The forewarning that comes with the anticipated death of a parent typically involves a great amount of change for a child over a long period of time. Researchers have found that the cumulative stress experienced over the duration of the parent’s suffering, prior to an anticipated death, may actually result in mental health problems for the child.
During a therapy session for such circumstances, I explain how many of the stressors leading up to the death of the parent may be traumatic. Some typical stressors in this situation may include:
- separation from the parents during a hospitalization period,
- limitations in both parents’ physical and emotional availability,
- changes in the family’s emotional climate and routines, and
- reduced finances due to health care expenses.
In a retrospective study of 42 cancer patient families, over 50 percent of family members reported the period of illness to be more stressful than the period following the death. Parents reported feeling less competent in their parenting skills than they had felt prior to the diagnosis of the illness.
Although there is less shock experienced following the death for the child than in the case of a sudden death, the accumulated stress that comes with an illness such as cancer for all family members suggests that a child might experience poor and inconsistent parenting prior to the death of the ill parent.
If you feel you or your child would benefit from a counseling session with a Psychologist, please contact me at my Calgary office so we can discuss your situation.