Young Utah County widows find hope despite cultural disconnect

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A woman sits on a bench. Widows say it can be a struggle to find themselves in Utah County. (Universe Archives)

Widows and widowers struggle to find themselves in Utah County, a culture that is all about marriage and new families, according to one widow.

Utah County houses two large universities with more than 60,000 students. BYU reported 19.8% of its student body is married, while UVU reported 37%.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2020 more than 1.2 million Utah residents were married — 56% of its adult population. Utah also has 80,000 widows and widowers, who make up 8% of the adult population.

One of these widows, Tera Erwin, lost her husband Kevin to testicular cancer when they were both 29 years old.

Even though they knew he was sick, Erwin said they decided to marry and enjoyed five years together before he passed away.

What was hardest for Erwin was not the general social pressure to get remarried, she said, but the religious culture where she lived.

As a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Erwin said many men in the Church are only interested in being sealed in the temple. Because she was previously sealed in the temple to her husband Kevin, trying to connect with men who were the same age as her was an obstacle.

Her first sealing wasn’t just an obstacle for Erwin — her second husband also struggled with it before they decided to get married.

“The fact that we weren’t going to get sealed, this was very hard for him,” Erwin said.

Despite these challenges, Erwin said her faith played a large part in her healing and that her first husband Kevin was there every step of the way.

“He’s my guardian angel in this world,” Erwin said.

After years of attending Church and receiving support from friends and family, Erwin said she was able to heal from her husband’s passing and marry her second husband Cameron.

Despite the happy endings for Erwin, not all those who lose a spouse at a young age find love again, and some may lose the will to live because of it, according to behavioral scientist David J. Roelfs.

Roelfs studied the risk of death in both men and women at early ages.

“The relative risk of death for those who lost their spouse was 22% higher than the risk among married persons, among high-quality studies that adjusted for age and additional covariates,” he said. “The adverse effects of widowhood on mortality, however, were not uniform across all subgroups. As hypothesized, the effects were greater for men, being more pronounced at younger ages and less pronounced at older ages.”

Roelfs said this was because humans largely live to nourish and support others. After years of marriage, he said many widows and widowers struggle to find the same sense of duty in other relationships.

Phil Scoville, a therapist in Utah County, said widows may struggle with their self-perception in Utah County culture.

“In Utah County, the perception and experience of being married — in a relationship or not — do appear to affect how individuals perceive themselves,” Scoville said.

Widows seeking help and friendship can attend the BYU Life After Loss Conference on March 22. The event is “designed to help those struggling with the loss of a loved one live onward with faith and hope.”

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