Out of the 800,000 Americans widowed each year, 10 percent to 20 percent–up to 160,000–still suffer serious depressions a year or more later, according to a 1982 National Academy of Sciences report. For many people, losing a spouse or partner can be the single most stressful event in their life. The first year of widowhood involves a-lot of paperwork and decisions That indicate that there are changes to come. Widowhood alters the routines, tasks and living arrangements that were once characterized as every day life of a married couple. Almost 1 in 2 women over 65 are widowed, compared to 1 in 8 men. Women may not have a lot of financial resources after being widowed, and are more likely than men to experience a drop in their standard of living once widowed. The daily life consequences of spousal loss is important, and can help practitioners to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the widowed as they adjust to their new social roles. As Widowhood remains inevitable we as social work practitioners should make an attempt to aptly address the problems pressures and supports directly related to spousal loss and widowhood.
Recent studies by NORC General social surveys found that this increase in social visits is related to increased levels of social support offered to the widowed. Regardless of whether social support is actively sought , the majority of widowed persons named social activities and community involvement as strategies for coping with the stress and loneliness that often accompany widowhood. Although maintaining social engagement appears to be a critical component of successful adaptation to widowhood, social workers caution against adopting a keep busy mind frame when designing care and support strategies for the widowed. Instead of creating new recreational or social opportunities for the bereaved, intervention efforts should enable adults to maintain their social activities, interpersonal relationships, and hobbies provided these activities are still regarded as enjoyable or relaxing. After the death of a spouse the lives of the widowed are also altered in terms of their activities within the home: the maintenance of their households remains a concern for most bereaved. The majority of married couples in the United States maintain their own household, separate from that of their children or extended family, up until the very last years of life.
Along with spousal loss there are often pressures associated with the bereaved’s risks for health complications, recurring depression, and an inability to adjust. How one’s spouse dies, and the extent to which the process produces stress both before and after the actual death is closely linked to technological and demographic forces. Widowed persons today are likely to experience spousal loss as a slow and gradual process, beginning with the diagnosis of terminal illness, through the difficult stages of care-giving and care seeking, up until the eventual death (Carr,2001). Slow and expected deaths bring elevated anxiety to the surviving spouse in both the short and longer-term (i.e., six and 18 months following loss), perhaps due to the care-giving strain and, cognitive decline on the part of one’s spouse. Deaths marked by physical pain, and due, in part, to physician or hospital negligence are particularly difficult for bereaved spouses. Future health care policy, including legislation regarding end-of-life care, and funding for hospice , will have important implications for the well-being of the bereaved as well as the dying.
The psychological consequences of spousal loss can be related to the quality of one’s marriage. Research has shown that widowed persons whose marriages were interdependent and filled with compassion evidenced greater levels of yearning following their loss, while strained marriages ended with significantly lower levels of yearning for one’s spouse.(Wheaton,1992). Among the most important factors in dealing with the loss of a spouse is gender in which responses to loss vary; for women, their husband’s sudden unanticipated death leads to higher levels of mourning. Women tend to perform less housework and men perform more housework, largely because children come forward to provide instrumental support, and financial advice to their widowed mothers. In most cases widowed women also are the providers of support; they are significantly more likely than widowed men to provide emotional support to their children upon the death of their father. Women’s social relationships with their children may protect against the longer-term physical and emotional strains associated with spousal loss , more generally.