The parental experience of unexpectedly losing a child in the Pediatric Emergency Department

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Bekkering, Holly
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Abstract Background: Losing a child is the most traumatic experience a parent can face in their lifetime. Unexpected loss in the unfamiliar environment of the Emergency Department only increases this trauma, putting parents at risk of negative outcomes such as complicated grief. Understanding the parental experience in these loss situations would enable healthcare providers to improve communication and support of parents, and would enable them to tailor interventions to optimize parental support. Methods: The qualitative research design of interpretive description was used to enable parents to describe their experience of losing their child in their own words. In total, 8 parents from 5 families were recruited. Data collection included open-ended interviews, demographic questionnaires, and field notes. Data analysis was performed using a constant comparative method, and revealed four main themes along with subthemes to describe parents’ experiences of loss. Results: Four main themes of grief as waves, being the good parent, coping through the waves of grief, and the new normal were identified. Grief as waves described how parents’ grief changed over time and the meanings they ascribed to their loss. Being the good parent described parents’ need to do right by their child and ensure they would not be forgotten. Coping through the waves of grief included descriptions of the coping mechanisms parents used throughout their loss experience. The new normal described the reality parents were suddenly faced with after the death of their child, and how they adapted to that new normal. Conclusions: Overall, parents described the unexpected loss of their child as a life-altering event that will continue to affect them for the rest of their lives. They struggled to find ways to cope with their grief, to maintain their role as the good parent, and to go on living. Parents identified many areas in healthcare where more supports are needed, from the Emergency Department to follow-up care at home. These findings can help educate healthcare professionals on the parental experience of loss and can help to guide resource development to optimize their support throughout the loss experience.
parent, child loss, unexpected death, Pediatric Emergency Department