Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Johanna S. Hunsaker, PhD; Edward Kujawa Jr., PhD; Carolyn Balkwell, PhD; John D. Clapp, PhD


biographical methodology, Coping strategies, death & dying, qualitative, transformational, widowhood, women


This qualitative research study has explored the lives of 13 women who were widowed before the age of 55, who are professionals, educators, businesswomen, and community activists, to learn how their lives have been transformed since the death of their spouse. For this study, the death of a spouse was seen as a transforming event in the life of a married woman. The nature of this transformation varied with each respondent. Portraiture was the primary biographical methodology used. Purposive sampling provided the opportunity to interview women from diverse backgrounds. Five global, open-ended interview questions were used and demographic data were gathered. The data collected suggest each widow's experience is unique and universal and no two journeys through widowhood are exactly the same. Life is a narrative in which marriage, for the 13 participants in this study, has been a major part of their conversations. The death of their spouses represented punctuation marks in their lives, leaving them with many question and exclamation marks. The death of a spouse has signified the end of her married life, a time in which she has been forced to reexamine what was, is, and yet to come. It is evident that these women in varying degrees still carry the conversation of their married life with them through the eyes of their children and the continuing relationships they have with their deceased spouses. Given the multidimensional reality of these 13 women's lives, which at times has transcended traditional boundaries of time and space, these are exceptional yet ordinary women. The participants used a myriad of coping strategies to wade through the initial analyses of shock, anger, sorrow, and disbelief to come to where they stand today. In doing so, the winds of time became the threads which propelled them forward. Each thread knotted with their own determination and the support of other widows, friends, family, educational pursuits, work, and a commitment to children has served as the backdrop for their successes. Each has painted her own portrait of courage and determination.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access