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Most parents stay together after child's death

January 5, 2010 |  7:00 am

It’s hard to imagine a bigger strain on a marriage than the loss of a child to cancer. Conventional wisdom holds that such tragedies increase the risk of divorce, but a new study says that isn’t so.

Holdinghands Researchers from the Division of Clinical Cancer Epidemiology at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm tracked down 442 Swedish parents who had lost a son or daughter to cancer before the age of 25. Four to nine years after the loss, 74% of the parents were still married to or living with the child’s other parent.

To serve as controls, the researchers also found 452 parents with living children of the same age, sex and region of residence as the ones who died of cancer. Among those parents, 68% of their relationships were still intact.

Statistical analysis revealed that the bereaved mothers and fathers were 10% more likely to remain with their co-parents compared with the controls. The difference was statistically significant. The results were published today in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

There’s little doubt that caring for a terminally ill child causes great psychological distress and marital strain. But previous studies that examined how families cope with the loss of a child have had mixed findings when it comes to divorce. Based on these Swedish results, the researchers conclude that, at the very least, “parents who have lost a child to cancer are not more likely to separate than others.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Contrary to popular belief, marriages can survive the loss of a child to cancer. Credit: Robert K. Yosay / The (Youngstown, Ohio) Vindicator