Everyone experiences physical and emotional loss at some point in life, whether the loss of a loved one or of some aspect of one’s own physical or mental health. These difficult experiences can present special challenges to LGBT older adults because of unique family, social, emotional, and financial systems of support. Inadequate access to understanding and competent care providers can also be a barrier to effective coping.

To address some of the concerns unique to LGBT individuals and families in navigating grief and loss, the LGBT Elder Initiative presented “Grief, Loss & Possibility,” a free community forum, on Saturday, December 6, 2014. “Grief, Loss & Possibility” was part of the LGBTEI’s Conversations series of informational programs. The program focused on resilience and positive coping techniques.

Presenters & Program Video

Watch the full program in our video library, or click the links below to watch individual presentations.

Laura Hinds, MSW, LCSW, therapist and professor of social work at the University of Pennsylvania, served as the program moderator. Laura’s presentation included definitions of key words and identified subtly different types of grief and loss, such as ambiguous, acute, unresolved, and complicated experiences of grief. Click on the video box where you will find her presentation immediately following the program introduction by LGBTEI Chair, Heshie Zinman or click here to go directly to the presentation.

Steve Grout and Elizabeth Coffey Williams, community members, shared their own experiences of grief and resilience. Their moving stories about the difficult losses they’ve experienced and how they were able to cope can be viewed here.

Reverend Jeffrey Haskins, pastor of Unity Fellowship of Christ Church Philadelphia, discussed the spiritual and pastoral dimensions of dealing with grief and loss from his personal and professional experience. Rev. Haskins spoke to some of the ways we can tend to our grief and seek support in doing so. You can view his presentation here.

Bob Pileggi works with individuals, families, groups, and corporations to get the most out of life, work and relationships by being present to them. As a spiritual director, ceremony officiant and yoga instructor, Bob guides people through challenges and changes in the body, heart and spirit over the lifetime. His presentation, which concluded the program, is available here.

Additional Information

“Grief, Loss & Possibility” included an opportunity for attendees to share their stories, questions and coping strategies with each other in small groups. Despite the uniqueness of each individual’s story, some common threads arose from the discussion. Those threads included:

  • the unreasonable expectation that one be ‘over’ one’s loss by a certain point in time;
  • the way that ‘moving on’ really means a transformed life and not a return to a time before the loss occurred;
  • the importance of seeking community and being open about one’s struggles with loved ones; and
  • the importance of taking the time to tend to grief and not suppress it, which can lead to ill health and other consequences.

IMG_7318Both Bob Pileggi and Rev. Haskins focused not only on coping, but on growth. They emphasized that grief offers a unique opportunity for transformation. They explained that we can take positive lessons from difficult experiences or be reduced by them.

LGBT older adults face many challenges as they age. Seeking and cultivating social and spiritual community to be supported in difficult times is important. Additionally, benefits can be derived by offering support to others. Finally, the aging process itself can lead to feelings of grief. Mourning the loss of one’s youth is very normal and difficult, particularly within LGBT communities, which can be very youth-obsessed.

Collaborating Partner & Sponsors

“Grief, Loss & Possibility,” a part of the LGBTEI’s Conversations series of educational programs, was a collaborative effort of the Elder Initiative and the Penn LGBT Center. The program was made possible by the support of the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund (DVLF), Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), and Philadelphia Gay News (PGN).

RESOURCES

Counseling:

Jewish Family & Children’s Services: Division of Senior Services provides individual and group counseling services for older adults in Center City, the Northeast, and Elkins Park. Counseling can occasionally be provided in the home. Original Medicare is accepted, and sliding-scale payments are sometimes possible. Phone: 267-256-2000.

SAGE runs a National LGBT Caregivers Support Group over the phone. This is a safe and nurturing space to discuss the challenges of being a caregiver, vent frustrations and share advice and resources. They also offer education seminars and online resources, information on benefits and entitlements, and help for caregivers planning for their own futures. For more information, email caregiving@sageusa.org.

Mazzoni Center’s Open Door Counseling Program offers therapy and mental health support. Accepts most insurance plans, including Medicaid, and a sliding fee scale is available. Phone: 215-563-0663 ext. 248.

The Therapy Center of Philadelphia offers therapy and mental health services to women and transgender people. They offer a sliding fee scale as well as insurance reimbursement. Phone: 215.567.1111.

The William Way Community Center offers free peer counseling for LGBT people. These are trained volunteers, not professional therapists, who can meet with anyone on a short-term basis.

More information is available at http://www.lgbtpeercounseling.com.

Phone: 215-732-8255. Email: lgbtpeercounseling@yahoo.com.

Online bereavement forums:

http://forums.grieving.com/index.php/forum/15-loss-of-a-partner/

http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com/

http://www.connect.legacy.com/group/gayandlesbianswhohavelostpartners

Many churches, hospitals, hospices, and community centers offer support groups or individual help for those who have lost a loved one, are dealing with illness, or are caregivers. Check with your faith community if you belong to one, or call a hospital near you and ask to speak to the chaplain’s office or the bereavement coordinator. They will be able to refer you to resources in your community.

General resources:

The Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly
www.carie.org or call 215-545-5728

The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging
www.pcacares.org or call 215-765-9040

National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
http://lgbtagingcenter.org/

LGBT Aging Project
www.lgbtagingproject.org

Hospice Information Center
http://www.hospicefoundation.org/infocenter

AARP Caregiving Resource Center
http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/grief-and-loss/

GLBT National Help Center Hotline
1-888-843-4564

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

Trans Lifeline
877-565-8870