Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ready or not, my future will arrive.

Originally uploaded by pixel endo

Tonight I attended the bereavement group that I take my youngest son to. The children meet with their facilitators, and the parents in a separate room. The program is geared to meet the needs of all who have experienced a family loss, but the majority of the adults are widows and widowers. I am fairly new to the group, which meets twice a month. Tonight the discussion took a different turn, which really threw me off.

Now before I begin, it is not my intention to question other people's choices. It was their experiences that really had me scared. In the few prior meetings I have participated I learned that one of the widowers was dating. He lost his wife a year ago, and like myself his spouse had been sick for quite some time. He is a relatively young guy, as are most in the group, the common factor being that we all have young kids. Before I get too far into this, I'm not saying I'm a young guy, unless you consider 50 to be the new 40.

As in the lesbian and gay group I previously participated in, I am the most recent widower. Most in the group are at the one year mark, or later. What I learned is that most in the group had found themselves dating much earlier than they ever expected. Each discussed how their deceased spouses had expressed a desire for them to not remain single. Michael had done the same. For those that don't know our story, my partner/spouse, Michael, was told two years ago that he had a fatal brain tumor. We knew that it was just a matter of time. He often spoke to me about my "next husband." In part this was just his humor, but it was also his way of telling me that he didn't want to think of me being alone in the future.

What scared me tonight is that I haven't really prepared myself for the possibility that this could happen for me. While I don't want to think of myself being alone for the rest of my life, I also don't want to think of myself loving anyone but Michael. I still love him so much. It is difficult to imagine myself loving Michael, and loving someone new.

When I first found myself a widower, I searched everywhere for books, or publications, that spoke specifically to me, a gay widower. With all of my efforts I found one book, which was published in 1998. One book. When I searched online under the topics of gay widower, gay grief or gay bereavement, I kept coming up with the same one book. There was nothing else. That is why I am here. I decided that someone needed to contribute to the discussion, and it might as well be me.

The book that I read was a collection of narratives by various gay widowers. Each person was asked to submit an essay that spoke of their experience as a gay widower, rather than about their experience with their deceased partners. Many of the writings included topics such as beginning to date, the issue of sex, or their experience of new found love. In a way, I think I read these narratives from the perspective of, yes, I will find myself there "one day." Clearly from my response tonight, it is far too early for me to consider this. Or, is it?

What I heard tonight is that the other widows/widowers never expected that day to be as soon as it actually was. Whenever that day does arrive for me, will I be ready? I don't want to consider this, but somehow I feel that I should. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, I could more easily imagine myself having sex with someone than to date,or fall in love with someone. In the aftermath of Michael's diagnosis, our sex life definitely changed. When your spouse is going through chemotherapy, taking tons of medication, and feeling sick most of the time, sex is not your priority. This was something that Michael and I discussed early on. He felt terribly guilty that because of his illness, so early into our relationship, I was being denied something that we previously enjoyed. I must tell you that when you learn that the love of your life has terminal cancer, your grieving begins that day. You realize that you must let go of all your previous hopes and dreams. I was so distraught, as my world had begun crumbling. I was spending every waking hour caring for Michael, and researching for the next possible treatment. I was trying with all my might to keep him alive. As I explained to Michael, sex was not at the top of my list.

In time, Michael would have periods when he was feeling physically better, and sex did return, but never quite the same. We learned that intimacy was a better way to define of our expression of love. And looking back on our last two years together, I have never been more fulfilled.

Now I realize that for some, this discussion may feel too personal. Yet, let me once again say, this is why I am here. I need to create what I couldn't find, a truly personal account of what a gay man, a 50 year old gay widower, can expect to experience. To do this I must be willing to chronicle my every day to day thoughts, experiences, and feelings. At times my experience may resound with you, at times it may not. And, at times others' experiences resound with me, and at times they do not.

Tonight I realized that at times I will be challenged to consider that which I am not comfortable with. At times, I may be challenged to consider that which I do not feel ready for. And, I may be challenged to consider it anyway.

I accept that challenge.


  1. Hi there Dan, as always I feel I understand exactly where you are coming from.

    I’m sitting at home this morning. I wasn’t feeling well last night / this morning. I attempted to get into work this morning. Firstly I was doubtful about driving into work due to the amount of snow and ice on the untreated roads around here. I decided to give it a go. Firstly the drivers door was frozen shut, and eventually having got the car ready to drive I had only driven 50 yards before coming to a junction which was blocked by a lorry. Having taken the car back, I then decided I would walk the 90 minutes to work. Having set out, and still not feeling great I decided this was just totally insane and decided to turn around and come home. Reading your blog, and sitting here trying to compose a decent response is company for me.

    I guess the moral to all this, is that life is so different being single. Having been in a loving relationship, where we cared equally for one another, I no-longer have the security of knowing that burdens can be shared. When life is difficult, as it can often be, it does make me aware, that if /when I fall unwell, there is no-one that is around to look after me. I would like to accept this with perfect grace but I think I fall somewhat short of this, having to acknowledge what I think is a feeling of disappointment that circumstances have turned out as they have. Unlike yourself, I at least only have to worry about myself, and I so admire your strength when you write about how you are making yourself available for your children. On reflection I get a sense in some of your writings that you feel you should be doing ‘better’? If so, I wonder where that comes from, and who said that we are all expected to be perfect each and every day?

    Like you I searched for some sort of guide as to how to negotiate my bereavement. Unlike you, I didn’t even come across one book that focused on gay bereavement. In the city that I live, there is a well established gay mens health project. I contacted them but the limit of the organisations resources only focused only on sexual health. I am aware they have now extended their support to people with drug and alcohol problems. Alas, I think this says something less than flattering about the communities collective widower as to the spectrum of issues that are important and impact on gay people.

    Instead for a while I set up a website for the local gay and lesbian community, the focus of which was social networking. It got off the ground for a while, but I eventually abandoned it because I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to devote the energy to it that it needed.

    I did stumble upon a relationship about two months after Chris died. I work friend hadjust split up from his female partner, and was in much the same state of grief as myself. What I hadn’t been aware of was that he was bi-sexual and I was totally surprised when he expressed a romantic interest in me. We did develop a relationship of sorts, but we were both pretty crazy in our grief for our lost relationships. We were without doubt comfort to one another, but also the nature of the situation meant that it also caused us a lot of problems. Eventually the situation fell apart and we went our own separate ways. The good thing about all this, we have remained extremely close friends and there seems to be a ‘knowing’ between us, of how we were there for one another when we each needed someone.

    For me, after more attempts at dating, by joining dating sites etc, I eventually gave up. I now realise that no-one I met would have ever made me happy. Without knowing it at the time, I was very much searching for Chris. I see that so clearly in the space I have found myself in over recent months. I was blind to this at the time. Currently, I think my deepest feelings are, that if I cannot be with Chris, I don’t want to be with anyone else, yet I also sense that maybe this would change if I met the right person, but for now I have stopped seeking.

  2. Hello Dan,
    First, I am truly, deeply, and very sincerely sorry for your unimaginably painful loss of your Michael.
    My name is Bill. Your's is the first "blog" I have ever read... it is making me cry, but that's a good thing for me, for now. It is so eloquent and has a feeling of "reaching an island" in my own near drowning in the sea of grief I am in since my husband Chuck died last May 15, 2009, in my arms, at home.
    I too had tremendous trouble finding resources for grieving gay widowers, and I too found Michael Shernoff's "Gay Widowers--Life After the Death of a Partner", (although you didn't name it, I'm assuming this is the book you refer to in your story) which I purchased and read and re-read off and on. That author, (Michael Shernoff, MSW) is now deceased as well.
    In fact, I took a big risk, and reached out to that author's surviving partner just after Chuck died, and he was very kind and extremely helpful to me, and still is. We have become somewhat "e-pals", but since he is nearly one year ahead of me in his grief process, I must take care not to "hold him back" or overwhelm him, as he has taken great strides to keep himself busy/distracted to cope as he needs.
    I am very isolated where I live, and Chuck's family was hostile to me, so I've been virtually alone ever since he died, as our few surviving friends live abroad or otherwise very far away.
    Finding your blog is wonderfully refreshing, in that it speaks to me in so many ways, acknowledging and validating my pain.
    I need to stop writing for now, I hope its okay to post this long note here like this, I've never used a "blog" before.
    I just wanted to express my gratitude at your generosity in sharing your experience(s) so that people like myself can be affirmed, and others may be educated at the complexities of same-sex grief so that one day people like us will not remain so isolated in our pain.
    Thank you, Bill in NH

  3. hey dan, im back after a while away and this blog in particular stood out for me. lately ive been feeling really guilty about moving on to anyone even though i was told to. i just cant handle being pushed along like abe wanted but i know there will be opportunities, which i know i will ruin. im too stubborn and loyal in my loves promise. i know this bc everytime i am home, away from all of the abe related stuff, i get so homesick and hyperventilate a lot and no other man ive met have ever made me feel sexual. im 21 and have lost the sex drive bc of grief, this sux.

  4. Hi Paul, thanks for sharing your experience today. The issue you express about having no one to share your burdens with is the most difficult part of all this, for me at least. The initial months were so painful that I would make myself sick. I would be crying out for Michael, because my heart always turned to him for healing. I just didn't know what to do when I found myself at the lowestl point and life, but had to recognize that I was there because he wasn't.

    Bill, thanks for joining in on the conversations. I'm so pleased to have more people join in on the discussions about this difficult journey. And, yes, you have the same book. I didn't reach out to Michael Shernoff's partner, but did consider it. I just saddened by the irony that the one person who had addressed this very issue, had died the year prior to my search.

    I too am very sorry for your loss of Chuck. All of us know your pain, and together we can help each other carry the heavy burden. I encourage you to write as much as you want, here or anywhere. My purpose here is that we all have a place to gather, and to draw strength from each other. As you may have read, the community I have become a part of includes men, women, gay and straight, parents, non-parents. What we have in common is our grief. I love that I can be my authentic self, and it is respected and understood. With that in place, I can open myself up, be vulnerable, and begin healing.


  5. Dan, I know the fear you have, because I feel physically sick, literally want to be sick, at the mere thought of "betraying" Cliff. I think that one should say, "never say never" with a caveat that, "I can't go there. NOT YET. Can't even contemplate it ... not ready."

    If it happens, at some time, then I would be immeasurably happy for you - however, right now, we need to fix ourselves and find our new "me", our new balance, our new status quo, as it were.

    Don't entertain the idea, you don't even have to discuss it. Several of Cliff's friends have told me that he'd be happy for me ... right now I don't think it would be right, and I simply can't imagine it even, bleurghhhh ... but never say never.

    You are a wonderful man, a good friend, sensitive, intelligent, caring, thoughtful, funny too and BRAVE. Who better than to kick off the gay widower discussion? xxx

  6. Thanks Boo. Your words are very reassuring. These are such crazy times, or should I say surreal? Sometimes I wish I could just be locked away somewhere. Somewhere nice of course, where I could have some peace and quiet. Maybe I could join a monastary, but not sign any longterm agreement.

  7. Hi again, Dan
    Thank you very much for your acknowledgment and your reassuring words of welcome.
    You seem to have hit on a very relevant and difficult topic--dating.
    As I too have felt this question tapping the shoulder of my consciousness, I find that I too feel "sickened" (as Boo pointed out) by the idea of betraying my "loyalty of my love's promise" (as Pants also feels).
    Since we all seem to feel similar in our own unique ways, it occurs to me that maybe we're supposed to--maybe these feelings stand as a testament that each of our relationships were, and still are solid and deeply committed--and that we are still just following all of the "rules" that applied before.(?)
    It also reminded me, however, that when my Chuck was alive, during happier times, I sometimes wondered what I wanted for him if something were to happen to me, and my answer (to myself) was that I would definitely want him to pursue and find companionship with someone new, who would take care of him and love him as passionately as I did (do). In fact, the thought of him remaining alone, grieving over losing me, was unthinkable.
    So, for me anyway, the logical progression is that our mates are looking down upon us, wishing us to keep moving forward, and wishing that we do indeed find someone, as soon as we allow ourselves to be ready.
    I know it is a hard thing to consider--and I have even "offended" myself a little bit, just because I know I'm far from ready to even consider this right now.
    I'm even thinking that, if I wait long enough, no one will want me, so this issue may resolve itself after all--I'm turning fifty this year, so at the rate I'm going, I may be in my mid-nineties when (and if) I finally consider going out "dancing" again.