‘Don’t forget the children’: a qualitative study when a parent is at end of life from cancer

Eilis McCaughan, Cherith Semple, Jeff Hanna

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PurposePreparation for end of life is one of the greatest challenges faced by parents with cancer who have dependent children (< 18 years old), with requirement for support from professionals. The aim of this study is to explore how parents can be best supported in relation to their children, when a parent is at end of life from cancer.MethodsThis is an interpretive qualitative study, using 79 semi-structured interviews with parents at end of life (n3), bereaved parents (n21), health and social care professionals (HSCPs) (n32) and funeral directors (n23). Data were analysed thematically and triangulated.ResultsParents are central to preparing their children for the death of a parent. Striving for everyday ordinariness, maximising social networks, maintaining hope and making preparations for the future are helpful for families when a parent is at end of life. Most HSCPs were unaware of the challenges faced by parents at end of life, and psychosocial support was often left outside the caring realm. As a result, funeral directors noted complexities faced by the families after the death. Results are discussed under four themes: (1) communication with the children as a process, (2) coping throughout the unfolding end of life experience, (3) tension and complexities at end of life and (4) preparing for the future.ConclusionsParents should be reassured that by involving the children early in the end of life experience when the ill-parent is ‘well enough’ to parent enables them to be actively involved in supporting their child through one of the greatest life changing event. A number of recommendations are discussed for professionals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7695-7702
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number12
Early online date18 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 18 Jun 2021


  • end of life
  • psychological support
  • parental life-limiting illness
  • Parental cancer
  • dependent children
  • Qualitative study


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