Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)



Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Sadie Hutson

Committee Members

Joy Wachs, Linda Garrett, Richard Dew


Suicide has existed throughout recorded history. It is a phenomenon that has been both culturally and morally defined across time and civilizations. It is estimated that over 34,000 Americans deliberately take their own lives annually. Moreover, according to some experts, between 6 and 28 individuals are directly affected by each completed suicide. These individuals are referred to as suicide survivors. The consequences for suicide survivors are multidimensional in part because relationships to the deceased play a vital role in bereavement. Previous research studies in the areas of suicidology and bereavement have failed to explore the experience of mothers bereaved by the suicide death of a child. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore phenomenologically the lived experience of mothers following the suicide death of a child. One-on-one, semistructured interviews were conducted with 9 mothers. The time since the suicide ranged from 1 year and 3 months to 21 years and 6 months. Data analysis was driven by Max van Manen's descriptive-investigative process. This process involved guided reflections using van Manen's 4 existentials: spatiality, corporeality, temporality, and relationality. The interviews began with a general statement; 'Tell me about your child." General questions related to the existentials were asked during the interviews to clarify the participants' stories. Data were managed using NVivo 9.0 qualitative data management software. Three essential themes were inductively derived from the data: 1) Know My Child: Not the Act, 2) Frozen Past: Altered Future, 3) Ocean of Grief. The 3 essential themes provide a deeper understanding of the role of stigmatization in the grief process of mothers following the loss of a child to suicide. In addition, these themes contribute to an appreciation of the role of past memories and future orientation as mothers are enmeshed in the grief process and its unpredictable path. Data from this study clarify the unique circumstances and needs of mothers as they attempt to navigate life after losing a child to suicide. The findings from this study suggest areas for future research and will assist healthcare professionals including nurses, school counselors, and mental health professionals as they approach mothers who are suicide survivors.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.