"Who Am I Now?": Widows' Learning Journeys in Self-identity
Volavka, Nancy Sue
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Spousal death has been described as both a trauma and a “seismic event” (Montpetit et al.) and it is not unusual for one to experience PTSD symptoms. With almost one million people a year in the United States entering widowhood, research about the experiences of widows coping and growing from this tragedy are few, if any. This study, using narrative inquiry, included interviews with seven widows, as well as fieldnotes and writing prompts. It explores the meanings and values widows understood as a result of their new status. Findings suggest that women struggled with capitalist patriarchal societal norms that valued efficiency and rationalism over humanity and emotion, and thereby neglected to provide the needed attention to the grieving widow. As the sample was selected based on those widows who pursued further education after their husband’s death, a key finding was that education, formal and informal, made a major difference in their recovery and sense of autonomy. Predominately using the feminist theoretical lenses of Belenky et al. (1997) “women’s ways of knowing” and Nel Noddings (1994) “ethics of care and education,” both formal and informal learning processes explained the importance of relationships, society, and identity in widowhood. A widow’s world changes not only from the death of her spouse but also in private and public domains that can dramatically compound her grief and desire to live. This study makes recommendations for social institutions and what society in general can do to educate its members and even widows themselves to navigate this experience with more strength and optimism.
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