Phenomenological Inquiry of Widowed Fathers’ Experiences with Bereavement and Meaning-Making

Sara Cunningham, Fordham University


Widowed fathers with dependent-age children have traditionally been overlooked in the literature, despite findings that indicate they are vulnerable to experiencing significant distress and difficulty adjusting to their new roles. Meaning-making may be integral to widowed fathers’ bereavement given the untimely nature of their loss; however, this construct has yet to be empirically investigated in this population. This qualitative research study sought to address the gaps in the literature by exploring how 16 heterosexual, cisgender men, ages 47 to 77, experienced losing their wives, navigating widowed fatherhood, and making meaning from the loss. Utilizing a phenomenological methodology of data collection and analysis, 10 main, interrelated themes were revealed that served to capture the evolution of their experiences, beginning with their wives’ deaths and concluding with adjusting to widowed fatherhood and learning to live with the loss. Meaning-making involved learning, growing, and accepting the loss despite its perceived senselessness. Their relationships with their children and experiences with dating new romantic partners were at the intersection of these experiences. The social constructs of masculinity, grief, and widowhood uniquely shaped their bereavement and adjustments. Overall, the findings showed that widowed fathers with dependent-age children ultimately adjust to their new roles and come to terms with the senselessness of the loss by developing a new normal and making meaning. Their children contributed to their resilience as their families collectively rebuilt their lives. The findings have implications for clinical practice, future research, and giving voice to an understudied population.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology|Individual & family studies

Recommended Citation

Cunningham, Sara, "Phenomenological Inquiry of Widowed Fathers’ Experiences with Bereavement and Meaning-Making" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28647331.