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.
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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.
The consequences of widowhood for three aspects of everyday life: informal and formal social participation; housework and household maintenance activities; and the exchange of emotional and financial support among bereaved spouses and their children (Ha, 2001;)Widowhood can affect one’s participation in social activities, clubs or organizations, and visits or conversations with friends and family. It has also has been documented to increase levels of informal social participation, but not formal social participation.
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. About 95 percent of older adults live in their own independent residences, and 77 percent of older adults are homeowners (HUD, 1999).When one spouse dies, the survivor is often charged with running the household and performing the tasks that were once performed by their spouse. The personal strain is often considerable, and is most acute for those who were highly dependent on their spouses prior to death.
Along with spousal loss there are often pressures associated with the bereaved’s risks for health complications, recurring depression, and an inability to adjust. Study suggest that widowed persons experience an higher risk and greater levels of depression, anxiety, and grief symptoms during the following time periods: (1) at or around the time of the deceased spouse’s birthday; (2) during the month of January, believed to be a period of post-holiday blues, and (3) during the month of June, at the time when the married couple would have celebrated wedding anniversaries or other family-centered events such as school graduations or Father’s Day celebrations. (Zastrow).
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. research also reveals a number of important gender differences in how widowhood is experienced. Social and Emotional support is necessary for those experiencing widowhood. Widowhood affects the performance of housework duties among men and women, placing emphasis on the roles that children play in helping them maintain their households. Widowed mothers’ depend on their children and family for financial and legal advice (Ha, 2001). These women receive more support from their children than men do, and this support increases more for women than men following the loss() reflecting gender-based patterns of parent-child closeness over the life course (Ha, 2001). Newly widowed mothers maintain their role as the family’s emotional and expressive caretaker, even as they attempt to work through their own grief. The most common form of help is through social support networks. This may consist of family, friends, neighbors, self-help groups, and mutual support groups. The availability of a social support system depends on whether the bereaved has family members, friends, and neighbors who are still living and are present during the period of bereavement and can get to and from group meetings. Parents and widowed or single friends are often the most important sources of support and provide a nurturing function during the first 18 months of bereavement, (Matthews, 1991). Thereafter, until about three years, widowed or single friends, neighbors, parents, and children, in that order, become the most important sources of support. Social contact with married friends often serves as a painful reminder of what is now gone and may hinder adjustment to bereavement during this time.
Social supporters serve three major functions in the lives of the recently bereaved:
To smooth the transition to the role of a widowed person
To offer support and guidance as the widowed individual seeks to establish a new identity.
And to provide an incentive to develop new relationships,(Matthews, 1991). Determining whether social support helps or not depends primarily on three factors: where the widow is in the adjustment process; the specific type of support provided; and the source of that support, (Matthews, 1991).
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced the 5 "stages of grieving": denial (shock), bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. These stages can occur in any order, and people re-experience stages they thought they had already conquered.
Denial , occurs when the person refuses to believe the inevitable. Anger follows with feelings of rage and un-acceptance. With the third feeling bargaining, One is willing to sacrifice anything for the survival of their partner. Next, one can anticipate the feeling of grief for the loss of something significant. In the final stage is acceptance. The person eventually comes to terms with the unchangeable, (Carr, 1974).
The dying spouse will likely go through the same five stages. Although they may go through them at different times, it is important to realize what stage they are in, (Carr, 1999). The patient might start to feel abandoned and lonely. It is pertinent to keep communication ties open. It is recommended that the couple share their fears and grief to one another, (Callari, 1987).
Some common emotional reactions include sorrow, misery, emptiness, loneliness, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite, (Turner, & Helms, 1996). The Grieving process has different phases as well. Individuals may experience a period of shock and disbelief first, A period of preoccupation with the deceased and acute expressions of grief is often pursued. Finally, the recovery period is marked by acceptance of the loss and integration of the self-back into society.
The ideal situation for coping is to be able to slowly begin to look at the reality of what has happened and to express the feelings that accompany the realization of loss, Anything that promotes security and provides a sense of safety will make grieving easier. Expressing grief immediately, rather than repressing it, and going back over the events leading to the death is also helpful in coping with grief and mourning, (Glick, et al., 1974).
In order to best develop interventions to assist the bereaved with their newly acquired daily responsibilities, it is necessary to gain a fuller understanding of the nature of these responsibilities, and the alternative sources of support to which the widowed may have access to. Widowhood represents the loss of a homemaker, sexual partner, and a decision maker and/or financial resource for women. The loss of a partner who performed specialized tasks in the home may create stress for the surviving spouse, if he or she lacks the skills to perform those tasks. Evidence stongly suggests that the social relatoinships the mother have with their children may protect them to some extent from the long term physical and emotional strains associated with spousal loss (Wister,1986).
In order to address the concerns Social Service practitioners should devise intervention programs that provide assistance with important daily activities, if there is an unmet need due to the death of their spouse. Support groups should be sought, where the bereaved can learn to fulfill those tasks and use these coping strategies. Successful intervention programs should first identity precisely what is lost by the spousal death, and then through social services fill the identified void.
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