LGBT Families Matter in Grief Support, too

I had followed and supported the "issue" of gay marriage like most other good Unitarians, but I didn't really think this niche of civil rights was all that big a deal (most of my gay friends seemed pretty lukewarm on it) until I became widowed. Well... a little sooner... I "got it" when I became the caregiver for a dying man. Then, I KNEW how serious it was if your partner would not be allowed to visit you in an ICU or other secure hospital situation.

After I was widowed, and coped with the bureaucracies from insurance companies to my own and my child's health insurance, to the MVA and how my home was titled, I realized how many essential privileges I'd had by virtue of marriage -- and how I'd taken them for granted. How their denial would make life so, so much more difficult at the worst time in my life already.

But grief and loss expose many other fault lines, between people and in society. It often shows you who is left out or falls between the cracks. As I discovered grief support and started to map how it looks in America, I found organizations, local, regional, and even online, that won't allow folks who weren't married to their late loves to participate. (Yes, even straight ones. As if that helps.) Knowing widowed folks the way I do, I know their grief and their loss can easily be the same size as that of a married widow. (Just to avoid splitting hairs: no grief ever has a size: even folks who HATED their late partner are facing loss, grief and adjustments that cannot be measured or compared).

So what about couples who CAN'T marry? If you believe that people who loved more, or lived together longer, or had more children have grief of a different size, how do you honor the ones who are not legally allowed to "marry," whatever's in their hearts?

(Fortunately, for the most part, the organizations that support grieving children don't care so much about the paperwork that accompanied their parents' love.)

(This is without even starting in on all the many grief organizations run by religious organizations, including those with covert Christian agendas (**coughcough**), many of whom find other reasons to exclude grieving LGBT people. ((Just to make it totally confusing, many grief groups hosted at churches are completely secular.)) And I'm not touching on how this affects the transgendered widowed, or the massive sexual upheaval that can be an aftermath of loss, because honestly, I'd only be guessing at this point, but I expect those stories will, er, "come out" as we grow grief literacy.)

So: make no mistake. Civil rights IS an issue for organizations that support the grieving. Gay families are families. I challenge organizations that support grieving people to accept love and families of all stripes and to STATE their non-discrimination policies up front. Because sad as it is, you can lose a partner and STILL get turned away from free, peer-based support, and you can make that call without ANY idea how you'll be received.

There is little enough grief support for young people who've lost a partner, and little enough understanding of the lives of widows and widowers, for us to leave anyone out.

Please meet some of my friends -- Unmarried widows, Hira Animfefte and UnweddedWidow, and our friend, Dan, whose blogroll will introduce you to many other LGBT bloggers as well as other resources. (I list the bloggers, but they're only divided by year of loss).
My community, Widowed Village, includes a small and private area for LGBT widowed people and welcomes them in all discussions and other programs as well.  
Camp Widow -- the premier weekend of support and learning for widowed people, held this year in San Diego in August -- is inclusive.
Read the other posts in the #LGBTFamilies series at Mombian.


Sandy said...

As a widow who was only married for 5 months I applaud you for writing this! TJ & I were together for 16 years, but not married until his terminal diagnosis. Our commitment was no less because we didn't have that "piece of paper". Loss is loss regardless of gender, sexual orientation, time together, etc.

Anonymous said...

My love and I were together for six years, lived together for four... and less than a year before he committed suicide we had the wedding I'd always dreamed about. But it wasn't a legal marriage. He had enormous amounts of debt and collections agencies after him, and our attorney strongly advised us to keep our finances strictly separate until we could resolve the judgments against him. It made sense at the time. We were married in our hearts, we lived in every way as a married couple. What did that piece of paper matter?

I found out just how much that piece of paper matters the day he killed himself. No one from the hospital or the sherriff's office would even talk to me until his family had talked to me first. Family, oddly enough, included his ex-wife... but not me. The personal possessions he had on him when he was admitted to the hospital, including the wedding band that I had placed on his finger, were handed over to the ex-wife. When I went with his parents to make the funeral arrangements, I was listed on all the official forms as "friend" of the deceased.

The worst days of my life were made even more brutal and heartwrenching because our relationship wasn't officially recognized. We had the option to make it legal -- we thought, or at least I thought, we had plenty of time to do that later. My heart breaks for every widowed person who has never been given the option of being officially recognized as a widow.

Thank you for this very important post.

Split-Second Single Father said...

So glad you're addressing this here Supa. It is something I've thought of in this context (mostly in wondering how my gay friends/relatives would cope in my situation and in reading Dan's site), but I've seen it also in my encounters with foster care and adoption. I fail to understand how loving, stable people can be denied a child because of their sexual orientation, just as I fail to see how they can be denied spousal priveleges/rights for the same reason. We have a long way to go in this country in terms of true equality.

Jill Schacter said...

Great post. Thank you for your continued, inspired and creative efforts on behalf of grieving widows and widowers of all types.

Bobbi said...

Thanks for posting this. I lost my partner of nine years to breast cancer and it was hard to explain to people in my conservative town WHY I was grieving so hard. I'm lucky to live in a much more diverse region now, but my heart goes out to those LGBT folks in conservative America who lose their partners.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Thank you all for your comments and testimonies.

Rory, Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care said...

cruising over via blogher and am so touched by this post (and all of the comments). i couldn't agree more with your stance. thanks for taking the time to offer resources, as well. i've lost my son to stillbirth and agree that there are too few grieving resources out there to "leave anyone out."

Janet Boyanton said...

It doesn't matter how you are joined or how long you were together, grief hurts. People who have not experienced the loss of a spouse or partner simply don't understand how long it takes to grieve.

Everyone, especially those without a legal relationship, should have all their planning paperwork done. That should include an appointment of a medical decision maker as well as an appointment of agent to make funeral decision for you. Each state has different rules so check with an estate planning attorney to get your desires on paper.

Thanks for the well thought out, sinsative post. It is an issue everyone needs to consider.

Janet Boyanton, author, Alone and Alive, A Practical Guide for Dealing with the Death of Your Husband

Hira Animfefte said...

As an unwedded widow, I can relate to this. I had no rights. His mother made all the decisions. I was pulled away from his casket at the viewing by her, in fact.

If it isn't legally recognized, you have no rights whatsoever...

Dutchcloggie said...

Thank you for posting this. It is always heart warming when someone who has no "vested interest" in the matter stands up for others.

When my wife Jane was in the hospice for the last 10 days of her life, I was worried I would have to fight an equality battle but I bonded with little old ladies and younger people from totally different backgrounds. We all knew that grief has no sexuality.

Jane and I were together for 8 years and she died in May this year, 3 days before our 5th wedding anniversary, aged only 27. Being in a Civil Partnership (I am in the UK) made everything so much less painful. Personally I don't care what they call it as long as I have the same rights. I can not imagine what heartache I would have had to go through if we had not been married. It would have meant worries at a time where all I wanted was peace.

If you think it is worthy of inclusion on your bloglist, my blog is here: http://www.bunnyfactor10.com

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Dutchcloggie, I'm so sorry for your recent loss and for your long "fight" (whatever) together for Jane's health. I will add you to the blogroll (also at WidowedVillage.org) when I do the next update... it will be a month or two, but it will get there!
Thanks for sharing part of your life with me.

megan said...

I was (ahem) fortunate that the people who actually mattered - my stepson, my inlaws - all behaved as though matt and I were legal. They behaved as if I am what I am: someone who lost her love and partner by sudden, random accident.

I've heard from too many who had shunning and erasure to deal with on top of the crappiness of death.

Love this, supa. XO


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