literature, Jiska Cohen-Mansfield, of the Department of Health Promotion’s School of Public Health and a member of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Herczeg Institute on Aging at Tel Aviv University in Israel, assessed the mortality rates of 1,239 Israeli adults, ranging in age from 75 to 94, twenty years after they had lost a child. The results revealed that among the participants, the bereaved parents were more likely to be single, poorly educated, and depressed than the nonbereaved parents. The findings also showed that a majority of bereaved parents were women, and that mortality rates were higher for the bereaved parents, in particular women, compared to the nonbereaved parents.

Although thorough, the analysis did not fully explore the variables that led to mortality in the bereaved parents. Additionally, the sample, drawn from Israel and North Africa, had high rates of war-related death which may not accurately represent other national samples. Cohen-Mansfield added: “The impact of related educational initiatives, preventative programs, early intervention, individual counseling, couples work, group work, or gender-specific counseling needs to be investigated.” Developing research in these areas would serve to broaden the impact of Cohen-Mansfield’s findings and potentially provide important clinical advances.

Cohen-Mansfield, J., Shmotkin, D., Malkinson, R., Bartur, L., Hazan, H. (2012). Parental bereavement increases mortality in older persons. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029011

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  • Bess


    September 4th, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    I can honestly say that I know nothing about the mortality rates of parents who lose a child. What I do know, though, is that if I lose a child first then I would feel like I wanted to die. I know that. I would probably grieve myself to death, and if I didn’t I couldn’t say that I would be able to remain sane. I suppose it could be different losing an adult child, but especially if you lose a child while they are still young- I really can’t imagine ever being able to get past the grief that this surely causes. It is no wonder that divorce rates are higher among this demographic, because how could you ever love again when it must feel like the best thing that you have ever created and loved is gone?

  • N.Abraham


    September 4th, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Losing a child can be devastating to any parent and such a life changing experience often brings in feelings of pessimism and sadness that stay for long after the death of the child.Although hard to understand for others,it is not tough to see how this can have an effect on parental mortality and just like anybody else who has suffered a loss, more than anybody I feel, such parents need help and support to cope.

  • carlos d

    carlos d

    September 4th, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    i lost my son to a car accident two years ago
    i have gotten a divorce since then
    because i did not have the energy or the will to work on my marriage while still mourning the loss of my only child
    i have lost my job
    my marriage
    my child
    nothing might not ever feel the same
    sometimes i wonder why i am still here and he isn’t

  • Zennie


    September 5th, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    Thank the Lord this is something that I have never had to live through and hope that I don’t! But I have always felt that when these things happen, that in order for the family to remain whole and intact after a tragic event like this, they probably needed to have that strength before the loss. If there are any cracks in the plate so to speak, then a tragedy like losing a child will only serve to make that crack deeper and more irreparable. I think that it is those families who have only been hanging on to dear life before the loss of a child are the ones nwho will be far more likely to divorce afterwards. There just may not be that glue to hold them together anymore after the child is gone.

  • meg


    September 5th, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    I saw both parents grieve themselves into an early grave after the death of my brother. Before the accident they were both perfectly happy, but they lost all will to live after he died. I felt so sad to lose them all but at the same time I knew that they were all reunited again so that made it a little better.

  • Map99


    September 6th, 2012 at 1:11 AM

    “the bereaved parents were more likely to be single, poorly educated, and depressed than the nonbereaved parents.”

    although the depression can be explained,how do we explain being single and poorly educated to losing a child? education happens before the loss of the child and being single could well be due to the age of the participants involved in the study.

  • Verlia Patton

    Verlia Patton

    September 11th, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    I nearly lost my only Daughter April 8 2009 to three Brain Anursyms. She major brain surgery and later suffered 2 light stokes and short term memory loss.On December 26 2009 I lost my only son.He had 4 Brain Anursyms and 2 ruptured. i had to sign to take him off life support when they declared him brain dead.I can not get over it no matterhow hard I try or how hard I pray. He is constanly on my mind. I know he is in Heaven because God sent 2 Angels into his room for him. He has sent me messages so I know he is okay. I am the one who is not okay. I am broken and I don’t know how to fix me so I can be of some help to my Daughter.I have nevr hurt so much and cried so much in my life.Please help me get my life back.

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