Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


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First Advisor's Name

JoAnne Youngblut

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Dorothy Brooten

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Jean Hannan

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Whitney Bauman

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


bereaved parents, only child death, bereavement, family grief

Date of Defense



There are more than 14,000 parents who lose their only child each year. Following the death of a child, recent studies found bereaved parents experienced a higher level of grief, family dysfunction, more physical and psychological problems. The loss of an only child is one of the risk factors related to parents’ poorer outcomes. In the last 20 years, all the studies about the death of an only child were conducted in China under the Chinese only child policy. According to the literature review, parents who lost an only child had more negative outcomes than parents who have surviving child(ren). This study based on the Resiliency Model of Family Stress, Adjustment and Adaptation model to describe parents’ experiences from 2 weeks to 11 years after their only child’s death in the U.S. This study used the conventional content analysis approach to understand the online stories posted by the bereaved parents. The sample included 30 parents who lost their only child in the previous 2 weeks to 11 years and wrote blogs online ranging from 1 day to 6 years. The findings included parents’ feelings, family functioning, health problems, coping strategies, and related factors. The bereaved parents who lost their only child used words like “lonely”, “empty” and “fear, scared or afraid” to describe their feelings. Bereaved parents tried to pretend they were functioning normally, and they did not want to “move on”. They have jealous feelings about other families who have a surviving child or children. Parents also experienced role identity conflict. The bereaved parents did not want to work in jobs handling complaints and their marital relationships suffered negative effects of the child’s death. The most common physical problem was sleep disturbances. Some bereaved parents reported psychological problems and suicidal ideation. Also, many parents had problems with daily living activities. Parents’ descriptions vary with the child’s age/ gender, parent’s age/ gender, cause of death, and time since the death. The findings from this study can be beneficial for nursing practice, research, and education; grief management; and better tailoring interventions to help parents bereaved of their only child.





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