Life with Grief Research

Did you know...

  • 1 in 7 Americans will lose a parent or sibling before age 20
  • 3 out of 4 times, the woman is the surviving spouse


These are some findings from a recent national survey released by Comfort Zone Camp. This study was made possible by funds from The New York Life Foundation, in order to gather new information on an underexamined issue: childhood bereavement. The study is a part of Comfort Zone’s national advocacy campaign, to increase general awareness and understanding about childhood bereavement.


"Childhood bereavement is one of society’s most chronically painful yet rarely examined and most underestimated phenomena,” said Lynne Hughes, Comfort Zone Camp Founder and President. “While the impact of the phenomenon is clear to those of us with exposure to the issue, there is not enough research regarding the nature and effects of childhood bereavement. Nor is there anything appoaching a national, ongoing conversation focused on awareness and understanding of childhood beravement and the urgent need to support both children in grief and other Americans who want to better understand the phenomenon of grief - their own as well as that of others."


Lynne explains the goals of the research as:

  • To get some hard numbers on the population impacted by childhood bereavement
  • To de-stigmatize childhood grief by rasing public awareness about the impact of childhood bereavement
  • To better help surviving moms and dads to parent - and by extension, help their kids
  • To better understand the course and nature of the grief journey
  • To start a national conversation about grief


The national general population study polled 1,006 adults between November 24 and December 7, 2009. This was conducted by the national polling firm of Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc. All respondents were at least 25 years old. Of the 1,006 adults surveyed, 110 had lost a parent before the age of 20, and 52 had lost a sibling (13 had lost both). An additional 298 adults were surveyed who had lost a parent growing up, for a total over-sample of 408. 


Key findings from the study:

  • Childhood bereavement is far more common than many of us think
    • 1 in 9 Americans will lose a parent before age 20; 1 in 7 will lost a parent or sibling.
    • 48% of respondents report that they have a close friend, relative or co-worker who lost a parent growing up
      • 58% believe that he and/or she still struggles with their loss today
  • The impact of childhood loss is profound and enduring
    • 56% of respondents who lost a parent growing up would trade a year of their life for one more day with their departed parent
    • 72% believe their life would have been "much better" if their parent hadn't died so young
    • 69% who lost a parent growing up still think about their parent frequently
    • 81% of those who lost a parent as a kid say they are equally or more resilient than most adults
  • Women tend to bear the brunt—as kids and as caregivers
    • 75% of the time women are the surviving parent
    • 38% of women surveyed strongly agreed with the statement that “Losing a parent as a kid was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with”; by comparison, 29% of men strongly agreed
    • While more than half of all men who lost a parent growing up (57%) agreed with the statement that "Death is a part of life; people need to get over it," only 36% of women who lost a parent growing up agreed with this statement
  • Friends/neighbors have a critical role to play—and the opportunity to do more
    • Thinking back to the last time someone close lost a child or spouse:
      • 74% respondents reported attending the funeral/wake
      • 72% offered words of condolence
      • 57% visited the family's home
      • But less than 30% said they went out of their way to include them in social activities
    • 83% somewhat or strongly agree with the statement: "I wish I did/could have done more"


“Our hope is that this research can help all of us to better understand childhood loss – its incidence, what families are going through, how that loss extends into adulthood and what we can do to ease the grief journey,” said Chris Park, president of The New York Life Foundation.


The study has received national attention. Media outlets such as The Wall Street JournalHoward, The Huffington Post, and The Diane Rehm Show*, begining the national discussion about childhood bereavement.


To continue the national conversation this research has sparked, Comfort Zone Camp launched, an online community for those living with grief. 

To continue the national conversation this research has sparked, Comfort Zone Camp launched, which provides blog-style articles from real people living with loss, as well as grief experts; community support in the form of a social network and forums; and memorial walls and blogs to remember, share, and connect.


<<Return to the June 2010 eNewsletter

More information on the study.


*Note: to listen to the Diane Rehm show which featured Lynne Hughes on a panel of grief experts, click the "listen" button under the home tab on this page. To read the transcript, click here.

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