Date of Award

4-2004

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Degree Program

Global Leadership - with a specialization in Educational Leadership

Department

College of Education

First Advisor

Carole Warshaw

Second Advisor

Richard B. Cohen

Third Advisor

William J. Leary

Abstract

This study examines the cultural patterns of social engagement among the elderly following the loss of a long-term spouse. Even though the cultural patterns and quality of life of the elderly have changed dramatically as compared with previous generations, there has been little research into the question of how today's elderly cope with their increasing longevity. To establish a framework for analysis, this study identifies four key patterns of social engagement: friendship and companionship, sexuality, community networks, and family interaction.

Using a qualitative methodological approach, the importance of each pattern for coping with the loss of a long-term spouse is examined through interview data collected from a sample of 12 elderly male and female subjects residing in two senior residential living communities in the South Florida area. Following Shapiro, participants were divided into two groups: Aging Elderly (65-79) and Aged Elderly (8O+). Duration of loss was broken into two categories: one-two years and three-eleven years since the death of a long-term spouse. In addition, this study examines how gender contributes to social adaptation behaviors.

The findings of this study support the conclusion that friendship and companionship as a cultural pattern offers tremendous support to both males and females after the loss of a long-term spouse. For both elderly males and elderly females, the community provided the primary vehicle for the patterns of social engagement following the loss of a long-term spouse, offering participants an opportunity to re-engage in society through organizational involvement and social interaction. Contrary to existing literature, gender did not seem to play a role in whether or not males and females considered friendships.

This study also found that years of loss and age did not influence the level of involvement in any given pattern of social re-integration. However, the experience of anticipatory grief between the caregiver and the caretaker facilitated their transition phase following their loss.

Finally, this study clearly demonstrates that continuance of sexual expression after the loss of a spouse does exist among the elderly and may play an important role in their success at re-entering society. The recently widowed elderly can successfully re-integrate into society as vibrant, productive, and sexually active participants.

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