On the morning of February 11th 2008, Joyce Carol Oates drives Raymond Smith, her sick husband to Princeton Medical Center and he is booked into an emergency room. He is diagnosed with Pneumonia. For anybody with a patient in a hospital, it is their prayer that their patient will get better and eventually get discharged. It the patients prayer as well. In this case, Joyce and Ray, as she commonly referred to him, hope that within a day or two, Ray is going to be discharged. His left lung has E. coli, and his right lung is later infected with a secondary infection of an unknown origin. The infection causes the plummeting of Rays blood pressure. On the morning of 18th February, at the age of 77, Ray dies before Joyce could reach the hospital. Joyce, 69, is left a widow. Joyces world comes crumbling on her feet as she tries to come to terms with the loss of the one person whom she has spent more than half of her life together- 47 years. Joyce, like anybody else who has just lost a loved one, is unprepared for this loss of a person so close.
A widows story brings to light the struggles that Joyce goes through as she tries to understand how to cope in life without the partnership that sustained her life and defined her for close to five decades. In her book, Joyce talks of how she went through denial in coming to terms with her loss, how she felt disoriented and was at the verge of committing suicide and the role which her friends played in helping her come to terms. Earlier, Joyce and Ray had had an accident and the thought of losing ray was so overwhelming for her, When I realized, the night of the car wreck, that if Ray died I would be utterly bereftthat it would be far better for me to die with him than to survive aloneI was not thinking of myself as a writer, primarily, or even as a writer at all, but as a wife. A wife who dreaded any thought of becoming a widow. The argument presented in this research paper aims at showing how widowhood is made easier with the help of loved ones just like in the case of Joyce.
(Anusic & Richard) In the article Do Social Relationships Buffer the Effects of Widowhood? A Prospective Study of Adaptation to the Loss of a Spouse state that widowhood is viewed as one of the most stressful life events. It is commonly linked to the substantial decline in the well-being of the bereaved partner. In her book, A Widows Story Joyce says, "My husband died, my life collapsed" (Oates and Ellen). Joyce is going through a period that she is totally unprepared for; the heartbreaking reality of life without her lifetime partner. Widows and widowers have been reported to grieve for their dead spouse so many years after the partner has died. They also experience distress at the mere thought of the deceased spouse. However, studies have shown that there is a difference in the manner in which different individuals react and adapt in the eventuality of widowhood. While the wellbeing of some individuals is greatly affected by the loss of a spouse, other individuals exhibit notable resilience in this difficult situation that, for most, is life changing.
The most important factor that plays a very significant role in dealing with widowhood is the presence of a strong and supportive social network in the life of the bereaved person. Like in the case of Joyce. Strong social relationships combined with a stable social network have over the years been linked to psychological and physical wellbeing. Among the most important human needs is the need for a robust, stable and reliable social relationship. Many people have a strong belief that people with a close network of friends and families find happiness and meaning in their life. Research has established beyond reasonable doubt that when people spend time together, there is more joy and happiness as opposed to when one is alone. A further study points out that people who have many social networks and relationships are happier than those with limited social connections. It is on record that how people relate to others plays an important role when it comes to the individuals well-being. Psychologists have found out that a person who regularly relates to friends and family, has a strong social support from the friends and family hence acquiring resilience when it comes to coping with stress. The person is eventually happier when compared to a person with no social support.
This explains why it is necessary to build and maintain reliable social relationships. These support networks play a very critical role in helping people in coping with difficult moments in life. This affirms the whole idea behind forming and maintaining viable social relationships more so when handling stress caused by widowhood. This is because widowhood comes about as a result of the loss of a dear relationship that plays an important role in ones life. The members of the social network assist the widows and widowers in attending to their daily household chores, meeting their financial needs as well as offering consoling and counseling them to be able to withstand the effects of stress. This, therefore, brings the conclusion that social relationships play a crucial role in bringing out the reasons as to why different people react and cope differently with widowhood situations.
According to the Article Suicide and Marital Status in the United States, 19911996: Is Widowhood a Risk Factor? widowhood is an overwhelming situation and the bereaved spouses, in the initial stages are at a high rate of committing suicide. High numbers of widows and widowers committing suicide after the death of their loved one have continued to increase from 113 to 6185 in every 100,000 citizens. This is an average of 8 to 50 times higher compared to the rate of suicide in the general population (Luoma & Jane). The worrying discovery is that little, or no attention is being paid to this group of individuals and everything is left in the hands of the families and friends.
Research posits that in the event of widowhood, individuals in the initial stages are at a higher risk of suicide when compared to those who have been widowed for a longer period (Powers et al.) This is according to the article Trajectories of Social Support and Well-Being Across the First Two Years of Widowhood. It is possible for the factors to differ, for example, race, sex, age, according to the US National Mortality data between 1991 and 1996. Joyces close circle of friends and family was very supportive, and this is what made her widowhood phase easier. If this were not the case, Joyce would have been part of these statistics.
Older adults undergo a lot of stress when trying to cope with the death of a spouse. Most likely this is a person with whom you have spent almost more than half of your life with. Ray died at the age of 77 and Joyce was 69 years. They had spent 47 years together. An approximate of thirteen million people in the U.S have lost their spouses. More than 10 million of these people fall into the category of older adults. Although researchers reveal that losing a spouse in old age may seem like something normal, there is still a lack of understanding in the immediate after loss paths in the individuals well-being and social support. This journey of trying to understand the loss of a spouse in older adults is made easier by a well-structured and functional social support variable. This, in turn, builds resilience in the bereaved spouse. With losing a spouse, one loses the primary source of all forms of support and this, in so many ways is an aversive occasion for the old widow. The initial days may seem hard to cope with, but eventually one gets the grip of their life. A group of researchers has found out, among so many factors, social support is the leading when it comes to helping cope with the deleterious effects that accompany widowhood.
It is human nature to want to belong. Humans need to create and be able to maintain a strong and at the same time stable interpersonal relationship. An individual may feel more satisfied with interactions from people with whom one has an ongoing relational bond; people to whom one is already well acquainted with. The presence of social attachments in an individuals life is essential when it comes to dealing with lifes crises when compared to having interactions with strangers; people we have little or no interaction at all may be of no help when it comes to handling such situations. The state of belonging has a myriad of positive effects on emotional well-being of an individual on his/ her cognitive process. The lack of these social attachments can be detrimental to the well-being of an individual, his or her health and the necessary adjustments in life-changing events. The need to belong is a compelling motivation. It is also fundamental and pervasive in the life if any individual especially in the time of dealing with the loss of a spouse (Baumeister & Mark).
To wrap it up, losing a spouse in the late years of an individual's life adversely affects the bereaved spouse in all dimensions possible. A number of studies have taken place in relation to how widows in their late years in life respond emotionally, their well-being and their social interactions. Something else that affects a widow is the financial factor. Most widows result in poverty, and this among the feeling of loneliness dramatically changes the life of individuals going through widowhood. Hence a great number of widows are at high risk of suicide. Joyce was able to overcome this force because of the wonderful circle of friends around her. When compared to men, women possess the ability to make and maintain more friend and acquaintances that are a gateway to the much needed emotional support at the time of grief.
Oates, Joyce Carol, and Ellen Parker. A widow's story. Fourth Estate, 2011.Anusic, Ivana, and Richard E. Lucas. "Do social relationships buffer the effects of widowhood? A prospective study of adaptation to the loss of a spouse." Journal of personality 82.5 (2014): 367-378.
Powers, Sara M., Toni L. Bisconti, and C. S. Bergeman. "Trajectories of social support and well-being across the first two years of widowhood." Death studies 38.8 (2014): 499-509.
Baumeister, Roy F., and Mark R. Leary. "The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation." Psychological bulletin 117.3 (1995): 497.
Luoma, Jason B., and Jane L. Pearson. "Suicide and marital status in the United States, 19911996: is widowhood a risk factor?." American Journal of Public Health 92.9 (2002): 1518-1522.
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