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The Widower Effect
June 6, 2011 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I can’t live if living is without you. The Widower Effect. Also: Twins edition.

There are times however when death in close proximity is less cause and effect as it is uncanny coincidence. Take identical twins Julian and Adrian Riester. Born 92 years ago in Buffalo, the two were Franciscan friars who lived most of their lives at the St. Bonaventure Friary in upstate New York before retiring to Florida. They both died on Thursday within hours of each other. According the their joint obituary in the St. Petersburg Times, the twins made artisans tables and cabinets spending almost everyday in lockstep in their workshop or tending to the friary's gardens. The robed twins first studied radio technology in Los Angeles before moving back to upstate New York.
posted by ColdChef (43 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Toward the end of the article, it basically says that if you have strong community ties, you're not likely to have this problem.
posted by aniola at 9:31 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're trying to make me cry at work, aren't you. /identical twin
posted by chowflap at 9:32 AM on June 6, 2011


My mom died nine months after my father did. They had been together 50 years.

Distressingly enough, it's a little tough for me not to feel abandoned. I was an only child, 22 when my father died, 23 when my mom did. I was still a kid and I needed her. I've gotten better over the last few years, but the guilt at being irrationally angry at her was one of the worse facets of my grief.
posted by lydhre at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2011


The Widower Effect pretty much encompasses every existential fear I have in the universe.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:38 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the widower effect, did they control for age? Of course elderly widowers do not usually long survive their spouses. When you're old and frail it just doesn't take that much to send you into a final spiral. When my mother's stepfather, who was close to eighty, heard that his sister had died he went home and died in his sleep that night. But I'd have a hard time believing that a 30 year old who loses a spouse or a twin is that is equally likely to die in the next six months, unless it's due to suicide or reckless behaviour.
posted by orange swan at 9:39 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


My dad was a wreck when my mom died, I had never seen him like that. I can only imagine what would have happened had he not had support from family and the church community.

The upside is he's been married to my stepmom for almost 38 years, actually longer than he was with my mom.
posted by tommasz at 9:53 AM on June 6, 2011


The Widower Effect pretty much encompasses every existential fear I have in the universe.

Louis CK has a bit where he remarks that surviving the death of a spouse is the "best case scenario" because of the lifetime that preceded it, and I know that this is both an absolute truth, and the kind of thing that makes me want to drink away my ability to think about it.

Sometimes I really hate being self-aware.
posted by quin at 9:58 AM on June 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


My mother is a nurse who has spent years working in long-term care facilities and she has seen this happen time and time again - spouses dying sometimes within hours of each other, even when the first was not notably ill. My Auntie Maxine died 2 weeks after her husband of 60 years, even though she'd had Alzheimer's for years and my all appearances had no idea what was going on. Amazing, disconcerting, and heartbreaking.
posted by something something at 10:00 AM on June 6, 2011


Sorry, even when the second was not notably ill.
posted by something something at 10:00 AM on June 6, 2011


Louis CK has a bit where he remarks that surviving the death of a spouse is the "best case scenario" because of the lifetime that preceded it, and I know that this is both an absolute truth, and the kind of thing that makes me want to drink away my ability to think about it.

Sometimes I really hate being self-aware.


I hate myself a little bit for remembering this by heart, but there is a little passage in an essay by Jacques Derrida where he reflects on the sadness of the future anterior tense in the context of losing a friend—"One of us will have had to be alone." When I read that it made me want to hug my loved ones tighter but also wish that I'd never loved. :(
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:07 AM on June 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


in other news, there's a website all about Obituaries.
posted by chavenet at 10:08 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, I never get my copy of Obit Mag on time.
posted by odinsdream at 10:13 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the stress from being infinitely sad from the loss of a spouse makes you susceptible to contracting most anything due to a stress-related suppressed immune system... especially in the elderly. Also, simply loosing your will to live due to a loss of spouse... having nothing to live for causes a lot of deaths; seems pretty human. I'm not sure if their stats actually back up anything further than common sense in regards to the "widower effect."
posted by Fascinationist at 10:14 AM on June 6, 2011


"It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch."
posted by hermitosis at 10:14 AM on June 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


My heart just grew three sizes.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:15 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The death of a wife in the previous 30 days increased a husband’s risk of death by 53 percent, and the death of a husband increased a wife’s risk of death by 61 percent.

The 8% difference is most likely explained by the percentage of widowers who can't help thinking "Good lord I am about to get so much elderly tang right now!"
posted by ND¢ at 10:20 AM on June 6, 2011


Thanks so much - fascinating article. The social network theory of poverty is how I conceptualize this consideration. One way to test it though would be to see if other non-spousal dependents also had higher death rates following the Caregivers death. A child also receives resource transfers from broader society through a parent, not just the widowed spouse.

I would think though the immediate deaths after the spouse's initial death are less explained by this theory. That seems more like broken hearts. But I do think they are on to something because it does seem from my experience that networks play very importent roles in the allocation of resources which can affect living standards along many dimensions.
posted by scunning at 10:21 AM on June 6, 2011


Stuff like this is why it's so awesome to be a heartless sociopath. I'm gonna live to be 100.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:33 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for sticking that song in my head. It won't go away.
posted by zzazazz at 10:35 AM on June 6, 2011


Obit mag? Smells self-linky to me.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:41 AM on June 6, 2011


My wife made me promise I won't die before she does. So I hugged her, looked deep into her eyes and whispered "I will never die."
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:48 AM on June 6, 2011


formaldehyde...poor mans DMT.

Pops was a id twin, odd, he was named Julian and his sister Julia (alas my Gens show) They orphaned but my dad just "knew" at 17, that someone was out there. A year later he found her. Somewhere in Virgina there is a town with a bunch of dudes who I look like.
posted by clavdivs at 10:50 AM on June 6, 2011


I'm not getting why this is sad.

Loving someone so well and for so long that you're inseparable, that you follow them, even into death... what's wrong with that? You can't win at love; either the love will die, or one of you will. Living a full, loving life together is the point.

And if you love so strongly that you can't live without your spouse, that you die soon after they do, then, well, that's amazing. That's wonderful.

As long as we're going to die, there's a lot worse ways to go than from an excess of love.
posted by MrVisible at 10:55 AM on June 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Pops was a id twin, odd, he was named Julian and his sister Julia....

Your dad's identical twin was his sister? That is odd.
posted by Floydd at 11:02 AM on June 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


My grandmother predeceased my grandfather by over ten years, and by the time he passed last year I was surprised that he had made it as long as he had, because the light in his eyes faded to an occasional twinkle once she was gone. If we're lucky enough to know our grandparents, and luckier still to have meaningful relationships with them, we meet them at a time in their lives after which they've had the majority of their formative experiences while we're just at the beginning, and for that reason it can be difficult to grasp the immense importance of their relationships. The longest relationship I've ever been in lasted four years, and when that one ended (through the usual sorts of dissolution, not death) I immediately felt like someone had cut off my arm. I can't even imagine what it would be like to live with someone for fifty years or more and then have whatever unique spark making them what they were disappear from your life. There were times when I would think about my grandfather and try to grasp even a sliver of the enormity of his loss, and I just couldn't.

There's a lot of focus (just look at relationshipfilter questions, numerous self-help books, etc.) on being a fully-realized individual; that is, being a complete person unto yourself. The motivation for this is clear enough, to try and steer people away from becoming wholly dependent on someone else to determine who they are. But at the same time I think it goes a little too far... I'm not sure it's even possible for most people to be 'complete unto themselves'. For some people, maybe most people, it's not just positive but natural to become some degree of dependent and interlocked with someone else. Studies like this seem to only reinforce that.
posted by Kosh at 11:04 AM on June 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


At the local Ren Faire, on April 26th (William's birthday), you could get in free if you memorized a Shakespeare sonnet and recited it, standing on a bale of hay outside the front gate.

For some reason, the teen-aged me picked number 64. I think it's worth pasting in the whole thing:

When I have seen by Time's fell hand defac'd
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras'd
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat'ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Get me drunk and I will recite this for you. No matter how strongly you object.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:13 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


When my great-uncle died, I told my mother his wife wouldn't outlive him by more than six months. I was wrong -- by 2 days.
Most of the elderly women in our family lose their husbands and keep on trucking, sometimes for decades, but Aunt D. was different. She had always been very dependent on my uncle. They were together for 65 years, and after he died she was never the same. She had strong family ties, including grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as nieces and nephews who visited regularly and helped her out. She was involved with her church and had regular social gatherings with friends. Still, without my uncle she began to decline much faster than before. A year before that, she seemed like she could go on forever. But six months and two days after he left this world, she left it too.
posted by katemonster at 11:34 AM on June 6, 2011


Here's how it'll end for us, I hope:

Mrs. ZakDaddy and I *love* violent weather. If we could make enough at it to support our young family's lavish lifestyle (eg: braces, swimming lessons, etc.), we'd be stormchasers. As it is, when the girls are all grown and gone we're going to unload all our worldly goods and use the proceeds to buy an RV, go live on the plains, chase storms.

If I've planned it out just right, and we don't run out of funds or fuel, I figure we'll both go out in the same skyborne jumble of twisted aluminum, wrapped in each others' arms, forever and ever, amen.

Because if she dies first, I don't want to be around to see what happens after, and I'm okay with that.
posted by ZakDaddy at 11:52 AM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Kosh: "There's a lot of focus (just look at relationshipfilter questions, numerous self-help books, etc.) on being a fully-realized individual; that is, being a complete person unto yourself. The motivation for this is clear enough, to try and steer people away from becoming wholly dependent on someone else to determine who they are. But at the same time I think it goes a little too far... I'm not sure it's even possible for most people to be 'complete unto themselves'. For some people, maybe most people, it's not just positive but natural to become some degree of dependent and interlocked with someone else. Studies like this seem to only reinforce that."

QFT.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:32 PM on June 6, 2011


So I hugged her, looked deep into her eyes and whispered "I will never die." (SLYT)

Oh. I was hoping you were going to link to this.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:52 PM on June 6, 2011


"Jefferson lives!"
posted by maxwelton at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


April 26th (William's birthday)

That's Shakespeare's baptism day; no one knows for sure what his birthday was, but it's generally held to be April 23rd, because 1.) supposedly it was the custom to baptize babies three days after birth at the time, 2.) it coincides neatly with St. George's Day so you get two reasons to celebrate, and 3.) he died on the same day in 1616, making for a neat bit of symmetry.

Shakespeare Nerd Man...awaaaaaayyyy!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:39 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


MeFites are the reason I didn't go (not-by-natural-causes) after Amy passed away.
posted by mrbill at 2:45 PM on June 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


Those old song lyrics "Can't Live Without You" ... weren't kidding.

For our own sakes we need to much less in denial about the fact of death. We hear that denial every time we hear the words "So-and-so passed."

No, so and so died. Almost every body we see walking down the street today will be gone in 100 years. So obvious, but so many of us try so hard to "hold on" by "not thinking about it". Doesn't work. Not nearly as well as having a healthy, accepting, even welcoming relationship with the idea of death, which recognizes it's all around us. Spring, summer, fall.

I've always appreciated traditions which celebrate at funerals instead of mope. Rocks and dirt are common. Life is a gift. Well-lived, well-loved, its fruits speak for themselves. Spouses and parents who really want their love to live on can help their loved ones by changing their own relationship with death.
posted by Twang at 4:22 PM on June 6, 2011


My paternal grandfather was never really the same after grandma died. (She died in '95, he died in '99.) My step-aunt ended up living with him, making sure he ate regularly; then he lost his eyesight to a stroke and even his books and telescope were no longer there for comfort. They had a long complicated relationship*, and he was devoted to her.

It was hard to go out to their place to help in the massive cleanup after grandma died -- she was a bit of a hoarder -- and see him so sad, when as long as I'd known them he'd been so bright and sharp, and they were always so sweet with each other.

.

* They met in junior college, she was apparently smokin' hot, and he was a MEGANERD (coke-bottle glasses, champion of the debate team), he fell in love instantly. They went on their first date as a bet, but it took, and they got married after he became a minister, had two kids, then she met a guy when they were living in middle-of-nowhere Nevada, which was where the church sent grandpa. She took off with the kids; they got divorced, and they both got married to other people. Grandma was divorced and married again at least once more after that. They met again in the late 60s, I think; if I'm remembering family legend correctly, my aunt and step-aunt met in a support group for parents of twins** and figured out that they were step-siblings, having never met before. Grandma & Grandpa were both single again by then, met for coffee or something, and BAM! Back in love. I had no idea they'd ever been divorced until I was in my teens; you wouldn't've guessed by looking at them. (I found something from my dad's high school reunion, on which he had a completely unfamiliar last name.)

** I know, right? Twins?

posted by epersonae at 4:28 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've always appreciated traditions which celebrate at funerals instead of mope.

Best funeral I ever went to was the party for my uncle (son-in-law of grandparents previously described; he died about a week before grandpa did) -- he wasn't at all religious, and my aunt hosted a huge gathering in the house where they'd lived for decades, where she and my father grew up, actually, and his siblings and children and neighbors and friends all came and reminisced and met each other and ate food long into the night.

It was the first time I'd met one of my cousins, who's 15 years older than I am, and the first time I ever really interacted with any of my cousins on that side as an adult. Not only were we able to talk about my uncle/their dad, but they had stories about my dad that I'd never heard. It's a really precious memory.
posted by epersonae at 4:34 PM on June 6, 2011


Mom & Dad were always certain that Dad would die first (he was a high-stress ad exec, overweight, with family history of heart trouble, and her family was generally healthy & long-lived). He planned to leave her well provided for and she would spend her golden years visiting and traveling with her five sisters.

When Mom died of cancer at 63, it was like Dad's script blew out of his hands. He lived for 22 more years, and never quite understood or came to terms with what happened. Taught me that life makes no promises.
posted by squalor at 5:17 PM on June 6, 2011


And if you love so strongly that you can't live without your spouse, that you die soon after they do, then, well, that's amazing. That's wonderful.

And the alternative can be incredibly sad. My grandmother has not been the same since my grandpa died almost four years ago, after nearly sixty years of marriage. I was home for a visit not too long ago and the topic of people dying/not dying came up, and she reacted with genuine disgust at the idea that she likely had many more years to live. She told us, "Ugh... I'm ready to go now."

She's got a lot of people around her who love and support her but she just can't seem to get over her loss. I feel just awful for her... it's also hard to watch because I'm terrified that will be my reaction, or my husband's, depending on which one of us goes first.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:19 PM on June 6, 2011


My first husband had the most amazingly kind, gentle and wonderful grandparents. When his grandfather passed away, none of us thought that his grandmother would last very long, even with the strong support of her family and church, and we were right. They had been together for almost 60 years, and I think she just couldn't bear to wake up and face the day without him.

My grandfather lived a lonely, bitter 10 years after my grandmother died. He never forgave the world, and it took it out on everyone.

Of the two, I think Grandmother Rose chose a better path.

That said; one of y'all geniuses get to work on brain uploads, we can live in the clouds for real after we die! ;)
posted by dejah420 at 5:43 PM on June 6, 2011


What the dying regret.
posted by Twang at 7:01 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


duprass, n: a karass composed of only two persons. A true duprass can't be invaded, not even by children born of such a union. Members of a duprass die within a week of each other.
posted by NoraReed at 8:43 PM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


My parents got two cocker spaniels (sisters) shortly after getting married. They spent every moment of their lives together, and were miserable whenever they had to be separated even for a short time. They were pretty old by the time I was born, so I only got to see them towards the end of their lives. Eventually Muffy went blind and Dusty went deaf, and after that they walked everywhere shoulder to shoulder, helping each other get along. Muffy died first. Dusty spent the rest of her life crying the saddest puppy cries imaginable, and died just a few days later.
posted by phunniemee at 6:19 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


phunniemee, you just said that to make me cry :(
posted by owlrigh at 7:05 AM on June 7, 2011


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