Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Nursing

Dissertation Committee

Patricia A. Roth, EdD, RN, Chairperson; Mary Ann Hautman, PhD, RN; Linda Robinson, PhD, RN


death & dying, elderly, Gerontology, Lived experience, nursing, Psychological resilience, spouses, widows & widowers


Aged widowers are at risk for increased incidence of health problems and higher mortality rates following the death of a spouse. Mens' abilities for dealing with loss have been questioned, but little research has been done with this group. Surviving widowers provided significant insights illuminating the experience of resilience and providing relevant information regarding this population. Utilizing interpretive phenomenology, a methodology advocated by van Manen, in-depth interviews were conducted researching the lived experience of resilience among nineteen elderly widowers between 71 years and 100 years of age. Participants, identified by network sampling, lived independently and had survived the death of a long term spouse. Reflection upon the stories of these resilient widowers lead to the identification of a framework for resilience comprised of six essential and twenty incidental themes. Having a strong faith was traced to their spiritual upbringing and roots. Belief in a divine power assured them they were not alone, and prayer helped them through difficult times. Preparing for eventual parting from their wives occurred over a lifetime, beginning with their military experiences. Other preparation included talking things over, performing as caregivers, and taking care of financial/living arrangements. As members of the generation who survived the Great Depression, two world wars and many social and political changes, these widowers were accustomed to just doing what you have to do. This ability was fostered by following routines and keeping busy. Overcoming loneliness was key to their resilience experience and was accomplished through maintaining connection to others in support groups, through family which sustained them, and through friendships. These men maintained focus on others rather than themselves. Staying healthy and active was accomplished through regular physical activity, having hobbies and interests, regular health care, and acceptance that health challenges will happen. Lastly, moving forward after the death of their wives was accomplished by not living in the past, being open to opportunities, and by letting go and moving on. This study's findings support theoretical work in resilience and bereavement. Through focus on the understanding of the experience and meaning of resilience to elderly widowers, implications for further research were uncovered.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access



Included in

Nursing Commons