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In Their Own Words:

How Women Changed Since the Death of Their Husbands

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

Peabody/Vanderbilt University

In my doctoral dissertation titled, Perceptions of the Widow’s Bereavement Process by Her Adult Child, I asked the the following question to the 59 widowed women in the study:

"How do you feel that you’ve changed since your spouse died? List 3 of the most

significant ways (if any) that indicate how you are different."

In analyzing their responses I discovered that they fell into seven categories:

Emotional, Increased Skills, Personality, Spiritual, Physical, Financial, Relationships

Here is what they said. If you are widowed, see which ones apply to you.


Alone, without spouse

Although I’m relatively financially secure, I’m afraid to spend .

Anxious, uncertain, suspicious, take nothing for granted.



Sad all the time


Empty and hopeless feelings

Express my feelings more

Feel less adequate to me decisions

Stronger ally and psychologically

Stronger, don’t need absolute control.

Finally, acceptance

Guilt over not caring for grandchildren Had to be self-reliant (completely)


I am extremely depressed, unhappy, and lonely.

I am frightened by the uncertainty of my future.

I cry too much when alone.

I have become belligerent if someone tries to tell me how to run my life.

I have moods of depression.

I try harder not to worry about my new husband.

I’m not as cheerful or happy

Less angry

Less anxiety about being out at parties

Less bothered with housework

Less concerned about my own death

Life is more purposeless.

Lonely even if other people are around

Low esteem

More aware of the hurt that others suffer.

Much more al and sentimental

Resentful of others happiness and togetherness


Worry more about the future

Increased Skills

I have become more independent. (The most popular response.)

Aware of having to take care of myself

Become self-supporting

Better understanding of financial affairs

A better business person because I have had to be.

Acceptance of total responsibility for self, house, life, etc.

Going places by myself

Grew to meet my problems

Have more confidence in myself

Helpful to others

I am a career woman.

I am more self-sufficient, stronger.

I have become more self-sufficient.

I have learned to be a “person” on my own.

I take charge of my own business.

I talk more in a group.

I’ve become more aware of other people feelings.

I’ve been forced to manage house, alone.

I’ve learned I have to be responsible for myself.

I’ve matured because I’ve had to do new things.

Learned how to make decisions

Learned to do things (mechanically) that I had never done before.

Excellent gardener

More handy around house

More concerned about practical affairs, finances, etc.

More reliant on my own decisions

More self-sufficient, more self-confident

My life requires an extremely imposed discipline of work/companionship.


Skilled repair woman

Personality 3


As a perfectionist, I feel I am spread too thin.

Afraid to “speak my mind” openly

Feel more able to interact with people outside the home

I am less trusting of others than I need to be

I am quieter.

I come to understand myself better, who I am, and what I want.

I don’t have the interest to go on trying.

I don’t laugh often.

I don’t take what I have for granted anymore.

I feel different about my work since I have to work.

I think I am not different.

I have less purpose in life.

I feel more inhibited in my actions or speech.

I get discouraged trying to live alone.

I have become spoiled (living alone)

I haven’t been able to “trust” that another person could care for me as my husband did.

I live each day more fully rather than saving everything for the future.

I must go on and live as he would want me to.

I stay at home more.

I’m not as sure of myself as I was while he was with me.

I’ve finally realized that life isn’t a game, I don’t think I’ll ever be as carefree as I was before becoming responsible (entirely) for the children. I’ve not quite yet learned to live with the knowledge that I do it alone.

Everything has gotten much harder to deal with and sometimes I just sort of “cave in.”

Kinder to myself

Learned that happiness is a choice

Learned to accept living alone (but not to like it)

Learned to accept people for what they are. You cannot change them.

Learned to ask for help and accept it gratefully

Learned to be myself not worrying about others opinions.

Learned to make decisions on my own

Learning too slowly to going alone, but feel if and when I accept the fact, “this is the way it is,” I will be a stronger person.

Less concerned about outside opinion.

Less judgmental of others

More aggressive

More calm

More comfortable with my own mortality

More compassionate

More confident in myself regarding my ability to work things out.

More content

More cynical

More dependent upon friends

More difficult to “do business” with

More easygoing, less critical of others

More fun

More of a loner

More outgoing

More positive

More thoughtful

More tolerant

Much more mature, but a little hardened

Not as cheerful (or more irritable).

Not as outgoing

Not a first-class citizen

Not quite as patient with people

Not trustful of men

Nothing to live for, no one needs me

People tell me I appear to be more serious.

Politically much more liberal

Probably more selfish

Still learning to be alone, but not lonely

Take life more easy


Travel more, keep moving and involved

Try to live each day more fully.


Withdrawn from life

Work a little more than right before he died


Closer to God and my church

Free thinking in matters of religion

Greater faith in God

Deeper life

More dependent on God for help and guidance

More religious

More reverent in my thinking

More confidence, worry less (because of turning to more faith in God)

Physical 5

Can’t sleep

Become more concerned about my physical condition.

A healthier person

Don’t eat like I should

More lazy


Concerned about money management

Responsible for all finances

I devote more time to work than family.

More cautious with spending

More inclined to spend money and spoil children

More knowledgeable of finances


Developed more friends of mine rather than ours

Empathy I feel for people more.

Even more concerned about children than before

Close to my sisters even more than before

I have a void in my life that’s hard to fill

I love my new husband very much.

I’ve tried to live as I did when he was with me hoping someday that I’ll see him again.

It’s hard to love someone; scared they might die.

Knowledge I can enjoy companionship of friends

More women as friends. Most are alone too

Seek company of interesting female companions

Tend to love and appreciate others more

Try to be understanding of other people’s problems.

Understanding of others

There they are: More than 150 examples of changes from women who’ve been widowed between one and ten years. Interestingly, only one person stated that she did not change. Even though this study was conducted in the mid-nineteen eighties, the answers are still relevant today. Many of the changes are negative, which confirms what widowed women clearly know: coping with the loss of a husband is a longterm (even lifelong) adjustment process. However, some of the changes for some of the women are positive. The most common change is centered around the concept of Independence as shown by responses such as: stronger, content, making my own decisions, confident, and less concerned about the opinion of others. Future research should focus on changes that widowed men experience.

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