The majority of children experience personal changes and changes in relationships one year after their sibling has died from cancer; however, positive and negative changes are not universal. These are the findings from the first study published online November 3, 2011 in Cancer Nursing to examine changes in siblings after the death of a brother or sister to cancer from three different perspectives: mothers, fathers and siblings.
Nearly 60,000 children under the age of 20 die each year in the United States and Canada, leaving behind an estimated 480,000 grieving siblings over the past 10 years. Yet, limited research has examined the frequency and nature of changes experienced by siblings after the death of a brother or sister from cancer.
"Studies of bereaved siblings have occurred two months to seven years post-death, but seldom within a year," said Cynthia A. Gerhardt, PhD, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital and one of the study authors. "Also, rarely are mothers', fathers' and sibling perspectives included in the same study, which allows us to understand sibling grief within the family context."
To address this gap in the literature, Dr. Gerhardt and colleagues interviewed 40 families as part of a multi-site longitudinal study following the death of a child from cancer. During the study, siblings were asked to describe how they have changed since their brother/sister's death. Parents also were asked how the sibling has changed.
Findings showed that the majority of family members perceived that siblings experienced personal changes and changes in relationships after the death. However, change was not universal. Most participants reported either positive or negative changes in siblings' personality rather than both positive and negative.
Siblings reported greater maturity as the most common personal change. More than twice as man
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Nationwide Children's Hospital