“While mothers take comfort in talking to others about their feelings, fathers often find solace in solitude, preferably by spending time in nature,” says Fereshteh Ahmadi, professor in sociology at the University of Gävle.
Fereshteh Ahmadi has conducted a survey in which she asked a selection of parents in Sweden from two associations for parents who have lost a child about their coping strategies used to face this existential crisis and how successful they had been.
She found that women and men cope with this particular kind of crisis in different ways. Age, social background and religious belief were other important factors.
“The purpose of highlighting these issues is the hope to be able to help those who go through a similar life crisis in the future,” Fereshteh Ahmadi says.
Mothers needed to talk
The most common coping strategy the parents used was to talk with others about their feelings. As many as 68 percent stated that they had done so all the time, or frequently. Talking, in combination with writing on social media, was the most common coping strategy used by the mothers.
Fathers searched for solitude
The second most common strategy was to be alone and contemplate the meaning of life. That was the preferred strategy for the fathers together with spending time in nature to gain a sense of greater emotional belonging and listening to music. 50 percent stated that they listened to music frequently or all the time.
Nature as a source of strength
Finding a sense of greater emotional belonging by spending time in nature was the third most common way to cope. Almost 60 percent of the parents did so. It was also very common to see nature as a resource and to listen to its music, the sounds of nature.
Talking to their child
The fourth most common way was talking with their own deceased child in their minds. More than half of the parents did so all the time or on a regular basis.
“The most common strategies the parents used to cope with their bereavement is talking about their feelings, contemplating the meaning of life and talking with their dead child. Another important coping strategy is to find a place to grieve, like spending time in nature,” Fereshteh Ahmadi says.
What mattered most
Participants in the study stated that thinking about their own inner strength had the greatest impact on how well they coped with their grief. 36 percent stated that they frequently thought about it, while 17 percent stated that they always thought about it.
Other important strategies which determined how well the parents could cope with their grief were maintaining strong emotional bonds with other people and the ability to see their own lives in a greater context.
A majority of parents succeeded
A slightly surprising result is the fact that six out of ten parents in the study consider themselves to have been successful in their crisis management, while only one out of ten thinks that they have been unsuccessful.
One successful group is 50 – 59-year-old parents, who are among those who think that they have coped well. Other groups who consider themselves to have coped well are those with a higher education and those whose children were older than 26 at the time of death.
Harder for younger parents with young children
Younger parents found it harder to cope and the younger the child was at the time of death, the harder it became, especially if the child had committed suicide.
The results of the study:
- The age group 50 – 59-year-olds coped with the crises in the most successful manner.
- Those with a higher education and whose children were older than 26 at the time of death coped relatively well.
- Bereaved parents who often thought about their own inner strength could cope more successfully with their grief.
- Parents who maintained strong emotional bonds with other people and the ability to see their own lives in a greater context coped better.
- The mothers’ most common coping strategy was to talk to others about their feelings.
- The fathers’ most common strategy was to be alone and contemplate the meaning of life.
- Only a few parents stated that they sought help from religion, thought of or prayed to God
- The younger the child and the younger the parents, the harder it became.
- If the child had committed suicide, coping with the crisis could be harder.
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