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


The primary conclusion of this study is that loneliness is a powerful motivator for remarriage in the widower population. No other social or familial association could appease this drive or fill this need. Loneliness drove the majority of participants to look for another wife. At the most desperate, it drove them to abandon children, work, and other responsibilities and values.

The second most prominent observation was that it was always a daughter, and usually the oldest daughter, who moved into the role of managing the home. Though this finding might be affected by the fact that only 5 sons but 12 daughters were included in the sample, it is consistent with previous research. Even if they were adults living away from home, if daughters could be involved in managing their fathers' homes, they assumed those responsibilities. Daughters felt confused and abandoned when other women moved into the family and assumed responsibilities that had been theirs.

There were some factors that assisted widowers in managing loneliness. Association with family and friends, association with members of the church family through church attendance and fulfillment of church responsibilities, and continuing to work either at a salaried position or engaging in an activity of the widower's choice can all be helpful during the adjustment period following the death of a wife.

It is important to note that no study will change the behavior of a widower in coping with the loss of his wife. However, perhaps the adjustment period would be easier for both widowers and children if they understood what was happening. Healthcare providers, including nurses and advanced practice nurses and especially those working in end-of-life and palliative care, could be of great service to their clients if they appreciated the dynamics of widowerhood and the typical coping patterns that occur.

Information from this study produced 6 suggestions for current or future widowers and their children. These suggestions might also guide nurses in whatever capacity they function to assist the widower and his children in coping with the loss of a wife and mother:

  1. Widowers and children should maintain open lines of communication. Everyone involved is struggling with the loss of a loved one. The more the parties talk to each other, the better they will be understood and the more they will be able to share in the grief and the coping response.

  2. Fathers need to remain sensitive to the needs of their children, and vice versa, to decrease the pain of grieving. Widowers should not engage in dating activities too early, and children should be aware that they are unable to meet all the needs of their fathers.

  3. Discussion about the father's future plans should take place before he instigates them, whether they involve dating, travel, employment, or business plans. Though the parties may not agree, at least the activities will not be a surprise to anyone. Such discussion would allow options to be explored.

  4. Children must not be surprised when their father begins to look for another mate. Children cannot provide a man's basic needs for physical and emotional companionship; these can only be met by a spouse.

  5. Independence for the widower and his children should be the eventual goal. This does not mean that each family member should stand separate and away from each other, but that each member of the family, father and children alike, are given the opportunity to grow and progress, to physically and emotionally care and think for themselves.


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