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


This widower study has themes in common with previous research. All the widowers in this study had some difficulty taking on the responsibilities of managing a home and children following the death of a spouse. Management of home and children was often redelegated or assumed by the oldest daughter. Two widowers adapted to be able to care for dependent disabled children. Two others adapted and provided care and support to their children. Even in this situation, the wife's former responsibilities were assumed by the oldest daughter in the family. This daughter felt abandoned when her father remarried and a new woman came into the family and assumed the responsibilities of the household.

The need to be cared for was one factor that motivated the widowers to seek out new partners. Though previous literature does not touch on this topic, widowers in this study either could not or chose not to physically care for themselves as well as their wives had cared for them when they were alive. Two of the 4 widowers who did not remarry were still cared for by their daughters. Another factor was the loneliness that followed the loss of one's most significant other. The comments of the widower about loneliness, the description of physical pain at the absence of a wife, the crying at failed dating experiences, the father's sadness at being alone, and children's frustrations at not being able to meet their fathers' needs speak to this overwhelming, all-consuming loneliness. The rapidity with which widowers in this study began looking for new mates and remarriages also speaks to the driving force of loneliness.

The experiences of the participants in this study in the area of remarriage were significantly different from those in previous studies. Though one of the widowers in this study expressed discomfort with getting back into the "dating game" and 4 of the widowers chose not to remarry, 11 of the widowers did become socially active and remarry. All of those who remarried were able to begin dating again and entered into social circles quickly after the deaths of their wives. Remarriage was a point of disagreement between children and fathers.

Limitations of this study include the time lapse between the spouse's death and relating the story as part of this interview, the impact of family life stage at time of death, and the perception of the success or problems related to remarriages. However, the perceptions and recollections of the children concerning their father's behavior at the time of their mother's death were clear enough for them to continue to have an impact on the children.


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