Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Gay Widower

In the days following the death of Michael I began to realized that in addition to losing my husband, I was losing part of my identity. I was having a conversation with someone about Michael when I began stumbling over my words. I hadn't quite thought out how I would describe him. Up until a few days prior, he was my husband, my spouse, my partner. He wasn't my ex, as we didn't end our relationship. Was I still married?

Why was there a need to redefine our relationship? Wasn't losing him enough? During the previous year we were part of a fortunate group of gay couples who were able to legally wed in California. The Courts even held that while gay couples were no longer able to wed as a result of Prop 8, we were still married. Suddenly I felt removed from this group.

I realized that I had no role model to prepare me for my new identity. Growing up there seemed to be plenty of female relatives who had survived the loss of their husbands. They were referred to as widows. But the men I knew who survived their wives were few, and the gay men I know who have survived their spouses were fewer. In the decades past we lost many gay men to AIDS, and many of them left lovers behind. Yet in recent times people of living with the disease, and fortunately we are not seeing as many gay men having to suffer losses like before.

At age 50, I find most of my friends are married or partnered. As I look around me, none are widowed. This awareness seems to emphasize my feeling of being alone. During this journey with Michael's illness I found support through an online brain tumor caregivers group. In the time that I was active with the group I was the sole male participant. How telling is this reality? To what degree is it that we men do not seek support, and to what degree is it that we are not provided with the images that support us identifying as caregivers, and later widowers?

So here I am, a widower, a gay widower. I feel as though I have undergone a significant shift in my identity. I went from being a lover and strong caregiver, to feeling like a broken widower. Broken because my spirit is badly wounded. Broken, because I am feeling robbed of an identity that I loved.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pillar of Strength

Tonight I was given the opportunity to ponder what it is that I gain from writing this blog. As I have realized during various periods in my life, I find it comforting, therapeutic, to write down my thoughts and feelings. During the past couple of years this expression emerged through my emails, and Caring Bridge web page, regarding the journey I walked with Michael.

So why not turn to a journal, where my thoughts and feelings would remain private? I have kept a journal in the past. And I have certainly used my journals as a wailing wall of sorts. A place where I could cry out when my pain was too strong to contain. This is clearly a time that would lend itself to a more private process.

So what is different about this time? What is moving me to put my grief, my pain, and my struggle out there for all to see? It is duality. The ability to express a complimentary side of myself. A side that I may have previously felt was in opposition to being strong.

Throughout my adulthood I have consistently been given the message that I am strong. I feel that I have been given this message so often that it has become a heavy burden. Being strong is not how I would have described myself as a child. Being strong is not how I would have described myself as a young adult. Actually, I used to think of myself as a bit of a runt. I have three brothers, all of whom stand much taller than I. Growing up gay also at times made me feel smaller, perhaps weaker, than other men. Yet as the years went by my life began to present many challenges. At times these were challenges that I consciously took on. I supposed it was the act of facing these challenges that earned me the reputation of being strong. But what happens when when the strong man feels weak? How does he ask for help? How does he get through another day when his own strength fails him?

This is my struggle. Michael recognized this, and called me on it in fact. During his final weeks of life Michael struggled to walk up and down the stairs. Even though he towered over me in size, there I was holding him up, trying desperately to insure his safety. After one final struggle to safely get him back down to our bedroom, he pulled me close to him, and with a grin he said "you think you are so strong, but when I'm better I am going to take you to a wrestling ring to show you different."

Well, Michael didn't get better, but he did show me different. He showed me, that not only do I not always have to be strong, I cannot always be strong. So here is my dilemma. What is the opposite of a pillar of strength? Is it weakness, dependency, vulnerability? Whatever it is, I know that I can only find it by exposing my struggle, exposing my pain. I need to break down this notion of a pillar of strength, if only for awhile. I need to find a complimentary side.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Intro to Healing

It was two years ago that Michael and I were put on the path known as the Brain Tumor Journey. We did not sign up for this journey. Who would? Yet it is what life brought to us, forcing us to change the direction we were forging at the time.

Life as a new couple was challenging for us. We met in April of 2006, and by January 2007 he had moved into my home. I have three kids, so falling in love, and choosing to share my life with someone, meant compromise. Yet the compromises weighed heavier on Michael than on me. He was the one that would leave his home to join mine, and he was the one that needed to begin a new relationship with three young people. Michael understood that a relationship with me would entail a sharing of my time, love and energy. And as any newly formed couple, we had our challenging times. And, as a newly formed couple, we had our dreams.

By October 2007 Michael and I had become much more solidified as a couple. We were confident that our love was strong, and that we would grow old together. This was no different than any other new couple. We had begun making future plans, one of which was to eventually find a new house that we could create into "our home." With his diagnosis, and a fatal prognosis, our future plans had to be changed. We realized that our prior dreams were not going to happen. This was a significant loss, and we both grieved considerably. During that time Michael questioned whether it was fair to put me and the children through this. He wanted to give me an out in case I needed it. But there was no question in my mind. I loved him, and knew that he loved me. During that initial period our bedroom was often flooded with tears. There were many nights that I sat awake, watching Michael sleep, and feeling overwhelmed with the need to take away his pain and worry. I knew that his fate, our fate, was not in my hands. At the same time, I could not rest unless I had looked under every stone for the next possible treatment. In time I learned that I needed to find a balance. I needed to accept that this new path was part of who we were as a couple, yet it couldn't completely define us. We needed to begin healing.

Begin healing.

Yes, I know that sounds strange. We knew that with time his health would likely decline, yet our hearts needed to heal. We needed to find joy in each day, and begin dreaming again. For us this meant living in the moment, and looking ahead only at the very distant future. Anything beyond that was out of our control. Getting to that point took time. It was often with a heavy heart that we made future plans. We learned that the only way to live with, and fight, cancer was to acknowledge it's presence. And it was often the case that simple joys needed to be appreciated with the bitter reality. There were many times that Michael would be getting ready for bed, then look across the room and say "I'm going to miss seeing your smile." There were times of intimacy where I would be filled with the joy of having Michael in my arms, yet my eyes would be filled with tears of anticipatory loss.

That was our journey. It was a journey of love, dreams realized, and loss.

Again, I find myself on a new path. This path, this part of my journey, was not of my choosing. Grief is it's name, and I must find a way to live with it. I must find my way to healing.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Lesson in Grief

This post is not meant to sound an alarm, but rather to help myself understand where I am, and to be able to look back at some point to see where I've been.

I just looked up the various definitions of "purge," as it is the only word that comes to mind when I reflect on my day. Most definitions describe the word as "to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify." And while the pain of my grief is definitely something undesirable, the reason why I grieve is far from that.

Today my heart has felt like an open wound. The tears and anguish are pouring out of me with such a force, and I am rendered helpless. Nothing could have prepared me for this. By definition, I am often considered a person of inner strength, and yet presently I am powerless.

It is my hope that all of this will serve a purpose, if not for me, then for just one person who one day stumbles upon this blog. I know that this pain is not unique. I have sat in rooms filled with others who weep for their loss as well. I have been participating in a couple of bereavement groups, one of which I attended today. In this group I am the most recent "widower." Actually in both groups I attend I am the most recent widower. Yet in today's group I came to the realization that it is too soon for me to be there. I need time to pass, to get further along, beyond this initial trauma. I think that in my effort to "take care of myself" I jumped in too quickly. Now it's not that I plan to isolate myself, far from that. I have started individual therapy, and will remain active in a bereavement group specifically for lesbian & gay partner/spouses. Although I have only participated in this group one time, the majority of members have also experience their loss very recently. And, I must say, that it is a unique opportunity to be in a room with with people who mirror my experience in so many specific ways.


I just took some time to be mindful of my breathing, and I realize that I have calmed considerably since starting this post. As I look at the screen in front of me I see my reflection in my words. It reminds me that there is always calm after the storm. We don't always know when the storm will let up, but we can trust that it will. I guess that is what nature teaches us, and that is why I must rely on that image. When caught in the eye of the storm there is a sense of hopelessness, no doubt. And though this storm feels much stronger than any I have previously experienced, I must trust that a ray of sunlight will eventually appear.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grief Rolls In

Night comes, fog rolls in, sleep beckons. Cannot give in to it.

Grief must be dealt with it. Grief is like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction, she 'will not be ignored.'

Humor slips in to rescue me for yet another moment. Michael smiles, raises his eyebrow. He knows me well. I know dear, my sensibility may not always be appreciated.

Tonight I make no apologies. I am prone to drama, so indulge me. What gets me through one day has me sinking the next. Yesterday's memories are weighing heavy on me today.

Michael didn't always understand my interest in watching dark comedies, or heavy problem of the week dramas, but I'm thinking his understanding of this continues to grow. At least, I tell myself that he continues to somehow participate in my life. All this would be so much more unbearable otherwise. Tonight I watched Alive and Kicking. A story about one man's loss, and another who walks beside those left behind. Somehow the two find each other, find love, and struggle to make sense of their world. The beauty of course is that love, and life, become real because of the struggle. Michael and I learned that hard lesson early in our relationship. Reality was something we could not ignore, so we embraced it. Embracing the reality of limited time kept us in the moment, and in turn, kept me focused on Michael's love. Many have said that was the beauty of our relationship.

Right now my life feels a bit too real, and at times the beauty begins to evade me.

These thoughts, these feelings, this grief rolls in each night as my day comes to an end, and the house quiets down. These written words unburden me, they serve me well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One month, 1st Anniversary

Real time.

It was one month ago that I lost my Michael. It was one year ago that we wed. It was one hour ago that we finished celebrating.

I kept to tradition, taking the top layer of the cake out of the freezer, and sharing it with my children and friends. It was as beautiful and sweet today as it was last year. Three delicate orchids, stood the test of time, frozen, still, exquisite, gracing the cake with a sense of immortality.


My name is Dan. I have been writing my story, our story, for the past couple of years. What started as email updates to friends and family, evolved into a Caring Bridge web page, to keep all who love us current with our journey. My husband, Michael, was diagnosed two years ago with a brain tumor. We were a new couple, with many plans ahead, whose course was changed. On September 13th 2009 we came to a fork in the road.

Now, I know what many are thinking. Wait a minute, Michael is still with you. Yes, in many ways I will always have Michael with me, and yes, he takes my love with him, yet in real time I sit here alone. We now begin a new part of our journeys, each on separate paths. For this reason I feel that my writing needs to come from a new place. The only problems is, I'm not quite sure which direction it will go. When we dedicate our life, and our love, to caring for someone, the path can be somewhat defined. When the care giving ends we are left with loss, and an absence of direction. It is from this place, or lack there of, that I begin.