The Impact of Terminal Illness and Sibling Death From Cancer, on the Latency-Aged Brother or Sister

Wood, Lorna
Baker-Sander, Evelyn
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

This literature review examines the impact of the terminal illness and death on the siblings of children diagnosed with cancer. The aim of this dissertation is to explore the impact on the latency aged child who has experienced the illness and loss of a brother or sister from cancer. A modified literature review was used to source information relating to siblings of children who have cancer, vicarious trauma, the sibling relationship, and childhood grief. Attachment theory is drawn upon to provide a conceptual framework for understanding the issues involved. The diagnosis of childhood cancer in a family is a harrowing event. A child’s death is an unprecedented tragedy which strikes at the very core of our sense of natural order. It is well documented that children who experience a sibling’s death are at risk of suffering long term mental health problems. Bereaved siblings identify the separation from their attachment figure, usually the mother, during hospital treatment, as the most difficult aspect of the illness and death. Parental unavailability following bereavement due to the parents own grief, continues to affect the surviving sibling. Children’s grief differs from that of adults and is likely to be expressed behaviorally over time. Children are likely to grieve for their sibling throughout their life at various ages and stages as they develop. Sibling relationships are recognized as having a significant impact on individual’s emotional and social development. The little literature available suggests the latency aged child will demonstrate notably more behavioral problems after sibling bereavement than younger or older siblings or their comparative norms. Further research is needed in this area. Sibling intervention after bereavement is in its infancy. A broader understanding of the reaction of the latency aged child to their loss could assist professionals to identify children at risk. Evaluation of the various bereavement interventions available could establish the efficacy of intervention and may contribute to healthy management of lifelong grief following sibling loss.

Child psychotherapy , Cancer in children , Brothers and sisters death , Psychological aspects , Grief in children
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