Review by: Philip Cheifetz, MD, FRCPC
The purpose of this book is to answer key questions about the emotional responses of parents following the death of an only child. This book fulfills its purpose only in part: it deals primarily with the responses of mothers, not fathers, to the death of an only child. Although understandable, owing to the structure of the research design, the title and introduction lead us to anticipate reading about the reactions of both parents.
The competency of the author is related to her personal experience and extensive research on this subject, which has been published in Omega: Journal of Death and Dying. The personal experience was the death of her only daughter, the circumstances of which are unique to her. One does get the impression that the research and the book constitute her working through her own grief, which gives the book a subjective point of view. This is not meant to diminish the authority and the validity of the study, but it does make objectivity an issue of concern for clinicians who read the book for practical purposes.
The structure of the book is well organized and follows its goals and aims. It begins with a personal statement, followed immediately by the research design and subsequently by accounts of the different and various ways in which the mothers in the study responded to the death of their only child. The key point is the division of the group called “Mothers Now Childless” into 2 groups reflecting how women react in 2 strikingly different ways to the death of their child. This is amplified throughout the course of the book, leading to the clinical task of grief management in this most tragic event.
The chapter on research design discusses the battery of questionnaires, the sample of mothers, and the final division into 2 groups of 5 mothers each, representing the more adapted and the less so. It is important that, in most cases, the circumstance of the death was accidental, thus causing a different set of responses in these families. This, unfortunately, is dealt with only briefly.
It was helpful to read in subsequent chapters about several comparative studies that affirm the author’s findings. There is, for example, a detailed reference to an integrated model of adult bereavement derived from a controlled research study of adult grief. The book, however, becomes repetitive in the chapters that follow, in that the modes of adaptation, including, for example, “meaning making”—the relationship of the bereaved to the surrounding social structure—are dealt with again under the heading of spiritualism, existential crises, and personal growth. It seems that these are similar processes but with different names. As the book ends, the significant message from the author is that the process of grief never really ends and should be experienced as a crisis of personal growth, rather than as a clinical problem. The now childless mother should not be asked to detach herself from the memory of her child and to accept her loss; rather, to build a new relationship with the deceased offspring, she should be helped to understand how to identify with and incorporate the child’s best characteristics—a difficult task. Despite these criticisms, the insights offered in the book draw back the curtain of darkness in a tragic story, which may assist individuals whose work is primarily directed toward the alleviation of suffering borne of unending grief.
The writing is clear and free of jargon, and the book’s cost seems appropriate to the labour that it represents.
Rating Scale/ Échelle dévaluation du réviseur
Excellent / Excellent
Very Good / Très bon
Good / Bon
Fair / Passable
Not recommended / Pas recommandé