Monday, November 16, 2009
History of Us,
originally uploaded by just.Luc (just.Censored).
For those who are new to this site, I am a gay man, mourning the death of my husband. My husband, Michael, was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago. During those two years I looked for support, and found it in many ways. There were friends, family members, and professionals who were able to offer me various forms of emotional and practical support in my role as a caregiver. When the chemotherapy began failing Michael, he began to need more care taking, and I began to need more specific support. I initially looked online for other men who were in a care taking role. I couldn't find them. I'm sure they were out there, but they were definitely not looking for support the way women do. I eventually found a brain tumor caregivers support group, which was perhaps 95% women. They were wonderful to each other, and they were wonderful to me.
When Michael passed away I once again looked for my male counterparts. I went online searching for information, guidance or stories of other gay men who were grieving like I was. I found a single book on the subject, but little else. The hospice program we used for Michael's care offered me their support group, which I utilized for a short time. There were also the women in my online caregivers group, many of whom had become widows during my time with the group. Once again, what I didn't find were very many men, and no gay men, any where in sight. Eventually I did find that another local hospice was going to have an eight-week Lesbian and Gay Bereavement Group. I quickly signed up, looking forward to the day that it would begin.
Why is it that in the midst of all these wonderfully supportive heterosexual women was I still needing more? Was their grief any different than mine? In many ways, no. Yet I had to be honest with myself, and acknowledge that what I really needed was to see as complete a reflection of myself, of my grief, in those that were around me. Growing up gay in a straight society, well, we all know the challenges. We don't see our lives reflected much. We look at advertising, and most of the general media, and even in 2009, we are still pretty much missing in action. When we "gays" were told by the California Supreme Court that we could legally marry, Michael and I took them up on their offer. We had a fairly traditional wedding, and while we found excellent vendors, most told us they didn't have much, or any, exposure to gay couples. Well, that was no surprise. Up until my 30's, neither had I.
And what is it about not finding many "widowers" around? Now I've heard that men often die younger than women, so it stands to reason that there might be a higher percentage of "widows" to "widowers." And why is it that I have an immediate image in my head when I think of the word "widow." Yet, a clear image does not come to mind when I think of a "widower." Somehow this is a role that is more clearly attributed to women, or an identity that women have more clearly defined for themselves. Once again, what is with us men? Can we not say to the world that we are by definition changed by our loss?
And now, to the subject at hand, what about us gay widowers? 15 to 20 years ago, if you were gay, you knew many gay widowers. It was everywhere we looked, that's if we were looking into our own community. Even then, we didn't see a reflection of our experience in the mass media. There were definitely the movies of the week, which told stories of young gay men returning home to their families when they found that they were dying of AIDS. But where were the stories about the mass onset of gay widowers? Where were the images of men who cared for their sick and dying partners, only to be left alone, lost and in pain? And for that matter, where are the images of lesbian partners left behind after their loss?
Well, I'll tell you. I started my lesbian and gay bereavement group a few weeks ago, and every Thursday night we gather to tell our stories. We share of our history with our partners, lovers, husbands and wives. We share of the trauma of losing the most central person in our lives. We tell of our difficult goodbyes, and of the daily anguish that we must now endure. We talk about being left behind, of feeling lost, of struggling with a new identity. We talk of people's well intended, but missing the mark, words. We cry, we laugh, we listen.
Is our pain any different from our straight friends? Maybe, maybe not. What is certainly different for me is that I have clear role models before me now. They testify to the loving journey they had with their spouses, they testify to the significant loss they have experienced, and they testify about their changed identity.
I am a gay widower. I am not single. I am perhaps no longer married. I am a gay man in grief. I am two months into this new identity. This is who I am today. This is who I'll be tomorrow.
I am still not clear how to move about my world with this new identity, or with this considerable pain. I continue to seek guidance in my grief by the looking to others. Their image may not be immediately clear, but they are becoming clearer to me every day. With each day my own reflection will become clearer. I will see myself emerge from this, changed.