When the Bough Breaks

When the Bough Breaks

When the Bough Breaks: Forever after the Death of a Son or Daughter

Bernstein, Judith






“For every parent who loses a child, when one life ends another life is forever changed.” –from When the Bough Breaks

When the Bough Breaks presents a breakthrough concept of mourning, documenting the process of evolution from initial grief to an altered outlook on life. Excerpts from interviews with 50 parents who lost a child from five to forty-five trace the road from utter devastation to a revised view of life, resulting in a work that is a tribute to resilience and the indomitable human spirit.

Author Judith R. Bernstein, Ph.D., speaks from the dual perspectives of bereaved parent and psychologist. She weaves keen psychological insight with the voices of parents to achieve an intelligent volume that is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. The wisdom of her science and her heart combine to result in a book that teaches the psychology of bereavement with profound tenderness.



Bernstein argues that parents don’t recover from the death of a child so much as they adapt to it, forever altering the way they think and act–often with negative consequences. To provide some understanding of this complex situation, she interviewed 55 parents whose children had died. This research, plus her own experiences (Bernstein’s son died when he was 25), allows her to examine the various stages of grief, the mourning process, the effects on family and social relationships, and the emotional differences between facing a sudden death (such as a murder) and an anticipated death (such as a terminal illness). She also probes the different ways men and women tend to mourn. This can cause problems, especially when a husband’s comparative reticence makes a wife believe that he’s relatively unaffected by the death of their child. Compassionate and revealing, it should aid both mental-health professionals and parents dealing with this kind of devastating loss.  Brian McCombie –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Anyone who has experienced the death of a child, or who works with parents who have, or knows parents who have, should read this book. When everything around a bereaved parent is confusing and turbulent, this is a beacon that can enlighten the path. As a clinical psychologist, people–especially bereaved parents–often ask me the same question: “Am I going crazy, or am I normal?” This book does a wonderful job of answering that question by debunking the myth of “normal grief.” There are no guidelines or boundaries. Wherever you are is “normal.” The other extremely important point that this book drives home is that grieving a child is not something you “get over,” like you get over the flu. You never “get over” the death of a child, but you can eventually adapt your life around the loss, and you can keep on living a meaningful, though drastically changed, life.

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My husband and I buried our 9-year old daughter, our only child, who was a true embassador of love and light in the lives of many, a short time ago. She died suddenly, and this book was given to us by a friend even before the funeral. I highly recommend it to anyone who is feeling the devastation and isolation that follows this insurmountable loss. It doesn’t talk about ‘moving on’ or ‘getting over it.’ It acknowleges the fact that there is no ‘getting over’ the death of a child. The book discussed the reactions of parents to various causes of death, the struggles AND celebrations of marriage after a child dies, and ways to honor personal feelings and needs. My husband is a very private person, introverted about his feelings and ideas, and this book generated conversation I was afraid we’d never share. Please, if you are grieving your child, buy this book.

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The book is a unique blend of reporting on empirical research in the field of grief and Berstein’s own qualitative research. It clearly echoes her own journey through grief both as a professional psychologist and a bereaved mother. The poignant interviews with bereaved parents help to destroy the myth that grief follows any particular timeline. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that a bereaved parent will always carry some part of the grieving process with him or her, that person can learn to smile and laugh again and to enjoy the memories of what once was and the events that make up what is now. The result is a deeply empathic guide for how to live and even thrive in the “forever after” following a child’s death.

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