Widower Responses to the Death of a Wife: The Impact on Family Members

Patricia N. Rushton, RN, PhD


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2007;7(2) 

In This Article


Fourteen widowers and 17 children participated in this study. The adult children were required to be least 18 years old at the time of the interview. Widowers and their children were aware of each other's participation, but interviews were conducted individually. Data obtained were not shared between widowers and their children. Recruitment for participants was by word of mouth and public notices.

The project was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the sponsoring institution. At each interview, the project was explained and the participants signed an informed consent. Widowers and children participated independently in an audio-taped interview that was transcribed verbatim. The following single question, as appropriate for qualitative inquiry, was asked to guide the discussion: Tell me about your experience/your experience with your father's behavior after the death of your wife/mother.

Confidentiality was maintained by interviewing participants separately and by not associating the participants' identities with results, though they agreed that their words could be anonymously quoted in publications or presentations. Accounts were stored in files to which only the primary investigator had access.

Data were grouped into common themes. Demographic data were collected spontaneously in the process of the interview or were calculated as a result of comments made by the participant.

Study participants consisted of a convenience sample. None of the widowers or their children knew any of the other widowers or their children. The only prerequisites for participation in the study were to be a widower and to have an adult child who was willing to participate. Therefore, demographics of the study group demonstrated a wide variety of widower, adult child, and spouse ages and causes of spousal death.

Widowers were between ages 38 years and 76 years at the time of their wives' deaths and 53 years to 86 years at the time of the interviews. Wives/mothers had been deceased from 2 years to 15 years at the time of the interviews and were ages 34 years to 80 years when they died. Causes of death were cancer, cardiac disease, diabetes mellitus, accident, renal failure, multiple system organ failure, and pneumonia. One wife died after years of chronic disease and multiple hospitalizations.

Children's ages were not collected. However, children talked of being young (ages 5 to 12 years) or college age at the time of their mothers' deaths. Five were sons and 12 were daughters. Ten of the daughters were either the eldest or only daughters.


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