Unearthing the construct of transgenerational grief: the "ghost" of the sibling never known

Document Type


Peer Reviewed


Publication Date


NLM Title Abbreviation

Illn Crisis Loss

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Illness, Crisis & Loss

Start Page


End Page



A child's death profoundly affects family dynamics, stories, and even other siblings' perceived reasons for being. This influence is often sustained over time to affect not only the lost child's parents and siblings, but also future generations. Health care and mental health care workers frequently encounter such stories, but little is known about the actual phenomenon, which may be a form of disenfranchised grief. This conceptual article explores the construct of transgenerational grief as it pertains to adults' lifelong grief responses to a sibling whom they did not know, but whose "ghost" has been important in the family. The authors consider this construct within its historical family context, proposing that miscarriages and infant losses that a family experienced even a century ago may have resembled unresolved grief, due in part to brief, unresolved mourning. Bereavement theory, Bowenian family theory, and constructionist theory of grief are woven together to create speculative theoretical underpinnings to support transgenerational grief and its impact as uncovered in the authors' study of personal stories of sibling loss.


Bereavement, Death -- In Infancy and Childhood, Family Therapy, Personal Loss, Siblings -- Psychosocial Factors, Child, Family History, Family Theory

Published Article/Book Citation

Illness, Crisis & Loss, 16:4 (2008) pp.271-284.

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