Reflecting on Parental Terminal Illness and Death During Adolescence: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis


  • Jennifer Cafferky
  • Samantha Banbury
  • Catherine Athanasiadou-Lewis


There has been little consideration of how adolescents experience parental terminal illness (PTI) and death and any continuing impact it may have on their lives. In particular, limited attention has been given to this group’s perceptions and experiences of support during this period. This study explores the retrospective experiences of six individuals who had a parent diagnosed with a terminal illness (TI) during late adolescence. Their experiences are qualitatively explored in terms of their understanding, processing and adjustment to their parent’s TI and death; both as an individual, and in the context of their wider family and social setting. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was employed to analyse participant data. Participants were individuals who had a parent diagnosed with a terminal illness aged 16-18. Four superordinate themes emerged from the data. These were: changing family dynamics, grappling with adolescence and adjustment to loss, barriers to feeling/being supported and living with the consequences. Participants relate the profound impact that PTI during adolescence has had and continues to have on their lives. Study findings provide clinically useful information for healthcare professionals working with bereaved young people and those presently experiencing PTI. Implications are discussed in terms of service provision and design, including therapeutic recommendations for counselling psychologists and other professionals working with this group.