Monday, November 16, 2009

Gay Grief


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.

28 comments:

  1. Dan, My friend just pointed out your blog to me, and I read your post about your husband and the support group you have recently started. I wonder if, perhaps, this is why you were unable to find this sort of group before ... perhaps you were meant to start one yourself. It's clear from your beautifully eloquent post that you have a kind passion for what you are doing, right there in the middle of your own profound pain. I can't help but think that many will be wonderfully touched by what you have started. I was very moved by your post.

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  2. Thank you for such kind words of encouragement. I'm trying to be authentic as possible. Healing is contagious.

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  3. I can't imagine what you are going through as a gay widower. I feel isolated in my small community as have yet to find any in my peer group - close to my age and with children as young as mine. This is why the on-line community has been immensely helpful to me. Finding someone who really understands where you are coming from is invaluable - though I have also found comfort with those who are older, with older children, even those with no children, as many of the emotions and experiences in grief carry those common threads you spoke of.

    It's sadly true that there are only a few straight widowers discussing their experience, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to find a gay widower to relate to. I'm so glad to hear that you finally found the group who can really relate, and that you have found some of those common threads with the rest of us here.

    ~C~

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  4. Quite a site you have created. I lost my partner in 2002 after 23 years. I searched like yourself in hopes of finding men in similiar circumstances. I found nothing but the hospice grief group. I still search around looking for others to talk with but I cant find much. You are fresh into this new life and it will be a long road to travel but you have the children to help get you through as you adjust. I wish you the best and hope you keep your spirits high.

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  5. I'm so glad you found my blog. Although I have been in this "widowed" status just a short time, I have been writing about my journey for quite some time. During Michael's two years with cancer, I needed to keep family and friends updated, so began writing. I quickly realized that the writing was keeping me going. When Michael died it was time to seek other's with a smiliar experience.

    I now write daily as a way to express what I am going through. I mostly look forward to comments like yours, as I then don't feel so alone along this difficult path.

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  6. I am a gay women who lost her partner March 19,2010. She was diagnosised with small cell lung cancer. She was the love of my life and best friend. We went on a vacation in Jamacia where she passed away. It was a nightmare for me but it was what she wanted to be. There is not a day that goes by that I don't grief for her. She was my best friend of 30 years and lover for 10 years. The void I feel is like nothing I have ever experience. It is during this time that I was overcome with wonderful support from family friends and co-workers. I can't imagine anyone going thru this journey without any support.

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  7. I'm sorry for your loss, and hope that your family and friend continue to surround you with support. I have come to rely so much on other widows and widowers online. It just offers an understanding that my most of my friends have not had to experience.

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

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  8. I just found your blog and listened to Chris Colfer and now I think I'll cry all day. My partner of 18 years has been battling cancer for 4 years but won't be able to continue it much longer. There are times when I wish it was all over now - and other times when I hope that it never ends. Thanks for being here.

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  9. I am pleased that you found my blog, and that you find comfort in my words. I clearly remember when my husband was sick with his cancer, wishing it was all over. Then when it was clear that he was leaving me, I wanted to time to stand still. My thoughts are with you today, and throughout this difficult time.

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  10. Dan, like yourself I too was recently made a widower on 27/10/10 when at 3pm my partner of 6 years died suddenly at home. I was getting ready to take him to the doctor when I heard a thump on the floor and found Ron suffering terrible chest pain. I called 000 for a ambulance and the talked me through C.P.R untill the first ambulance came and took over. Ron has since been cremated and every day is now just hell for me. Thank you for your blog I will keep a regular eye on it and try to join the support group Shades Of Blue. My thoughts are with you. Michael

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  11. While Researching the Web, I came across your page, I too lost my Partner of Several Years Joe this past Dec 28th 2010. He died suddenly from a Heart Attack which I'm having trouble dealing with. He was fine one Minute, no real Signs of anything wrong, then I found him on the Bathroom Floor, maybe 20 Minutes went by between the last time I saw him alive to then. Everyday is one long Struggle, I miss him so much I littery feel as if my Heart has been ripped in half. People tell me that it takes Time to heal, but I'm not really sure I can. I can't go into a Grocery Store anymore, He loved those places, I find myself wanting to break down or I see something that reminds me of him, The pain all comes back. I've attepted Suicide Twice and the thoughts plaque my head still. I'm lost, confused and just don't feel I'm the same person anymore. I guess I just needed to tell my story, I don't get much support from those around me, which hurts, making me feel I'm all alone...Thank you for you time...Rick.

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  12. I just lost my husband of 17 years a week ago today. I am 42 years old. He was my first and only relationship. Wasn't looking for one and he stole my heart. I have many friends but no gay ones who could even begin to understand the pain that sits in my heart. I just found this site - I hope I can find something to help me get to the first steps of my life without him. I might sound a bit incoherent but I have many emotions still running rampant. My apologies.

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  13. Thank you for your wonderful blog. My beautiful husband,Tony, died in February 2010, after we had shared each others' lives for a wonderful 18 years. Here am I now, 3 years on, stronger and able to live without him, but incredibly angry that I was so isolated by my bereavement - no one wants to talk about it with you, no one understands unless they are themselves bereaved. With my Tony's death, I lost in one moment my husband, my best friend, a father figure [he was 29 years older than me], my whole life. You blog is true, in that since his death, I have been surrounded by kind loving women, but few men, let alone gay men are there or willing to support. I've lost touch with many gay friends because they were so cold and useless in the months after Tony's death. Good news - 3 years after Tony's death, I have built a new life - I got a job overseas with new people, kind people who aren't scared to ask about my past. 2nd, I found blogging about Tony also an incredibly solace - www.tonyforever@wordpress.com. But it's not all plain sailing even now - I have a hole in my life, a need for the love of a man and to love another man, but I cannot bring myself to contemplate replacing my beautiful Tony. I can't say I believe in afterlife but I hope for the afterlife, I hope to one day be reunited with Tony. How can I find new love when that possibility still exists ?/ My love and best wishes to all bereaved gay men - as cheesy as it sounds, let's hold hands and hearts across the internet, united by our grief and our bravery in living through it.

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    1. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with me here, and with all those who will follow us in the future. Clearly people have difficulty handing other people's grief. I have found that others fear having to face this themselves one day, and looking into our eyes, or hearing our stories, perhaps puts them a bit too close for comfort.

      I'm pleased that you have made some adjustments to this next phase of your life, and that you have found caring individuals along the way. We need to find support where it is offered, and at times let go of those that cannot continue along with us.

      As for new love, this can only happen when you are ready. We all have different journeys, and each makes changes at different times. I have found that I have a less concrete belief, or understanding, of the after-life. I feel that my husband Michael has moved on to another realm that I am not currently a part of. Here on earth, and in my life, I am not only in a different place geographically, I have become a different version of myself as well. In this phase of life I have found someone to love, and someone that loves me very much. It in no way takes away my love of Michael, and I don't seem to have any hesitation about where I stand in relation to my after-life. In my bedroom I have my current fiance, and in my bedroom I also have the ashes of my late husband. I am not in the least conflicted, but that is just me.

      I send you peace, and I honor the beautiful relationship you had with Tony.

      Dan

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  14. hi my name is Ken, my partner Rafe passed away on december 12th 2012, just a little over 4 months ago. we were together for 15 years, im 43...so we were together most of my adult life. i dont have a clue as to who i am without rafe...i have given away almost all of the things in my life that dont have specific importance to me and my memories of the man i love. i was pleased to find this place to post something about rafe....we were so incredibly alike and compatible, few fights in the 15 years together...he was taken from me suddenly at the gym from a massive heart attack, i wasnt there with him when it happened...which was hugely odd for us, as we were very rarely apart. he died 20 feet from an emergency defibrilator device....that no one bothered to use.....the staff at the gym all had emergency medical response training and yet no one gave him CPR...he layed there and died as a dozen people watched. when i confronted the manager of the gym as to why he himself or anyone present made an attempt to save my husbands life, he responded simply with 3 words "i dont know". had i been there, there is a chance i would not be writing this here today....a good chance. but it no longer matters. i had myself committed to a mental/drug rehab facility.....i wasnt dealing well or making good choices. i have been out of the rehab for 9 days now. if you read this, thanks...i needed to just say it all, somewhere loud and public because im still angry and not sure what to do with it
    kenfrank@live.com

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    1. Hi Ken,

      First off, let me say how sorry I am that you have had to endure such a terrible loss. It is likely the most difficult thing you will have had to face, and it appears that although you might not have been handling your response the way you would like to have, you are making good choices about it today.

      I too found myself frightened by the direction that my grief was taking me, and felt that I was getting too close to the bottom of despair, so I made some changes. Each of us got here from different places, and each has our own circumstances, yet there are some major commonalities among those of us who have lost our loves. For me there was also an intense amount of anger, and the feeling of being betrayed by life itself. In my case there was nobody to blame, as my husband had a brain tumor, yet I was angry that god, or life, had thrown this at us when we were still a very new couple with so many dreams ahead of us. I can still feel an intense amount of anger at times, but have learned to live with it.

      All I can say it so find something that works to keep you moving forward each day. For me it was writing, which led to a wonderful community of grieving bloggers. Writing was my anchor, which kept me here in this world while I got through the worse of it.

      Time. It's all we have, and I found that I needed to keep myself going while time passed. With time brings new perspective, and with time you get kind of get used to living with the loss. I can't say it goes away, just becomes more familiar.

      I no longer write here, as I have begun a new path in life, yet I do check in here from time to time when someone like yourself stops by. All I can say is keep speaking, keep sharing your thoughts and feelings. Don't bury them, as they will only rise up with a renewed intensity. Also, be gentle with yourself, and be patient.

      Much care.

      Dan

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    2. i was in the middle of crying again when i decided to come back to the site and checkin. my appreciation for your response is huge, thank you. i have to remind myself constantly to be gentle on myself, but find myself ramming the process of grief down my throat. altho i suffer from paralyzing guilt when i try to "hurry" the process along, i wonder how long i can actually continue to bare this kind of emptiness. i have been blessed with support, recently i have moved in with a couple who have made it a part of there life to help me thru this time as they have been there similiarly. the dr's have prescribed me all kinds of sedatives and antidepressants and they have been as much help as they have been "not" a help....i lack feeling a forward motion while medicated but have decided to do as my dr has suggested...i am rambling right now, and feel a need to write back so im following my gut...so im gonna just say thank you again and let ya know ya helped me tonight.

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    3. if you are interested in seeing the closeness that rafe and i had, this is a folder with pictures spanning the 15 years we were together. forgive me if some are not entirely appropriate.....but i think the intensity of our love can be seen here.......http://sdrv.ms/10hnb76

      thanks again dan

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  15. this was us...https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200295099962957&set=a.10200218904218111.198292.1317504847&type=1&theater&notif_t=like

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  16. There seems to be nothing to help us, except ourselves. This is profoundly difficult when one has gone to pieces. I had a busy year visiting friends and relatives after the death of my partner of 45yrs. duration, and only now has the realisation hit me.I am desperately alone and need someone in my life who is as gentle, home-loving and caring as my Tony. I think impossible to find. Antony.

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  17. I am new to this...losing the love of my life or cancer after 4 years..last six months he was paraplegic from spinal tumor...overwhelming loneliness at times...it's been less than 2 weeks...intellectually I know I will be better. We we're get her 14 years. I miss my best friend. Bob nyc

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  18. I see that responses to this very effective site for grieving gay widowers go back to 2014 and the group was started in 2009+/-. Is this group still activeand how does one go about joining? I am now widowed for 6 months, was partnered for 53 years and married for 3 of them. I am 73 years old and desparately need insight in how to handle my grief and move forward.

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  19. I lost my partner last month and I need help to move forward. I don't know what to do or what suppose to feel. Help me joe.daniel89@yahoo.com

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  20. I don't think there is anything lonelier than grief, especially the grief of gay a man who is suddenly alone.
    Everyone has platitudes but nobody knows our pain. We have nobody to turn to.

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  21. My deepest and most sincere condolences on the loss of your beloved spouse.

    I know the pain of losing my spouse - and he died the beginning of 2001.

    I've been searching online for any bereavement groups anywhere that are specifically for the gay/lesbian community.

    Does anyone anywhere know of any??

    Please let me know ASAP - someone I know wants to start one and asked me to help.

    msfair AT pobox DOT com

    Not anonymous - my name is Marny.

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  22. I'm a gay man of 68 and a pensioner . It's now 9 months since my partner aged 81 died riddled with cancer .I nursed him at home -where he wanted to be - 24 / . It was my privilege to care for him like no other agency could ; that is , with deepest real love , respect and tenderness . We had been an item for 50 very happy years and had a Civil Partnership for the last 10 years . I miss him dreadfully and find myself in private in floods of tears at some point every day ; like a dam fit to burst .
    I am heart broken and bereft as a very lonely elderly gay widower . What some rather cruelly describe as an old fart .
    Without trying to sound like a boring complaining misery , I find it necessary to put a face on for the world as the world does not know how to approach the likes of me . So for their benefit a game is being played where we all pretend nothing has altered . As though my partner has just nipped out and will return shortly . The world then feels reassured that all is well .
    However ,so to speak , I feel the whole time that my guts have been ripped out . I'm not clinically depressed and self-obsessed . Deep grief is not at all like that .
    I feel sometimes I'd like to talk with someone who understands and get it out there . Only there doesn't seem to be anyone who comprehends a elderly gay widower , who'd enjoyed the privilege of 50 years of a superb relationship . At present as I try my best to work through this awful period in all honesty the outlook feels bleak and empty . I know that my life has changed forever and i must find acceptance of that fact . The bliss I once enjoyed will not return. Am I being far too self-indulgent and selfish ?

    My name s Keith .

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    1. I am currently sitting in Sloan Kettering in nyc, watching my partner Richard of 21 years and husband of 2 years dealing with the final stages of brain cancer. I love this man totally and will comfort him toll the end, even though it is tearing me apart to see him go through this. I am terrifyed what the future will hold for me after losing the love of my life. Have any of you have some positive stories of coming through this devistating siguation? I need something to hold onto right now to keep me strong.

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