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Single . . . after all these years: The impact of spousal loss on elderly widowers

Kathleen E O'Hearn Pepin, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Purpose. Coping with life's adversities requires strength of character. Widowhood is no exception. However, limited evidence exists that fosters understanding of the needs of men in such a situation. The purpose of this study is to listen to the men themselves, documenting their thoughts and concerns regarding the state of widowhood.^ Design. A qualitative, hermeneutic-phenomenological study design was used.^ Methods. A self-identified group of 21 widowers from a Midwestern metropolitan area comprised the participant sample. The individuals were independently interviewed a single time in a setting of their choice. Each interview was audio recorded for transcription. Transcriptions were evaluated for patterns and themes among the narratives.^ Findings. A significant level of independence was expressed by the widowers. Knowledge deficit concerning the location and availability of community resources was apparent, particularly among those participants who eschewed the rituals of religion. Churches provided more than a place of worship; they provided social interaction and played an important role in guiding individuals to appropriate resources. Social interaction and physical activity were preferred by most widowers, but each claimed that it was a personal decision; no one wanted to be told what to do or how to act. Of note, many expressed a significant desire for female companionship that was platonic and mutually supportive. Only two participants entertained the notion of remarriage; neither was actively pursuing the possibility.^ Conclusions. There exists support for the independence of widowers in structuring their lives to suit their needs. A high expectation that they be treated as individuals is evident. However, for older men who have been married for a number of years, the absence of the companionship and support of their spouses creates a void in their lives that they are not always prepared to fill. While the loss is acknowledged, a subsequent need for resources including companionship as well as material resources is not always met.^ Implications. The highly personal and individualized issue of spousal bereavement studied from the perspective of qualitative interviews yields an abundance of data that supports the existence of a state of distress experienced by older men. While depression was not widely apparent in the present study, further efforts must be undertaken to more clearly support its absence. In addition, the caveat of the potential relationship between positive bereavement practices and successful or happy marriages warrants exploration.^

Subject Area

Gerontology|Health Sciences, General|Psychology, Developmental

Recommended Citation

O'Hearn Pepin, Kathleen E, "Single . . . after all these years: The impact of spousal loss on elderly widowers" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3366068.