Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


This study explored how an adult whose parent died during childhood understands their ongoing relationship with that parent and whether rituals or practices are integral to observing that ongoing relationship. Psychodynamic theory first examined the grieving process as a linear, time-limited experience. The field of grief and bereavement studies has become polarized around traditional psychodynamic theorists who have examined pathological bereavement and post-modern continuing bonds theorists whose focus is the nature of the ongoing relationship to the deceased. There is limited research exploring bereavement in childhood and particularly the process of mourning and relating to the deceased parent over time. Interviews were conducted with twelve adults whose mother or father died when they were between the ages of zero and seventeen. Participants were asked questions about their experience at the time of death, how they conceptualized the connection to their deceased parent, and whether rituals or practices were a part of their bereavement process over time. The results of this study indicated that ongoing recognition of the deceased parent was a meaningful aspect or a desired component of participant's lives. The child's experience at the time of the death was found to be most heavily influenced by participants' age, developmental stage, and family dynamics. The findings demonstrated that the amount of energy participants invested into relating to the deceased parent shifted over time, most frequently in conjunction with nodal life events. The results of this study suggest that clinicians can help bereaved children, families, and individuals communicate about their experience of loss. For some bereaved, clinicians can facilitate the development of relationships with the deceased.


Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2008. iv, 105 p. Includes bibliographical references