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Maintaining everyday life in a family with a dying parent: Teenagers' experiences of adapting to responsibility

  • Ulrica Melcher (a1) (a2), Rolf Sandell (a3) and Anette Henriksson (a1) (a4) (a5)

Teenagers are living through a turbulent period in their development, when they are breaking away from the family to form their own identities, and so they are particularly vulnerable to the stressful situation of having a parent affected by a progessive and incurable illness. The current study sought to gain more knowledge about the ways that teenagers themselves describe living in a family with a seriously ill and dying parent. More specifically, the aims were to describe how teenagers are emotionally affected by everyday life in a family with a dying parent and to determine how they attempt to adapt to this situation.


The study employed a descriptive and interpretive design using qualitative content analysis. A total of 10 teenagers (aged 14–19 years, 7 boys and 3 girls) participated through repeated, individual, informal interviews that were carried out as free-ranging conversations.


While contending with their own vulnerable developmental period of life, the teenagers were greatly affected by their parent's illness and took on great responsibility for supporting their parents and siblings, and for maintaining family life. Lacking sufficient information and support left them rather unprepared, having to guess and to interpret the vague signs of failing health on their own, with feelings of uncertainty and loneliness as a consequence.

Significance of Results:

Support from healthcare professionals should be designed to help and encourage parents to have open communications about their illness with their teenaged children. Our results add further support to the literature, reinforcing the need for an approach that uses a systemic perspective and considers the family to be the appropriate unit of care and offers a suitable support system.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Anette Henriksson, Palliative Research Centre, Ersta Sköndal University Collage and Ersta Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden. E-Mail:
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Palliative & Supportive Care
  • ISSN: 1478-9515
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