Who knows what happens after we die? Many have faith that compels a belief in some sort of afterlife. Others believe we simply cease to exist.

The only certainty is that no one really knows what happens and, whether you have a large family, a committed husband, wife or partner and a huge circle of friends or not, someone will be left to pick up the pieces after you are gone. Unless you make plans, it could be someone you’ve never met.

It’s a grim topic for some, but many others simply view it as a reality that no one can escape: If you’re living on planet Earth, nobody gets out alive.

In most instances, when someone passes on, family members and/or loved ones will step in to take care of the necessary arrangements. But what if those people aren’t there?

During the worst days of the AIDS pandemic it wasn’t uncommon to find out after the death of a friend or an acquaintance they had no family or significant other who was prepared to claim their body and take responsibility for cremation or a burial.

It could happen for a variety of reasons. At that time in history pandemonium was sweeping the globe as friends and relatives of infected individuals and even physicians grew ever more fearful of what was not yet known about HIV.

Then and now parents and families have been known to disown offspring and siblings if they come out as LGBTQ+ or identify as their authentic true self.

In the last decade of the 20th century, a bartender at a local Charlotte gay bar passed away from AIDS-related complications. He was estranged from his family. No relatives came forward during the final months of his life to offer consolation or compassion.

The friends he had made during his time working at the nightclub stood by him, and the owner of the business paid for his cremation. He wasn’t alone, but his ashes remained with the bar owner for two decades, sitting on a shelf in a back office. Eventually a family member who was unaware of the events that had occurred stepped forward to reclaim their deceased relative.

Just this past year, a former Qnotes staffer passed away unexpectedly. He lived alone, he was single and in his early seventies. He was also estranged from his family and had not been in contact with them for many years. Although he had faced some issues with age and well-being, he seemed to be in relatively good health. His death was completely unexpected.

The ending could have been disastrous, but he had the forethought to plan ahead. Documentation was put in place to designate friends to handle his cremation and estate in a manner that was in keeping with his wishes.

Death is never a pleasant thing, but in his case the end results were the closest to positive he could have hoped for posthumously. That’s not always the case, however.

Many senior individuals in the LGBTQ+ community face isolation from loss of friends and family for the reasons mentioned above, and more. If you are not partnered or married, have few friends or only casual acquaintances, no surviving or only estranged family members, the end result could be nothing more than a meaningless departure. 

It’s likely strangers will toss away whatever kind of legacy that remains of you, and the state will step in to dispose of your body.

If your body goes unclaimed here are two examples of what could happen in North Carolina. 

Regardless of your location, your corpse will very likely be transported to Raleigh for cremation. The cremains will then be delivered to the North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner’s Office and — more often than not — transported to the North Carolina coast for burial at sea.

In some instances, if your body remains unclaimed because no family member or friend steps forward to take care of burial or cremation, the medical examiner’s office can release your body to the state within 10 days to the North Carolina Commission of Anatomy, which is responsible for maintaining a sufficient quantity of corpses for human anatomical studies at state medical schools.

Statistics gathered for a story published in USA Today last year show that LGBTQ+ senior adults are three to four times less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be parents. That means that most don’t have children to help with their care as they grow older.

According to the LGBTQ+ elder advocacy organization SAGE, seniors in our community are twice as likely to live alone than straight seniors with children and extended families.

This is where LGBTQ+ youth should consider stepping up to the plate.

Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE National was inspired to become involved with the organization and helping seniors in the community because of the close relationship he had with his grandmother.

He said it made him realize how potentially difficult life could be for elders in the LGBTQ+ community without the family and resources his grandmother had access to.

Older man and younger man on a sofa
Younger LGBTQ+ people reaching out in friendship to seniors in our community could achieve much. | Adobe Stock

In an interview that was part of the USA Today story, he offered advice for younger LGBTQ+ individuals and how they can contribute to the well-being of seniors in our community.

Says Adams: “Whether it is serving as a volunteer in a community-based organization … or just opening our eyes and noticing that the person who lives down the street from us or down the hall from us might be an elder living in isolation who needs support, who needs friendship and also recognizing that our elders are vibrant people [and] they’ve contributed so much to our community.

“We’re talking about incredibly resilient people,” Adams continues. “We’re talking about elders who’ve lived through decades of oppression, discrimination, invisibility, violence, and who have not only survived, but continued to thrive.”

The responsibility to cultivate intergenerational friendships and support doesn’t rest only with the young. LGBTQ+ seniors must step up to the plate, as well. If at all possible, try to reach out and become involved with the supportive community around you and get acquainted with younger individuals in the community through volunteering with groups like Time Out Youth. Intergenerational friendships can be extremely rewarding and educational.

If age-related issues are a barrier to your physical presence, try connecting with others via the internet. In North Carolina there’s the Carolina Aging Alliance, located at 4 North Blount Street, Suite 103 in Raleigh and on the internet at carolinaaging.org.

In the Cape Fear/Wilmington area the Out Wilmington LGBTQ Seniors organization offers various services and maintains a presence on the internet at lgbtqcapefear.org.

Unfortunately, the Charlotte LGBTQ Elders Group is currently available only as a limited informational web service on Facebook (a quick search using that title will take you straight to the page) but it does provide some means of connecting with other seniors in the community.

David Aaron Moore is a former editor of Qnotes, serving in the role from 2003 to 2007. He is currently the senior content editor and a regularly contributing writer for Qnotes. Moore is a native of North...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *