Family and Spousal Adaptation to Transitioning a Traumatic Event

  • Thomas W. Miller
  • Cindy Dunn
  • Ila Patel


Death of a spouse was found to be one of the most stressful life experiences as exemplified in the Life Events Scale (Holmes and Rahe 1967). Randy Pausch entered our lives in September 2007. Randy, his wife and family too were facing a stressful life transition and he provided a model for all of us through his personality and through his masterful skill as a teacher at Carnegie Mellon University. His final lecture was titled by him “How to Live Your Childhood Dreams.” Professor Randy Pausch is not like most people. He is a special person to share a message for the living that this previously unknown computer scientist delivered through a remarkable lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Thanks to the wonders of today’s technology, the hour-long speech did not fade into the Ethernet, but has been heard by millions of us around the world. He was speaking through that lecture to his wife, his children, his students and a world community about his life’s journey and the lessons he had learned on that journey. Most of all he was speaking to the children that he loved and to provide them with the guidance he wanted to share as a dad as they grew up. One recalls that he ended his last lecture with a couple of confessions. The lecture wasn’t really about how to achieve one’s dreams. It was about how to live one’s life. His message to these three children was to “lead your lives the right way and the karma will take care of itself”; the dreams will come to you. This author and editor contacted him and was grateful for his kind response to the inspirational guidance that had been shared. It was September 21 and a world community learned from him on the evening news. He provided lessons for life. These lessons are summarized elsewhere. Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer. He has been on palliative chemotherapy which targets its efforts in slowing the growth of the tumors that had formed in his pancreas and elsewhere. The chemotherapy worked for a while until the side effects began causing congestive heart and renal failure, resulting in his hospitalization. Randy returned home and decided to stop the palliative chemotherapy intended to extend his short lifespan for as long as possible. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-deadliest type of carcinoma. It takes the lives of 75% of those who have it within a year. Only 4% live as long as 5 years. The impact on family, spouse and children is significant and the transitions that they face are often difficult for them.

The purpose and scope of this chapter is to address the transition faced by the spouse and family who face major changes in their wife or husband as a result of a debilitating injury and loss due to a spectrum of causes. Examined are a multiplicity of issues which have been recognized through clinical research and experience as relevant to the spouse who is physically disabled. Specific issues related to life change events, their applicability to personality theory and recent clinical research are explored. Finally, issues in the treatment of the spouse who is physically disabled and family members are explored.


Rehabilitation Process Traumatic Experience Combat Veteran Vocational Rehabilitation Service Life Change Event 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Appreciation is extended to Robert F. Kraus M.D, Walter Penk PhD., Tag Heister LLB, College of Medicine University of Kentucky, Deborah Kessler, Department of Veterans Affairs and Jill Livingstone LLB, Library Science; Department of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut for their assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas W. Miller
    • 1
  • Cindy Dunn
  • Ila Patel
  1. 1.University of Kentucky, College of MedicineLexingtonUSA

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