Parents' responses to the death of adult children from accidents and cancer: A comparison

S. B. Shanfield, B. J. Swain, G. A.H. Benjamin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Parents who lose adult children in traffic accidents are different from parents who lose adult children from cancer. Accident parents tend to be middle-aged and their children young adults at the time of death. They also tend to have more psychiatric distress and more health complaints than cancer parents. Cancer parents are usually older with children who are middle aged at the time of death, and these parents tend to experience the loss less painfully. Two factors explain a high percentage of differences between the groups. These are: older age of children at the time of death; and less intense expression of grief. The relationship between parent and child changes at different stages over the life cycle. Thus, accident parents tend to be more attached to their children than cancer parents, and this can account for differences between the groups. The circumstances of death also determine the different responses. Sudden loss of young adult children in traffic accidents appears to be more distressing. These findings have important implications for prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-297
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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