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Narratives of death: a qualitative study of widowhood in later life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2000

Department of Human Communication, De Montfort University, UK
Department of Human Communication, De Montfort University, UK


In this paper, we examine the descriptions given by women of the deaths of their husbands. Almost all the women gave elaborate narratives of the events that led up to their husband's death and of the death itself. These show that they identified earlier events as contributory factors in their husband's death and in the emotional impact upon them. They also show the detail with which these women recall their actions during this difficult time. The length of these accounts often contrasts with the remainder of the interview, where there are much shorter conversational turns. It is suggested that the events are shaped into narrative form because they are frequently mentally rehearsed. Two reasons for this are proposed. First, remembering these events is a goal in itself. Preserving the memory of these events is important both for the widows themselves and as a demonstration of respect for their husbands. Second, the narrative shape, and the attendant fluency, may be the result of relating the events on many occasions to other people. Elsewhere in the interviews, the widows speak of the need to recount these events, and talk about them, as a means of coping and surviving. This paper presents some of these ‘death narratives’ and discusses the implications of the research.

Research Article
© 2000 Cambridge University Press

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