Spousal Bereavement in Late Life

Edited by




Table of Contents

Preface 00

Margaret S. Stroebe

Introduction: A History of the Changing Lives of Older 00 Couples Study

Randolph M. Nesse, Camille B. Wortman, and James S. House

Part I. Studying Bereavement: Methodological Innovations and Contextual Influences

1. Understanding Late Life Widowhood: New Directions 1 in Research, Theory, and Practice

Deborah Carr, Camille B. Wortman, and Randolph M. Nesse

2. Methodological Issues in Studying Late Life Bereavement 00

Deborah Carr

3. How Older Americans Die Today: Implications for 00 Surviving Spouses

Deborah Carr, Camille B. Wortman, and Karin Wolff

Part II. Personal Consequences of Spousal Loss

4. Psychological Consequences of Spousal Loss Among 00 Older Adults Understanding the Diversity of Responses

Karin Wolff and Camille B. Wortman

5. A Closer Look at Health and Widowhood: Do Health 000 Behaviors Change After the Loss of a Spouse?

Amy Mehraban Pienta and Melissa M. Franks

6. Interpersonal and Spiritual Connections among 000 Bereaved Older Adults

Stephanie L. Brown, James S. House, and Dylan M. Smith

7. Economic and Practical Adjustments to Late Life Spousal Loss 000

Rebecca L. Utz

Part III. New Perspectives on Grief and Bereavement

8. An Evolutionary Framework for Understanding Grief 000

Randolph M. Nesse

9. Widowhood, Grief and the Quest for Meaning: 000 A Narrative Perspective on Resilience

Robert A. Neimeyer

Part IV. Implications For Practice, Policy, and Future Research

10. Clinical Interventions with the Bereaved: What Clinicians 000 and Counselors Can Learn from the Changing Lives of Older Couples Study

Anthony D. Mancini, David L. Pressman, and George A. Bonanno

11. Implications for Public Policies and Social Services: 000 What Social Workers and Other Gerontology Practionerss Can Learn from the Changing Lives of Older Couples Study

Virginia E. Richardson

12. The Future of Late Life Spousal Bereavement 000

Deborah Carr


Why do people grieve the loss of a spouse? How long does their grief last? What, if anything, is wrong with those who experience little or no grief after their long-time spouse has died? Can widows and widowers—even those in their 70s, 80s, and older—experience personal growth and take on new challenges after their spouses die? What about those who were highly dependent on their late spouses? How will they manage alone, after years of relying on their spouse? Does how one’s spouse died matter for older adults’ adjustment? How important is social support for older bereaved spouses? Can friends and children fill the social and emotional void left by the death of one’s spouse?

Late Life Widowhood in the United States is an attempt to answer these and many other questions about the distinctive experiences of older bereaved spouses in the United States today. This volume was born when three social scientists from very different walks of life: a social demographer, a health psychologist, and a psychiatrist with expertise in evolutionary medicine, discovered that a one-of-a-kind data set, the Changing Lives of Older Couples (CLOC) study, might just provide some answers to their ever growing list of questions about bereavement. But the aim of this volume is to do more than simply answer empirical questions about grief. Rather, we hoped to push forward new theoretical perspectives on grief and loss. We wanted to revisit widely-accepted theories of grief and bereavement, and ask whether they can really be substantiated with rigorous empirical analysis. And, we wanted to move beyond theories and statistics. We hoped to offer practical information for women and men on the front lines; the social workers, clinical psychologists, clergy persons, grief counselors, hospice workers, and the many others who counsel and provide important social services to bereaved older adults. We hope that we have succeeded in these aims.

Specifically, the volume has three new and innovative themes. First, we maintain that late-life (age 65+) widowhood is the most common form of spousal loss, yet most theories of bereavement do not take into consideration the unique risk factors and resources of the elderly. Second, we argue that widowhood is being re-invented in the 21st century. Demographic shifts and advances in medical technologies have changed the way that older adults live and die; widowhood today happens largely to women, and happens at the end of a long period of spousal illness (and accompanying caregiving demands). Sweeping changes in family and gender roles over the past five decades mean that what is lost upon widowhood has changed for recent cohorts of bereaved adults. Third, we suggest that therapies, policies, and practices to help the older bereaved must be based on empirically sound state-of-the-art research findings, and we provide advice to practitioners based on the research findings uncovered in our analyses.

The book’s chapters provide a comprehensive portrait of late-life widowhood in the United States. The chapter authors document the social, psychological, and economic consequences of late-life spousal loss, and identify the factors that protect against (or that increase one’s susceptibility to) the stressors associated with widowhood. Most chapters present new research findings, based on sophisticated research methods and a unique data set—the CLOC—which allow us to avoid many of the methodological pitfalls of past studies. We were fortunate to have assembled a stellar group of authors representing a broad array of academic and professional disciplines; each shares his or her own distinctive perspective on the challenges and triumphs of older bereaved spouses in the United States today.

We recognize that Late Life Widowhood in the United States is not the final word on the ways that older adults mourn the loss of their spouse. In fact, our wish is that this volume sparks new research and triggers new questions about older widows and widowers. Important technological, economic, demographic, and cultural developments in the 21st century will once again reshape the experiences of marriage and widowhood, living and dying. We hope that the ideas presented in this volume inspire new empirical investigations and theoretical innovations in the coming decades.

Deborah Carr

New Brunswick, NJ

Randolph M. Nesse

Ann Arbor, MI

Camille B. Wortman

Stony Brook, NY