Each year, too many parents must face the horrific ordeal of having to prepare for the death of their child; thought to be the most traumatic event in the life of an adult (Widger & Picot, 2008). It is in the desperate hours just prior to death that these parents, for many reasons, reach out for support to the medical staff around them. This process, particularly if negative, can leave scars that parents will carry for a lifetime (N. Contro, Larson, Scofield, Sourkes, & Cohen, 2002; Tinsley, et al., 2008). However, there appear to be factors that serve to lessen the negativity of this time (Gerretsen & Myers, 2008; Tan, Zimmermann, & Rodin, 2005). Thirteen families agreed to participate, in this study, from several hospitals, each family having lost a child within the past year. Qualitative analyses of interviews with these families indicated that themes of communication, availability, and empathy were important in relation to the physician. Themes detrimental to the relationship with the physician included communication brevity and carelessness. Additionally, results suggested that these themes exist in an additive hierarchy, with no one theme ensuring the viability or destruction of the relationship, instead serving to buffer positive and negative influence. Recommendations for future research include evaluation of the manner in which these themes impact each other, and ultimately the relationship.

LLU Discipline

Clinical Psychology




School of Science and Technology

First Advisor

Riggs, Matt L.

Second Advisor

Tinsley, Cynthia H.

Third Advisor

Vermeersch, David

Fourth Advisor

Williams, Gerald A.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded

January 2011

Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Terminally ill - Family Relationships; Families - Medical care - Psychological Aspects; Communication; Medicine and psychology; Parents - Psychology; Bereavement - Psychological aspects; Children - Death - Psychological Aspects; Loss (Psychology)

Subject - Local

Death of child; Traumatic events; Physician - Parent Communication; Empathy; Physician Availability



Page Count

110 p.

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses & Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives