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Garber, B. (1981). Mourning in Children: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis. Ann. Psychoanal., 9:9-19.

(1981). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 9:9-19

Mourning in Children: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis

Benjamin Garber, M.D.

The psychoanalytic literature on children's reactions to the death of a parent can be divided roughly into two categories. One group of articles includes detailed individual case studies of children who have experienced and dealt with the death of a parent while in analysis. In some situations the child came into analysis following parental death while in other cases the child was already in analysis when a parent died. Some of the more classic individual cases were those of Shambaugh (1961), McDonald and Barnes (1964), and Gauthier (1965). Each case study in its own way contributed to a better understanding of the dynamics of the mourning process in children.

The second grouping in the literature consists of more extensive and elaborate studies of large groups of children, ranging in age from latency through adolescence, who have experienced the death of a parent. These studies are rich in clinical data and draw a variety of important conclusions from observing large groups of patients. These studies are basically descriptive and somewhat explanatory in character. They offer theoretical insights which may be useful in understanding the mourning process in all children. Some of the more important studies in this group are Wolfenstein (1966, 1969), Rochlin (1967), and Furman (1974).

Most of the individual case histories, which are elaborated in great detail, convey a clinical situation in which a child who has lost a parent by death was able to engage in some kind of mourning experience after much painstaking work in psychotherapy or in psychoanalysis.

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