Skip to main content Accessibility help

Parental relationships beyond the grave: Adolescents' descriptions of continued bonds

  • Dana M. Hansen (a1), Denice K. Sheehan (a1), Pamela S. Stephenson (a1) and M. Murray Mayo (a2)



Many people experience an ongoing relationship with a deceased loved one. This is called a “continued bond.” However, little is known about the adolescent experience with continued bonds once a parent has died. This study describes three ways that adolescents continue their relationship with a parent after that parent's death.


Individual semistructured interviews were conducted with nine adolescent children of deceased hospice patients from a large hospice in northeastern Ohio as part of a larger grounded-theory study. The interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using a conventional content analysis approach.


Adolescents continued their bonds with deceased parents in one of three ways: experiencing encounters with the deceased parent, listening to the inner guide of the parent, and keeping mementos to remind them of the parent.

Significance of results:

The ways that the adolescents continued their bond with a deceased parent assisted them in creating meaning out of their loss and adjusting to life without that parent. Our results can be used by health professionals and parents to help adolescents after a parent has died.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint request to Dana M. Hansen, Kent State University, College of Nursing, Kent, Ohio. E-mail:


Hide All
Brewer, J.D. & Sparkes, A.C. (2011). Young people living with parental bereavement: Insights from an ethnographic study of a UK childhood bereavement service. Social Science & Medicine, 72, 283290.
Boerner, K. & Heckhausen, J. (2003). To have and have not: Adaptive bereavement by transforming mental ties to the deceased. Death Studies, 27, 199266.
Cerel, J., Fristad, M.A., Verducci, J., et al. (2006). Childhood bereavement: Psychopathology in the 2 years post parental death. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(6), 681690.
Chan, C.W., Chow, A.Y., Ho, S.M.Y, et al. (2005). The experience of Chinese bereaved persons: A preliminary study of meaning making and continuing bonds. Death Studies, 29, 923947.
Christ, G.H., Siegel, K. & Christ, A.E. (2002). Adolescent grief: “It never really hit me … until it actually happened.” The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(10), 12691278.
Field, N.P. (2006). Continuing bonds in adaptation to bereavement: Introduction. Death Studies, 30, 709714.
Frankl, V. (1962). Man's search for meaning. New York: Touchstone Books.
Gibbs, M., Meese, J., Arnold, M., et al. (2015). #Funeral and Instagram: Death, social media, and platform vernacular. Information, Communication & Society, 18(3), 255268.
Gillies, J. & Neimeyer, R.A. (2006). Loss, grief, and the search for significance: Toward a model of meaning reconstruction in bereavement. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 19, 3165.
Gray, L.B., Weller, R.A., Fristad, M., et al. (2011). Depression in children and adolescents two months after the death of a parent. Journal of Affective Disorders, 135, 277283.
Groves, R. F. & Klauser, H.A. (2005). The American book of dying: Lessons in healing spiritual pain. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
Hansen, D.M., Higgins, P.A., Warner Beckette, C., et al. (2014). Exploring family relationships through associations of comfort, relatedness states, and life closure in hospice patients: A pilot study. Palliative & Supportive Care, 13(2), 305311.
Howell, K.H., Shapiro, D.N., Layne, C.M., et al. (2015). Individual and psychosocial mechanisms of adaptive functioning in parentally bereaved children. Death Studies, 39(5), 296306.
Hsieh, H. & Shannon, S. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 12771288.
Janoff-Bulman, R. & Frantz, C. M. (1997). The impact of trauma on meaning: From meaningless world to meaningful life. In The transformation of meaning in psychological therapies: Integrating theory and practice. Power, M. & Brewin, C. (eds.), pp. 91106. Sussex, England: Wiley & Sons.
Klass, D. (2006). Continuing conversations about continuing bonds. Death Studies, 30, 843858.
Meleis, A.I., Sawyer, L.M., Im, E.O., et al. (2000). Experiencing transitions: An emerging middle range theory. Advances in Nursing Science, 23(1), 1228.
Mitchell, L.M., Stephenson, P.H., Cadell, S., et al. (2012). Death and grief online: Virtual memorialization and changing concepts of childhood death and parental bereavement on the internet. Health Sociology Review, 21(4), 413431.
Neimeyer, R.A., Baldwin, S.A. & Gillies, J. (2006). Continuing bonds and reconstructing meaning: Mitigating complications in bereavement. Death Studies, 30, 715738.
Pennington, N. (2013). You don't de-friend the dead: An analysis of grief communication by college students through Facebook profiles. Death Studies, 37, 617635.
Sanger, M. (2009). When clients sense the presence of loved ones who have died. Omega, 59(1), 6989.
Sheehan, D.K. & Draucker, C.B. (2011). Interaction patterns between parents with advanced cancer and their adolescent children. Psycho-Oncology, 20, 11081115.
Sheehan, D.K., Draucker, C.B., Christ, G.H., et al. (2014). Telling adolescents a parent is dying. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 17(5), 19.
Sheehan, D., Draucker, C., Christ, G., et al. (2014). Two worlds: Adolescents' strategies for managing life with a parent in hospice. Journal of Palliative Care, 30(3), 206207.
Suhail, K., Jamil, N., Oyebode, J., et al. (2011). Continuing bonds in bereaved Pakistani Muslims: Effects of culture and religion. Death Studies, 35(1), 2241.
Taylor, S.E. (1983). Adjustment to threatening events: A theory of cognitive adaptation. The American Psychologist, 38(11), 11611173. Available from
Weinberg, R.J., Dietz, L.J., Stoyak, S., et al. (2013). A prospective study of parentally bereaved youth, caregiver depression, and body mass index. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 834840.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration (2011). Age and sex composition, 2010: 2010 Census brief. Available from



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed