Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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When an Infant Grandchild Dies: Family Matters

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posted on 2021-11-07, 23:39 authored by Stewart, Alison Jane

When a child dies the main focus of both clinical practitioners and researchers is on the parents and, to a lesser extent, the siblings. In contrast grandparents have been called the "forgotten grievers". Are grandparents "forgotten"? If so - by whom? My interest in this study, as a nurse working with bereaved families, was to explore how grandparents, parents and health/bereavement professionals constructed grandparent bereavement when an infant grandchild died unexpectedly. The 26 participants, living in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, included 16 grandparents and 6 parents from 11 families, in addition to 3 health/bereavement professionals. As a theoretical framework I used constructivist inquiry informed by writings on nursing, storying and postmodernism. Through an exploration of the methodological and ethical issues that arose and were addressed during the study, this work adds to knowledge of how constructivist inquiry can be used in nursing and bereavement research. In addition, the context of this research as a partnership with multiple family members contributes to the ongoing debate about whether participation in bereavement research may be harmful or therapeutic. Our conversations in this research formed a series of interviews and letters, which led to the development of a joint construction and each individual's story. A grandchild's death was constructed as a challenge which grandparents faced, responded to and then managed the changes that arose from the challenge. When facing this challenge, grandparents felt "pain" and had a strong sense of "being unprepared", despite extensive life experience. The context of their bereavement was seen as underpinned by their relationship as "parents of the adult parents" of the grandchild who died. This meant that grandparents placed their own pain second to their wish to support and "be with" the parents. Parents and health/bereavement professionals appreciated the support that grandparents offered at a time when they, too, were bereaved. It was outside the family where many grandparents found friends, colleagues or their community forgot, or chose not to acknowledge, their bereavement. From this work the stories of individuals offer previously unspoken voices, to appreciate the multiple meanings and ways in which grandparents are bereaved. In particular, recognising that some grandparents help to create a space within the family which maintains a continuing relationship with the grandchild who died. Combining the stories with the joint construction offers us as clinicians, researchers and members of communities, a perspective to consider in acknowledging grandparent bereavement as an ongoing part of people's lives.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health


Provenzano, Frank; Dixon, Alison; Wood, Pamela; White, Jill; McDrury, Janice