Metaphors that shape parents’ perceptions of effective communication with healthcare practitioners following child death: a qualitative UK study

Sarah Turner, Jeannette Littlemore, Julie Taylor, Eloise Parr, A E Topping

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Objectives: To offer an interpretation of bereaved parents’ evaluations of communication with healthcare practitioners (HCPs) surrounding the death of a child. Design: Interpretative qualitative study employing thematic and linguistic analyses of metaphor embedded in interview data. Setting: England and Scotland. Participants: 24 bereaved parents (21 women, 3 men). Methods: Participants were recruited through the True Colours Trust website and mailing list, similar UK charities and word of mouth. Following interviews in person or via video-conferencing platforms (Skype/Zoom), transcripts first underwent thematic and subsequently linguistic analyses supported by NVivo. A focused analysis of metaphors used by the parents was undertaken to allow in-depth interpretation of how they conceptualised their experiences. Results: The findings illuminate the ways parents experienced communication with HCPs surrounding the death of a child. Key findings from this study suggest that good communication with HCPs following the death of a child should acknowledge parental identity (and that of their child as an individual) and offer opportunities for them to enact this; taking account their emotional and physical experiences; and accommodate their altered experiences of time. Conclusions: This study suggests that HCPs when communicating with bereaved parents need to recognise, and seek to comprehend, the ways in which the loss impacts on an individual’s identity as a parent, the ‘physical’ nature of the emotions that can be unleashed and the ways in which the death of a child can alter their metaphorical conceptions of time.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere054991
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number1
Early online date25 Jan 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which
permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially,
and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is
properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use
is non-commercial. See:


This project was funded by the True Colours Trust.


  • 1506
  • 1725
  • Qualitative research
  • paediatric A&E and ambulatory care
  • paediatric oncology
  • paediatric palliative care


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