The death of a child is devastating, and complicated grief adversely impacts parental physical and psychosocial well-being. Most research currently is centered on bereaved mothers, and the experiences of fathers remains underexplored.
We systematically reviewed the literature to characterize the grief and bereavement experiences of fathers after the death of a child.
We searched Medline, PsycInfo, Embase, and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines.
Inclusion criteria encompassed English language articles published between 2007 and 2019 that evaluated the grief and bereavement experiences of fathers after the death of their child. We excluded studies describing paternal bereavement after the death of a child aged older than 21 years, stillbirth, miscarriage, or studies that did not specify age of death.
Extracted domains included study design, demographics, findings, and quality assessment.
We screened 1848 deduplicated titles and abstracts and 139 full articles, yielding 21 articles for inclusion in this analysis. Fathers often avoided discussing their grief with others, returned to work earlier, and used goal-oriented tasks as coping strategies. Intense grief reactions and posttraumatic psychological sequelae diminished over time in mothers yet persisted in fathers.
Included studies were primarily descriptive in nature, without ability to ascertain causality. Limited paternal data exists in the literature compared with maternal data.
Despite evolving gender roles, many fathers navigate loss through stoicism, self-isolation, and hard work. For some fathers, these coping mechanisms may be inadequate for navigating grief.