When someone loses their husband or wife through death and has not remarried they are known as a widowed person. Women are described as ‘widows', and men as ‘widowers'. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the phrase originated from Indo European language to mean ‘to be empty, or separated', to be ‘destitute' or ‘to lack'.
When you get married and exchange rings the wedding ring becomes a symbol of your love and dedication to your significant other. When your partner dies it can be difficult to know what to do with the ring, but there is no pressure to take it off or make any decisions straight away. Your decision may depend on the circumstances of death, your attachment to the ring and whether or not it provides comfort or upsetting reminders of their illness. These are some of the most popular choices for dealing with a wedding ring when you become widowed:
Keep wearing it;
Move it to your right hand;
Wear it on a necklace;
Store it somewhere special;
Melt it down and redesign it;
In the same way as there is no formulaic approach to what you do with a wedding ring there is no formal title for addressing a widow. While men have the fortune of retaining the same title when they are single or married the situation is often not quite as simple for a woman.
There are three titles for women: Mrs, Ms and Miss, so when someone's husband dies it may be difficult to know how to address them, or if your husband dies, how to refer to yourself. Ultimately the decision is up to the impacted person. This decision can also be impacted if the person is a mother, and wishes to keep a shared name with her children or child.
Even if your husband dies you are still Mrs So-and-so but it is also okay to use the title ‘Ms', ‘Miss' or revert back to your maiden name for unofficial purposes. If it is a family member or friend who has become widowed the best approach would be to ask them how they would like to be addressed. Depending on how long has passed since the person's death, the widowed may also change their mind on how they would like to be addressed.
When someone who is financially dependent on their spouse becomes widowed it can be difficult to maintain the same quality of life they had while their partner was still alive. The federal government used to offer welfare payments known as a ‘widow's allowance' to support these individuals. The support package was previously available for widowed, divorced or separated women who were born before 1 July 1955 and became widowed after the age of 40. However, this payment will cease to exist from January 1, 2022.
There are a number of alternative support packages and other payments available for people who have lost a partner, but they are typically only available if you were already receiving some form of government assistance.
Bereavement payments - If you are in a relationship and your partner dies by severe illness or a sudden accident, you may be able to get a lump sum bereavement payment. To be eligible, you both needed to be getting a pension or income support payment for 12 months or more. A bereavement payment is usually equal to the total you and your partner would've got as a couple, minus your new single rate. You can get it for up to 14 weeks after your partner's death.
Pension Bonus Bereavement Payment - If your partner was a registered for the Pension Bonus Scheme with the Department of Veterans Affairs and died before making a successful claim for the Age Pension and Pension Bonus you may be eligible for the benefits of this payment. The payment is based on the amount of Pension Bonus your partner would have received. You must submit a claim within 26 weeks of your partner's death to receive this income.
Carer Allowance - If you receive a Centrelink Carer's Payment you will continue to receive this carer allowance payment for up to 14 weeks after they die. You may also get a lump sum bereavement payment, and other benefits depending on your circumstances and social security reliance.
Age Pension - If you are an Australian resident aged 67 and pass the asset and income test you may be eligible for the Age Pension.
Job Seeker - if you're between 22 and Age Pension age and looking for work or you're sick or injured and can't do your usual work or study you may be eligible for the Job Seeker payment.
In addition to the payments mentioned above Centrelink will also offer support if your spouse dies and you were both recipients of the ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Farm Household Allowance, JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance.
As Centrelink payments and entitlements change regularly you should contact Centrelink directly on 132 300 to see if you are eligible.
One of the reasons specialised grief support is so important for widows and widowers is because of the ‘widowhood effect'. This phenomenon describes how adults who have lost a spouse face an increased risk of dying compared to those whose spouses were still alive.
This effect is greatest within the first three months after death. While the exact cause of death for people experiencing the widowhood effect is unknown, researchers believe it may be related to the stress of grief. The widowhood effect can lead to self-neglect, lack of support and e decline in lifestyle connected to losing a partner. If you are struggling with the death of your significant other please reach out to some of the below support networks, or other grief support services.
A number of not for profit organisations offer specific grief support services for someone who has lost their partner.
First Light Widowed Association: The organisation connects widowed people to available resources, programs and community services support to help rebuild their lives after the death of their spouse or partner.
Solace Australia: This organisation was formed in 1983 to offer grief support for widows and widowers. The group has branches in NSW, the ACT, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. Most branches offer face-to-face meetings and there is telephone support available.
Safewill offers affordable, flexible and compassionate support on all end of life services and legal administration. From helping you plan a stress free cremation, to easing the probate process- Safewill can make that difficult time a little easier.