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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 00:43 GMT
Spousal death 'not so upsetting'
Some 16% experienced chronic grief
The death of a spouse may not affect people quite as severely as it was thought, a US study suggests.

The Michigan team followed 1,500 couples over the age of 65, looked at the quality of their marriages and the effects on one after the other died.

Almost half said they had enjoyed their marriages but had been able to cope with the loss without much grieving.

Experts previously thought those with minimal grief lacked close attachment to their spouse or were in denial.

The old paradigm would have seen this absence of grief as emotional inhibition
Deborah Carr

Deborah Carr, Rutgers University sociologist, who began the study while she was at the University of Michigan, said: "Forty-six per cent of the widows and widowers in this study reported they had satisfying marriages.

"They believed life is fair and they accepted that death is part of life."

She added that many surviving spouses took great comfort in their memories.

"Taken together, these findings provide strong evidence that men and women who show this resilient pattern of grief are not emotionally distant or in denial, but are in fact well-adjusted individuals responding to the loss in a healthy way," Ms Carr said.

The research team also discovered that the death of a partner was a relief to 10% of those widowed.


Ms Carr said that these people had been depressed before the bereavement and improved afterwards.

She said: "These are people who felt trapped in a bad marriage or onerous care-giving duties and widowhood offered relief and escape.

"The old paradigm would have seen this absence of grief as emotional inhibition or a form of denial but in our view these are people for whom bereavement serves as the end of a chronic source of stress."

The study also found that 16% of surviving spouses experienced chronic grief lasting more than 18 months.

One in 10 had high levels of depression six months after the loss but this seemed to recede considerably after 18 months.

Cruse Bereavement volunteer Annie Kiff-Wood said the result was not really a surprising one.

"Our experience is that the older you are, the more you may understand that death is part of living and you may therefore more easily come to terms with the loss and the grieving process, difficult and painful though it will be.

"Your grieving happens in the context of the knowledge that it's natural that, as you get older, death will occur."

She suggested the results might be different if a younger age-group was studied.

The findings are reported in a new book, Spousal Bereavement in Late Life, co-authored by psychologist Camille Wortman of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Aging in the US.

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