Document Type


Degree Name



Oregon Health & Science University


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to understand family bereavement experiences after the sudden cardiac death (SCD) of a family member. Aims included description of bereavement experiences and identification of meanings of loss across families. Background: Cardiac disease is the leading cause of death and SCD is on the rise, especially in younger adults. The SCD of middle aged adults, who are often in the prime of their lives, is devastating for surviving family members and greatly disrupts their sense of self and shatters their feelings of security. Bereavement research has focused on the response of individuals to grief and loss and little is known about the impact of SCD on multiple surviving family members. Family roles and tasks are radically changed after death of a family member and when the death is unexpected surviving family members are challenged to make sense of their loss. Methods: A qualitative approach, narrative analysis, was used to analyze family and individual stories of bereavement. Seven families who experienced the SCD of a family member within the last 5 years participated. Eligibility criteria limited the decedent's age to 20 and 55 years old at the time of death. Family interviews, which averaged 96 minutes, were conducted with a minimum of two family members, followed by individual interviews with 17 family members. Open ended questions were used to encourage the sharing of stories. Participants talked about the decedent, the days preceding the death, the death itself, and their bereavement experiences. Results: Five themes were identified across families: 1) Sudden cardiac death … boom; 2) Saying goodbye; 3) Grief unleashes volatile emotional reactions; 4) Life goes on … but never back to normal; and 5) Meanings in loss. At the heart of family bereavement experiences is the challenge of moving on with life, a life forever changed by the SCD of an important family member, while still remaining a connection to this important person. During bereavement, surviving family members took steps forward to build their new life, but these steps were frequently interrupted by hurdles and sudden "booms" of grief. Through this process family members generally found meanings in their loss. Implications: Sudden cardiac death has long lasting impacts on surviving family members. Sharing stories of loss may allow family members an opportunity to make sense of their experiences and help them identify meanings of loss. This in turn may facilitate their ability to continue living after a devastating loss. Professionals working with bereaved families may benefit from knowledge of the positive aspects of sharing stories of loss. Further research is needed before developing nursing interventions to support families after SCD of a family member.




School of Nursing



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.