Chapter 7: Grief among 2SLGBTQ+ seniors and elders

Social isolation

The grief expert says
Kathy Kortes-Miller, social work professor, discusses research about the increasing social isolation faced by 2SLGBTQ+ seniors and elders as they age and face illness.(3:22)Video transcript

It’s been over 12 years since she died. I’ve been on my own since. Neither of us had children but her niece comes to visit once in a while. She’s busy with her family, so I really don’t see her too much.

I have no children and no partner, and I don’t expect my friends to take care of me. I’m pretty much on my own.  

Aging often means a loss of companions – those who know you well and share some of the same experiences that you’ve had. Especially if you lived through the AIDS crisis, if you’re living with disability, if you had to distance from your family of origin because you are 2SLGBTQ+, or if you left friends and family behind when you immigrated, the community you most identify with may be quite small already.

Social isolation may result from circumstances such as having no partner or living alone, having no or few children or family, living in a rural or remote area, or having limited access to transportation or support. The decrease in the number of dedicated bars has also made it more difficult for some 2SLGBTQ+ people to socialize and make connections.

Many 2SLGBTQ+ seniors and elders experience social invisibility or outright exclusion. As a 2SLGBTQ+ senior or elder, you may have been socially isolated for most of your life, or your isolation may have grown more gradually as friends or partners died or went into care.

As time goes on, you are likely to grieve more and more losses, including deaths. Social isolation has been identified as a risk factor for both poor health and poor quality of life, and isolation can intensify or complicate your grief.

What may help

  • Take time to think about your needs, which may be different from someone else’s. For example, some people are very comfortable and content with their own company. For most people, however, finding support, friendship, and companionship is essential to their well-being.
  • Explore 2SLGBTQ+ services and resources in your community and online. Depending on where you live, there may be home support or companion services.
  • If you feel reluctant to reach out, consider a “small step,” such as arranging to have someone call or visit you on a regular basis. This can give you a chance to make a social connection, reduce feelings of loneliness, and help you to maintain good health.