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Keywords:

  • bereaved parents;
  • bereavement support;
  • grief support;
  • parental grief;
  • service evaluation;
  • telephone counselling;
  • telephone support

Aims and objectives.  This study sought to discover bereaved parents’ perspectives and experiences of a nurse-led, ward-based, telephone support programme in a children’s oncology unit.

Background.  Parental grief is especially intense and long-lasting, and many parents can experience serious psychological problems. The oncology team learned that some parents felt ‘forgotten’ or ‘abandoned’ following their child’s death and addressed this concern by initiating and subsequently evaluating a telephone bereavement support programme.

Design.  An interpretive phenomenological investigation of the experiences of six parents who participated in the programme.

Methods.  Parents shared their experiences and perceptions of the programme in individual interviews. Interpretive phenomenology and thematic analysis guided the interviews’ interpretation to ascertain both the parents’ experiences of the programme and their understandings of everyday clinical terms such as ‘support’ or ‘reassurance’.

Results.  Parents found the programme supportive, especially valuing ongoing contact with a nurse who ‘knew them’. Telephone contact was preferred to visiting the hospital, which brought back painful memories. Calls were important elements in helping parents create meaning and memory around their deceased child.

Conclusions.  Regular telephone contact over an agreed period from a familiar member of the child’s treating team can create a more positive and supportive bereavement experience for parents in the year following their child’s death. The specific findings are discussed in the context of the death of a child as a crisis of meaning.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Clinical nurses are ideally placed to use existing close relationships to extend care and support to bereaved parents. This study shows how nurses can identify service gaps, work with interdisciplinary team colleagues to initiate appropriate actions and participate in the essential evaluation subsequently required.