Bereavement in surviving parents of U.S. service members

Bereavement is difficult for all parents who survive the death of a child (Kristensen, Heir, Herlofsen, Langsrud, & Weiseth, 2012).  For parents of deceased U.S. military service members, reactions to their adult child’s death may be particularly complex due to the often sudden and unanticipated nature of the deaths (Stroebe, Schut, & Stroebe, 2007), although study of this population is extremely limited. Nonmilitary surviving parents experience a wide range of emotional and behavioral reactions to their children’s death. Most negative reactions subside over time and some individuals experience posttraumatic growth associated with positive outcomes (Triplett et al., 2012). The current study examined the hypothesis that among bereaved parents of military deceased, those farthest in time from the death of their child and who reported being most prepared for the death would endorse the least distress and impaired functioning, and higher posttraumatic growth.  Data used in the current study examined 565 bereaved parents selected from an initial cohort of bereaved family members (n = 1054) of a larger ongoing study (The National Military Family Bereavement Study). Participants completed either an online or paper questionnaire about their experiences following the death of their service member child. Preliminary results indicate that perceptions of preparedness for the death and time since death negatively predicted distress and positively predict healthy functioning and posttraumatic growth. Various coping strategies were also associated with these outcomes and their moderating effects will be described. Exploratory analyses examining the association of these outcomes with mother versus father patterns of coping will also be discussed. Defining the relationships between these variables will lead to a better understanding of how to minimize parental distress and improve functioning following bereavement.