Spousal Bereavement in Later Life: Deborah Carr and John Shep Jeffreys
S pousal loss has been described as among the most stressful of all life events, especially for older adults (Holmes & Rahe, 1967). One of the most impor-tant research discoveries in recent decades, however, is the recognition that the death of a spouse is not universally distressing. Rather, older adults’ psychological adjustment to widowhood varies widely based on characteristics of the marriage, the nature of the death, the co-occurrence of other stressful events and losses, and one’s personal and social resources including social support, economic resources, personality, and prior mental health. Although an estimated 40-70% of bereaved spouses experience a period of 2 weeks or more marked by feelings of sadness immediately after the loss, a substantial proportion-anywhere from 30% to 60%—withstand spousal loss with relatively few distress symptoms (see Wolff & Wortman, 2006, for a comprehensive review). Given that clinical depression is the exception rather than the norm in the face of late-life spousal loss, practitioners and researchers are devoting their efforts to identifying risk and resilience factors among the recently bereaved, and developing targeted interventions that take into account the highly individualized nature of spousal bereavement.