Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15945 Grief In the Lives of Lesbians Age 60 and Older: Implications for Practice and Societal Change

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:00 AM
Penn Quarter B (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Ginger C. Meyette, PhD, LMSW, Assistant Professor, Luther College, Decorah, IA
Background and Purpose:Grieving people, aging people, and lesbians have all been rendered, to some degree, invisible by the dominant cultures in the United States. Baby boomers are aging, and large numbers of people will need access to services created for older people. Among this group will be many gay and lesbian elders, many of whom have lived essentially invisible lives for a variety of reasons. The issue of grief in the lives of older lesbians can be defined as being increasingly significant due to the fact that the many factors affecting the older lesbian population cause distress to individuals, families, and the community at large. This phenomenon can be defined socially, politically, and economically; and many aspects of the problem cross the boundaries of these areas of definition. The purposes of this study were to understand the lived experiences of self-identified lesbians age 60 and older concerning grief related to various life experiences and to develop a grounded theory related to the findings. The purpose went beyond describing the phenomenon of grief related exclusively to death loss. The purpose included eliciting comments about grief related to overt or covert discrimination due to ageism, sexism, and/or homophobia as well as the connection between the personal and the political in terms of what needs to change to bring about social justice. The primary research question for this qualitative study was: What is the experience of grief as perceived by lesbians age 60 and older? An interview guide was used to elicit rich data. Methods: The study design followed grounded theory methodology as developed by Glaser and Strauss (1999). Participants were self-identified lesbians age 60 and older. Sampling consisted of snowball sampling followed by theoretical sampling. A total of 27 women participated in this study. Data collection was conducted through 3 focus groups, 22 individual interviews, and 1 interview with an interracial lesbian couple. Data analysis took place throughout the study. Constant comparative analysis was used, and data analysis was assisted by use of the HyperResearch program through Results: The grounded theory that emerged showed that these older lesbians experience an underlying global, contextual grief in almost every aspect of their daily lives due to the lack of acceptance, celebration, and support of their primary relationships as well as their lesbian identity. This grief is experienced as personal and interpersonal grief and grief due to the political climate. Grief for many women is mitigated by positive coping strategies, support systems, and their vision for social action and change. Conclusions and Implications: The grief experiences described by the women in this study included some experiences that were in common with older people in general or with younger lesbians; but they identified some experiences that they believe to be unique to their cohort, some of which related to their age at the time of coming out. Implications for clinical and community social work practice, social policy, and social work education will be discussed, and implications for future research will be identified.
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