Intended for healthcare professionals

Medical Practice

The Hallucinations of Widowhood

Br Med J 1971; 4 doi: (Published 02 October 1971) Cite this as: Br Med J 1971;4:37
  1. W. Dewi Rees


    227 widows and 66 widowers were interviewed to determine the extent to which they had hallucinatory experiences of their dead spouse. The people interviewed formed 80·7% of all widowed people resident within a defined area, in mid-Wales, and 94·2% of those suitable, through the absence of incapacitating illness, for interview.

    Almost half the people interviewed had hallucinations or illusions of the dead spouse. The proportion of men and women who had these experiences was similar. The hallucinations often lasted many years but were most common during the first 10 years of widowhood. Social isolation did not affect the incidence of hallucination, nor was it related to the incidence of known depressive illness. There was no variation within cultural groups and there was no variation with place of residence, whether this was within town, country, or village, or within England and Wales.

    Young people were less likely to be hallucinated than those widowed after the age of 40. The incidence of hallucination increased with length of marriage and was particularly associated with a happy marriage and parenthood. Members of the “professional and managerial” group were particularly likely to be hallucinated, while widows of “non-manual and sales workers” were the ones least likely to be hallucinated. The incidence was greater with hysteroid than obsessoid people. It was unusual for the hallucinations to have been disclosed, even to close friends or relatives.

    These hallucinations are considered to be normal and helpful accompaniments of widowhood.