Death and the Maiden – How women deal with grief

Ahead of International Widows’ Day tomorrow (June 23), Dr Anna Pedrosa Carrasco, Specialty doctor at Sir Michael Sobell House, Oxford University Hospitals, UK, talks about widowhood. This post is an introduction to Anna’s longer article published in the March/April issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care.

Anna Pedrosa Carrasco

Do you know what’s coming up tomorrow – 23 June 2017? On this day, International Widows’ Day is taking place for the 13th time, a global day recognised by the United Nations in 2010 to raise public awareness of the issue of widowhood.1 There is nothing new in the fact that women are more likely to experience a partner’s death than men. In fact, the total number of widows worldwide is estimated to be greater than the sheer magnitude of 258 million. 2 All the more alarming is the unfavourable situation that many women find themselves in after bereavement. In recent years, the United Nations has endeavoured to draw attention to this, which is summarised in the following statement:

“Absent in statistics, unnoticed by researchers, neglected by national and local authorities and mostly overlooked by civil society organizations – the situation of widows is, in effect, invisible.” 3

It is hardly surprising that partner loss indicates a major life stressor with a severe impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of the bereaved. Societies all over the world need to consider how to drive changes that will enable women to live in sound health and dignity after a partner’s death. In the definitions of palliative care, support of the family is consistently listed as a key responsibility, not only during a patient’s illness but also after death. Acknowledging the often-precarious situation of women after the loss of a partner, we – as professionals involved in palliative and hospice care – certainly ought to reflect on how we can contribute to improving the experiences of these women. But what do service providers need to know about bereaved women’s situations to identify those at high risk of complex grief issues? How can palliative care and bereavement services effectively provide support to women during this difficult time?

Despite grief being generally considered a highly individualised response to death, there is a consensus that social circumstances may exert a significant influence on its course. To scrutinise the role of the female gender in the social context of grief after partner loss, we searched the literature for relevant evidence resulting in our article in the European Journal of Palliative Care. For example, our findings suggest that women tend to display a more loss-focused behaviour than men while simultaneously they usually benefit from broader social networks that facilitate restoration-orientation. This advantage of social engagement, however, decreases along with age-related frailty and diminished social embedding. Furthermore, women who adopted a traditional role model and strongly depended on their partners exhibit worse bereavement outcomes.

We hope that our narrative literature review raises awareness of the delicate situation of bereaved women, explicitly pointing out social aspects that may affect the course of grief. It is intended to offer guidance to health and social care professionals to identify specific risk and protective factors in order to provide targeted and tailored bereavement support.


  1. The Loomba Foundation. International Widows’ Day, 2017. (Accessed 9 May 2017).
  2. The Loomba Foundation. The Global Widows’ Report 2015 – A global overview of Deprivation Faced by Widows and their Children. (Accessed 6 May 2017). Available here.
  3. United Nations. International Widows’ Day – 23 June. (Accessed 6 May 2017). Available here.

Read the full article in the European Journal of Palliative Care

This post relates to a longer article, Death and the Maiden – How women deal with grief’ by Anna Pedrosa Carrasco and Jonathan Koffman, published in the March/April 2017 edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care (vol. 24.2).

If you have a web-based subscription to the journal you’ll be able to download this issue, plus all articles in the journal archive. You can also browse the archive and download articles by taking a 10-minute or 30-minute subscription. Members of the EAPC receive discounted subscription rates to the journal – click here to subscribe online.

Read more posts relating to articles published in the European Journal of Palliative Care on the EAPC Blog

This entry was posted in BEREAVEMENT, EAPC-LINKED JOURNALS, European Journal of Palliative Care and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Death and the Maiden – How women deal with grief

  1. Pingback: Death and the Maiden – How women deal with grief – Palliative Care NSW

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.