Holding On and Letting Go: The Spiritual Assumptive World of Bereaved Parents

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)



Date of Award

Fall 2012


A cross-sectional, correlational design examined factors related to parents' ability to reconstruct their shattered spiritual assumptive worldviews after the death of their child. Surveys were disseminated both online and via postal mail to bereaved parents through The Compassionate Friends bereavement support groups and churches serving non-White populations (n = 100). Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, the Revised Grief Experience Inventory, the World Assumptions Questionnaire, the Core Beliefs Inventory, and the Spiritual Well-Being Scale. A 3 x 4 factorial ANOVA was used to analyze the effects of time since death and grief support group involvement on spiritual well-being, but no interaction between these two variables was found. Spiritual well-being did not change significantly as time since death increased. Grief support group involvement demonstrated a significant main effect on spiritual well-being. Parents not involved in a support group at all and parents participating at the moderate level reported significantly higher spiritual well-being than parents attending a support group at the low level. Spiritual well-being was not significantly affected by cause of the child's death. Using a standard multiple regression analysis, the study found that a high level of grief symptoms, a large degree of change in fundamental beliefs as a result of the loss, and less positive worldviews were all significant predictors of lower spiritual well-being. Interpretation of results focused on the concepts of meaning making, and positive and negative religious coping. Bereaved parents experience a triple assault; they must endure not only the loss of their child, but they often also suffer the shattering of their assumptive world and spiritual beliefs as a result of the loss. Paradoxically, they find themselves simultaneously holding on and letting go. When their spiritual assumptive worlds are shattered, they must revise their worldviews by holding onto the beliefs that help them make sense of their child's death and letting go of their previous conceptions of a higher power that no longer fit their experience. They must try to reconnect to their spirituality as an important source of solace and meaning in their time of unbearable loss.


Chris Simpson

Subject Categories

Counseling | Social and Behavioral Sciences