Get access

Anticipatory grieving among parents living with a child with cancer


E. Al-Gamal: e-mail:


al-gamal e. & long t. (2010) Anticipatory grieving among parents living with a child with cancer. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(9), 1980–1990.


Aim.  This paper is a report of a comparative study of anticipatory grief of parents of children newly diagnosed with cancer and those whose children were diagnosed 6–12 months earlier.

Background.  Public perceptions of cancer as a fatal illness persist despite improved prognosis for children. Parents may experience feelings of despair, hopelessness, and worthlessness – the most common psychological expressions of anticipatory grief. With a focus on developing more effective therapeutic intervention, healthcare professionals have developed greater interest in the concept of anticipatory grief.

Method.  One hundred and forty parents, divided between ‘newly diagnosed’ and ‘6–12 months after diagnosis’ groups, were recruited in 2006 from two hospitals representative of the healthcare sector in Jordan. Structured interviews were conducted to assess anticipatory grief, using the Marwit and Meuser Caregiver Inventory: Childhood Cancer. Analysis was performed using t-tests.

Results.  Fewer than half of the parents in both groups reported being at peace with themselves and their situation in life. Parents of newly diagnosed children reported more severe anticipatory grief responses than those in the second group. No statistically significant differences were found in responses between mothers and fathers.

Conclusion.  Healthcare professionals should encourage parents to discuss negative feelings related to their child’s illness and potential outcome. Hospital policies need to include the provision and promotion of support group services for parents, and nurses should encourage parents to exploit such services.