Mothers continuing bonds and ambivalence to personal mortality after the death of their child: An interpretative phenomenological analysis

Mairi Harper, Rory O'Connor, Adele Dickson, O'Carroll Ronan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The main objective of this study was to identify how bereaved mothers describe
their coping strategies in their own words. The literature on parental bereavement
is sparse, and the present study aims to add to existing knowledge by eliciting the
mothers’ experiences covering a wide range of child ages including infants,
younger children and adults. Semi-structured interviews were held with 13
bereaved mothers in the UK. Causes of death include accident, illness and suicide.
The methodological approach was interpretative phenomenological analysis
(IPA). This article reports two inter-related recurrent themes: (1) Continuing the
bond with the deceased child and (2) Ambivalence to personal mortality.
Participants reported that the relationship with their child was continued in a
variety of ways, from tending to the grave and the child’s remains, through
linking objects or by establishing a symbolic representation of the child within
their daily lives. All mothers talked openly about their own mortality, either
demonstrating ambivalence about their own death, or expressing clear suicidal
ideation. Death was seen as a release from living with the pain of loss. The
presence of surviving siblings appeared to moderate suicidal ideation, but mothers expressed concerns about their ability to care adequately for other family
members during times of intense grief.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-214
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology health & medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • continuing bonds
  • suicidal ideation

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