ABSTRACT

For many parents, the death of a child represents a loss of profound and traumatic proportions with a grief trajectory that may be lifelong. Complications in grieving that can occur following this type of loss are well documented. However, at the same time, emerging from their struggle with grief, some parents report adaptive changes in their sense of identity, or what has been termed ‘post-traumatic growth’ (PTG). Within the therapeutic setting, while it is encouraging to witness and (where possible) to facilitate PTG, how adaptive responses to loss are assessed and then discussed with bereaved parents should proceed with caution. In particular, direct questioning about such responses using terms such as “positive changes,” “benefi ts” or any other language that might be perceived to imply something “positive” has emerged from a child’s death can be experienced as offensive to some parents and may even lead to a denial of such experiences (i.e., based on the sense of guilt this evokes). In light of these concerns, one technique that holds promise for sensitively exploring PTG in the wake of a child’s death is the Loss Characterization (Neimeyer, 2002). Consistent with other constructivist and narrative-based techniques used to explore parental grief (Gerrish, Steed, & Neimeyer, 2010), one advantage of using the Loss Characterization is that it invites the bereaved parent to use his or her own formulations, defi nitions, and language to explore PTG (as well as possible complications) within their grieving experience. In particular, through using indirect and open-ended instructional prompts, the bereaved parent is simply asked to refl ect on how the death of their child has impacted on who they are as a person. In more specifi c terms, the bereaved parent is provided with an instructional set at the top of a blank page that reads as follows (adapted version):

In the space that follows, please write in your own words a description of the kind of person you are following your child’s death. Alternatively, if you would prefer, you could dictate an audio recording of the same description of yourself. Please be aware

that spelling and grammar do not matter, or even the way you write it. For example, you may just want to just jot down some notes, or even use some points to describe how you feel. How much you write is also up to you – please write as much or as little as you wish.