Friday, January 8, 2016

Widowed Fathers Raising Children (Research, Video 1:30)

Bertie and Alexandra Wells were married with two children when the rhythm of their lives changed drastically. Alexandra was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that raced through their love, leading to a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and finally death, all within 16 months. Bertie, pictured above reading to his young son and daughter, found himself heartbroken while thrust into a whole new parenting lifestyle. 

Bertie is one of America’s estimated annual 20,000-30,000 widowed fathers raising children. In need of ongoing support as they carry the demanding weight of personal vulnerability and loss, widowed fathers' unique concerns should be addressed by society far more than they are. Maintaining jobs to provide for their families, many widowed fathers suppress their own needs while struggling in silence as everyday dads fostering the well-being of their children.

Widowed fathers’ perspectives are important in determining positive end-of-life practices for families living with terminally ill loved ones. Their views help establish effective coping strategies after mothers have died leaving dependent children. This study, which focuses on those outcomes, included 344 men who identified themselves through an open-access educational website as widowed fathers. They all indicated that their spouses had died from cancer and that they were parenting dependent children. Participants completed surveys including their wives’ cancer history, end-of-life experiences, and their own depression and bereavement. Their views on how parental status may have influenced the end-of-life experiences of mothers with advanced cancer were emphasized. These were the results:

1)  Fathers stated that 38% of mothers had not said goodbye to their children before death, and 26% were not at peace with dying.
2)  Among participants, there were 90% reporting that their spouses were worried about the strain on their children at the end of life.
3)  Fathers who reported clearer prognostic communication between their wives and physicians had lower depression and bereavement scores.

These data clarify the need for more family assistance related to terminal illness and death impacting widowed fathers and their children. Additional research and helpful resources such as books, videos, support groups, counseling, etc. can assist them further in untying knots of grief as they create their new normal.
1) The National Widowers Organization was founded by Sam Feldman whose wife of 53 years lost her year-long battle with cancer. Promoting the development of support groups for men to manage their grief and adjust to new lifestyles, this organization also advocates for research about men's unique needs concerning spousal loss and grief. 
2)  Single Fathers Due to Cancer is located at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. Dr. Donald Rosenstein, director of the UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, started the support group a few years ago with his team, including Dr. Justin Yopp. They meet monthly with child care provided by students. The following video titled “Support for Single Fathers Due to Cancer” features Bruce Ham, a widowed father who shares his story.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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