By Himself

By Himself: The Older Man's Experience of Widowhood

DEBORAH K. VAN DEN HOONAARD
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 212
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttg5b
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  • Book Info
    By Himself
    Book Description:

    An eminently readable and accessible book,By Himselfsheds new light on the social meaning of being a widower.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8652-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Part One: Introduction
    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-16)

      When an older manʹs wife dies, he enters a foreign country, one which offers few images of what it means to be a widower. The images with which he might be familiar, those in popular culture, surely do not refer to him. In popular novels, television shows and movies, the widower is usually a young, or possibly middle-aged, man whose wife has often died violently, in an accident or by being murdered, or of cancer. InHow to Talk to a Widower(Tropper 2007), the protagonist is a young widower of 29 whose wife has died in a plane crash,...

    • 2 Masculinity and Older Widowers
      (pp. 17-28)

      One of the first revelations of my research was the extent to which older widowers leaned on reinforcing their masculinity when they talked about their experiences as widowers both in what they said and how they approached the interview situation.

      The interviews initially began with the same opening question that I had used inThe Widowed Self: The Older Womanʹs Journey through Widowhood(van den Hoonaard 2001). I designed them to encourage the participants to decide what aspects of being widowed were most important to them and to elaborate on the issues about which they talked:

      What I would like...

  5. Part Two: Experiencing the Unexpected
    • 3 Becoming a Widower
      (pp. 31-47)

      The first intimation that most of the men had that they might become widowers was when their wives received a diagnosis of a terminal or potentially terminal illness. Their descriptions of the onset of their wivesʹ symptoms and the diagnosis are detailed and communicate the enormity of the event. The narratives lead up to the point of terminal diagnosis and the inevitable progression of the illness, which many summarized as ʹall downhill.ʹ

      When the widowers talked about their wivesʹ illnesses, they characterized the care they gave their wives as primarily comprising traditionally male tasks, such as renovating a room, rather...

    • 4 Early Days of Widowhood
      (pp. 48-62)

      The immediate aftermath of the death of their wives brought the widowers into a new stage of their lives, one that many were not ready to face. Some participants were quite reserved about their feelings while others, most notably the Florida group, expressed strong emotional reactions. Many discussed the support they had gotten from their family, friends, and fellow church members. Comments about how their wivesʹ funerals were planned were quite diverse. Many menʹs strongest memory of the funeral is the large number of people who attended, which they felt communicated the respect and fondness many friends and colleagues felt...

  6. Part Three: Negotiating Relationships with Others
    • 5 Widowersʹ Relationships with Their Children
      (pp. 65-83)

      Many authors have suggested that, because women are the traditional kinkeepers, widowers might find that their relationships with their children deteriorate or become more distant when their wives are no longer around to mediate and arrange visits. Although this phenomenon is undoubtedly true for some men, the widowersʹ descriptions of these relationships were more complex and diverse than this generalization might suggest.

      As Alinde Moore and Dorothy Stratton discovered inResilient Widowers, adult children play a variety of roles in their widowed fathersʹ lives. They note that these children:

      provided emotional support … participated in social activities with their fathers...

    • 6 Women in the Lives of Widowers
      (pp. 84-106)

      One of the most ubiquitous stereotypes regarding widowers is captured in the phrase that upon becoming widowed, ʹwomen grieve and men replace.ʹ My interviews with widowers reinforced the commonly held belief that finding a new woman is an intrinsic part of widowhood for men. Indeed, issues related to remarriage or finding a woman companion permeated the interviews and arose in response to a variety of questions that asked men to talk about their experience as widowers; in general, what it is like living alone, and to comment on their relationships with their adult children. The men exhibited a desire to...

    • 7 Relationships with Friends
      (pp. 107-120)

      Friendship is one of those areas in which we often think of women as the specialists, and thus, there is very little understanding of the nature and process of older menʹs friendship. The research that does exist identifies menʹs reliance on their wives for friendship, the lack of intimate connections with friends, the things that inhibit menʹs forming close friendships, and, to a greater and greater extent, friendship in terms of social support (Adams 1994, Moore and Stratton 2002). Men, according to Powers and Bultena (1976), often rely on their wives to make friends, are dependent on their wives for...

  7. Part Four: Experiencing Everyday Life
    • 8 Everyday Life in and out of the House
      (pp. 123-147)

      The absence of their wives as companions in their activities was a frequent theme in the lives of older widowers, although the approaches and levels of participation varied. Being busy is a notable antidote for loneliness, and the widowers located the responsibility for finding things to do in themselves. For many, being alone and being lonely were virtually synonymous. A few other men had worked at solitary jobs throughout their lives, and, therefore, did not find being alone as challenging.

      To avoid a solitary existence, the men needed to avoid spending too much time in their houses. The feeling of...

    • 9 Cooking and Housework
      (pp. 148-160)

      When I tell people that I am doing a study about older menʹs experiences as widowers, they often comment that older men are not able to ʹtake care of themselves,ʹ that is, cook, clean, and do laundry. These remarks reflect widely shared stereotypes about menʹs ability, or lack thereof, to survive on their own. This stereotype is not entirely fallacious. Lund, Caserta, and Diamond (1993: 246), for example, report that older men are ʹdeficient in a predictable set of skills, including cooking, shopping, and housecleaning.ʹ Similarly, a study of household and marital roles (Keith 1994) found that majorities of older...

  8. 10 Conclusion
    (pp. 161-168)

    What is the foreign country like, into which men are thrust when their wives die? How do widowers manage to navigate when they arrive there? As we have seen, most of these men were totally unprepared for their lives as widowers. They had expected to die before their wives and had few role models. Even when they knew that their wives were dying, there was no reference group with which they could begin to identify as their initiation as widowers approached. When their wives died, they were thrust into the land of singlehood.

    A few men referred to themselves as...

  9. Appendix: Interview Guide
    (pp. 169-170)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-176)
  11. References
    (pp. 177-188)
  12. Index
    (pp. 189-198)