Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Phenomenon of spouses dying close to each other

From MSNBC, an article by health editor Linda Dahlstrom

Never to part: Devoted couples share life, death

"Dying beside the love of your life and passing into eternity together is the stuff of legends, but it’s also a documented phenomenon among longtime couples.

Studies around the world have shown that the rate of mortality spikes among bereaved spouses soon after their beloved has died. One study published last year by researchers at the University of Glasgow followed more than 4,000 couples and found that, on average, widows and widowers were at least 30 percent more likely to die of any cause in the first six months following a spouse’s death than those who hadn’t lost a partner. Another large study in Jerusalem found the bereaved spouse's risk of death during those first six months rose by up to 50 percent.

“We see it all the time,” says Dr. Hope Wechkin, the medical director of Evergreen Hospice in Kirkland, Wash. “Often a patient will come on to [hospice] service and we find out their spouse has died six weeks earlier or so. … I think it’s about connection. For many people, their spouse represents their greatest sense of connection to this world.”


Do any of you know couples in which this phenomenon happened?

10 comments:

Anne said...

And this bereavement effect may be much stronger greater than the article indicates--because many widows and widowers who don't die immediately after the death of their spouse instead slide very quickly into dementia or other incapacitating conditions.

Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

The day my grandmother went into the hospital for the last time, my grandfather had himself admitted through ER, saying he wanted to "go upstairs and die with Nelly." He quit eating and was gone within two weeks of her.

Deb said...

Yes, two couples. It was rather sad to see it unfold in such a quick timeline.

may said...

i have heard of couples who died few weeks or months apart. the sick side of me always thought..."oh. how sweet."

kath8562 said...

Had a local instance of that happening to a pair of sisters, both Doctors of Podiatry.


"Dr. Margaret O'Neil, "Peggy" to her family, friends and patients, drew her last breath on a warm Sunday afternoon in the living room of her Bridgeport home. Sixty-seven hours and 10 minutes later, on Wednesday, Dr. Alyce Muldoon died in the same room. O'Neil was 88. Muldoon was 86. They were sisters, brought up during the Depression in a big Irish immigrant family, daughters of Patrick and Bridget Connelly O'Neil."

Barbara K. said...

I know of one sad story in which one partner died unexpectedly of a heart attack. a year later the surviving partner committed suicide.

Thanks Anne, Virginia, Deb, May, and Kath for your stories. I didn't fully realize how frequently this happened.

Peter said...

This just happened with my parents. My mother died five months ago after a short illness. My father was relatively ok for about 2 months. However by the 3 month, we noticed the beginning of dementia. We brought him to live with us and within a week, he had to go to the hospital due to both physical problems as well as mental ones (depression). After a couple of trips between the hospital and nursing home, he was starting to not eat, getting thinner and weaker. He passed away yesterday. Both my parents didn't have a strong social network. My father in particular, didn't have many friends and the few he had had passed away. So their lives revolved around each other and to their kids.

It was still a shock to us and I heard of this phenonomen but didn't realize how prevalent it is until I read more about it.

Barbara K. said...

Peter - I am sorry for your losses. This does happen, more frequently than I imagined. I hope that you and your family find your way to peace.

Anonymous said...

My mother died 2 months after my father, who died unexpectedly. He was 90, but seemed to be in excellent health for a man his age. Soon after his death, my mother became ill but refused to go to the doctor and tried to hide how sick she was. She stopped eating and drinking because she was so ill. The pain finally became too much for her to take; she went to the doctor but it was too late and she died a few days later. I will always consider her death a suicide; it hurt our family very much. I know she didn't mean to hurt us but coming so soon after my father's death, it was almost too much to bear. There were plenty of people who were trying to help her but she just wanted to die.

Sheila said...

My father went to hospital to receive breathing treatments for COPD which happened about 2-3 times a year. My mother who had mild dementia seemed to catch a cold but nothing we or she thought was serious. My father conditions worsened fast and we had to have mom taken to ER because she was almost unresponsive. She was not aware of the dire condition of my dad. She had double pneumonia and was placed on Bi Pap machine. Next night at 11:20 pm my father passed and at 12:20 am my mother did also. 1 hour apart.It was shocking and I still don't understand why.