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The significance of social relationships in managing later life widowhood Tracy Collins

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1 The significance of social relationships in managing later life widowhood Tracy Collins

2 Background to the study  Explores the personal communities of older women during widowhood  Personal communities –  Consist of social relationships that provide structure, meaning and support  As such they may help manage transitions such as later life widowhood

3 Methodology  Qualitative framework taking a realist humanist approach in order to gain subjective experiences  Longitudinal design in order to capture the process of change and unfolding events over time

4 Methods  Sample of twenty six older women  Mixed methods -  Personal community diagrams  In depth interviews and the discussion of Christmas cards analysed using inductive thematic analysis employing a semantic approach  Three stages over eighteen months

5 Personal community diagram  Three concentric circles  Inner circle – name people that are very close and important to you  Middle and Outer circles – name people that are less close but still important to you

6 First stage of findings – the structure of personal communities  Baseline types of personal communities identified through the structure of diagrams at stage one  Six personal community types identified consisting of different combinations of family, friends and others

7 Personal community types  Family only (2 women)  Concentrated family (8 women)  Diluted family (6 women)  Friends with family centrality (4 women)  Friends with mixed centrality (3 women)  Mixed with family centrality (2 women)  One anomaly

8 Hannah – Family only I’ve got my three sons, three sons and their wives and their children, the grandchildren, they are the closest, definitely, I feel secure with them, because having a family, you cannot expect any one else to devote so much time to you as they do.

9 Deirdre – Concentrated family You don’t like to think that you are imposing on your children, you don’t like to be dependent on your children, I wouldn’t want that…I think going out and being on the committees and going out and helping other people really has been a big help to me…you know going out and still meeting people of me own generation.

10 Jane – Diluted family Henry and Jess are my closest friends, I haven’t seen them for sometime but we keep in touch, he helped me so much during his funeral…I’ll put Sally and Phil next door because they’re always there for me.

11 Gloria – Friend with family centrality Jean, she makes scones, and when Alf was here she used to bring us two fresh scones, and she’s brought me, she used to make lobby with corned beef…and it was enough for us, she’s ever such a good woman.

12 Beverly – Friend with mixed centrality I would say Alice is very important, she’s really, to me she’s a friend…and I’ll put May on there, she’s my best friend, we go away together, and she’s been a widow, is it thirteen years now, so she was very good.

13 Megan – Mixed with family centrality My son…he just lives over there…he’s very close, I see him everyday, he rings me up and we go out together, he is very supportive and his wife and two children, so its nice having family…we walk his dogs every morning, and quite often we go out together and things like that, probably do our shopping together, so no, without a doubt he is my greatest support.

14 The importance of family  Family form the most intimate social ties for most of the women in this study  Friends, neighbours and others appear more frequently as secondary ties in the less close and important middle and outer circles of the diagrams

15 Friendships and other ties  Friends –  Older friendships are continuous and described as close and almost like family  Newer friendships are formed from shared interests and neighbourliness  Community ties –  Increased social interaction through community resources and organisations when widowed

16 Mapping personal communities over time  Diagrams used at three points therefore able to chart any changes as they happened  Some of the women’s personal communities in terms of size remained relatively stable over the course of the three interviews  Others grew quite significantly

17 Change and stability in personal communities  Shifts took place in all of the personal community types except the ‘concentrated family’ type, suggesting that this is the most stable  Overall family continued to form the most intimate of the women’s social ties throughout the study

18 Hannah – shift from family only to concentrated family Oh yes twice a week, I go there, yes, yes enjoy it because a lot of people are, er all pensioners, it’s all a lot of widows, yes…and they are all friends and we are all in the same situation, we’ve lost somebody.

19 What the diagrams tell us about social relationships in widowhood  They tell us about the structure of the women’s personal communities during the change process  The data they provide are largely normative and static – a snapshot

20 What the diagrams don’t tell us about social relationships in widowhood  Although members (the structure) of personal communities may not necessarily change greatly during transition  The nature (the content) of social relationships may have to be renegotiated as the personal identities of the older women alter in widowhood (the change process)

21 What’s next?  The content of the women’s personal communities –  The process of change and the emotional aspects of relationships with family, friends and others are explored through the women’s accounts of the social ritual of Christmas and the discussion of their Christmas cards during the second and third interviews

22 Second stage of findings – the content personal communities  Emerging themes capture fluidity and meaning –  Christmas demonstrates remembering the past and looking to the future (locates process)  Meanings of normally linear routine experiences of personal communities appear to be intensified during the cyclical significant period of Christmas  Managing change is complex involving the interplay of self and others; continuity, obligation, discontinuity and negotiation are apparent  There appear to be inherent contradictions between the structure and content of personal communities and these need to be explored further

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