Exploring parents' memories of their child's death related sensory experiences as a dimension of grieving

Angela M Ethier, The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston


Little is known about how dying children and their parents experience death. Dying children have reported death related sensory experiences (DRSEs), defined as seeing or hearing someone or something not visible or audible to others, associated with dying. Although parents report that they and the dying child benefit from these experiences, healthcare providers often unknowingly dismiss them. The aims of this phenomenological inquiry were to describe children's DRSEs and their meaning from the parents' perspectives. Four fathers and six mothers of African American, Caucasian, or Hispanic ethnicity, all Christian, ranging in age from 35 to 59 years, whose child died 23 to 52 months prior and was treated at a children's cancer center, were interviewed in the home or hospital setting of their choice. Children's ages at the time of their death ranged from 4 to 13 years. A modification of van Kaarn's phenomenological method of analysis was used to analyze data. Themes emerging from the data for the first aim were: perceiving someone or something from a spiritual realm others could not, expressing awareness tempered by parental reactions, and embracing transcendence. Themes emerging from the data for the second aim were: spiritual beings prepared child; child revealed reality, preparing parents; and child transcended wholly, easing parents' grief. Post-interview surveys revealed that parents found participating in this study a "very positive" or "positive" experience, particularly being able to tell the story of their child. Children's DRSEs have clinical implications for all who provide care near the end of life. Informing parents of DRSEs, cautioning that not all dying children express them, may help parents to anticipate this phenomenon, which may decrease anxiety when their child expresses them, increasing the opportunity for open dialogue between parent and child about dying and death, and decrease regrets associated with being unreceptive to their child's expressions of death awareness. Validating a child's DRSE can have profound effects on bereaved parents. Examining DRSEs from the child's perspective and the influence of informing parents of DRSEs on the dying experience of the child and the parental grieving process are recommended.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Ethier, Angela M, "Exploring parents' memories of their child's death related sensory experiences as a dimension of grieving" (2007). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3281710.