Continuing bonds
: The grief experience of adults bereaved by parental suicide during childhood

Student thesis: PsychD


Background: The impact of suicide is far-reaching, with between six and sixty people estimated to be intimately affected by each death. Previous research suggests that relatives are at increased risk of depression, psychiatric admission, and suicide. The nature of the death is also proposed to present certain challenges to surviving family members, including guilt and blame, stigma, social isolation, and feelings of rejection. Limited research has been conducted to investigate the grief experience of individuals bereaved by the death of a parent through suicide during childhood. This forms the focus for the current study, which set out to understand more about the experience of one aspect of grief following parental suicide, that of continuing an ongoing connection with the deceased. Method: Semi-structured interviews were carried out with seven adults who had lost one parent through suicide during childhood. Interview transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, to allow for an in-depth understanding of the experience. Results: Five superordinate themes were developed: ‘denied opportunities for connection’, ‘finding the positives’, ‘the need for connection’, ‘attempting to make sense’, and ‘the bond becomes part of us’. Original insights were produced, including participants’ experience of a complete sense of disconnection in the early years, and an ambivalence about the bond. Factors associated with these are described, highlighting the difficulties in maintaining an ongoing connection. Despite this, the strong desire for connection was evident, and active and less intentional ways of connecting are presented. The dynamic nature of the bond was also highlighted. Conclusions: This study is valuable in providing counselling psychologists with an understanding of some of the difficulties faced by individuals who may have a desire for connection with the deceased. Potential areas for therapeutic work are suggested, including a focus on the positives related to the deceased, and the need for meaning-making.
Date of Award18 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorGella Richards (Director of Studies) & Edith Steffen (Co-Supervisor)


  • Continuing bonds
  • suicide bereavement
  • childhood bereavement

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