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.