Document Type


Publication Date

October 2005


Slides for a poster presented to the Gerontological Society of American Conference, October 2005.


Our poster is based on a larger qualitative study that explores the personal meaning of suffering to 122 community-dwelling elders. Because loss in old age emerges as a significant aspect of suffering in elders' narratives, we focus on suffering as loss. We are recruiting community dwelling elders aged 80 and above, stratified by ethnicity, gender and self-reported health for extended qualitative interviews. Respondents tell their life story and story of suffering along with personal definitions of suffering. Through narrative analysis we examine responses to the many losses experienced during a long life and the suffering that results from loss. By old age, elders have endured many significant losses (jobs, education, friendships, death) and are considered more familiar with loss than younger persons. Most respondents use personal tools, such as strong self-view, optimism, or keeping busy in order to manage the suffering that results from loss. In this poster we use a case study to demonstrate how one elderly woman's standard of accepting loss failed in the face of her daughter's death. Mrs. W's case study reveals the tension between a theory about loss, and the lived experience of loss that results in suffering. Her narrative has implications for health care professionals involved in any type of grief work. If a world or self view has ‘worked' for an individual throughout their life, it may be difficult to alter that viewpoint in old age.