The Reason I Started This Blog

I began searching for anything that might help me sort through the overwhelming isolation I felt when Michael, my husband of twenty-two years, died of a massive stroke just three months after we retired to Mexico.

Like a lot of other happily married couples, Mike and I lived a joyous and imperfect life together—a life in which we loved each other fiercely, argued over iron skillets and politics, traveled the world, were rejected by my parents, married twice, bought a home, moved to a different country, and grappled with the slow narrowing of our existence because of my disability and Michael’s failing health due to atrial fibrillation.

I discovered editor Michael Flamini’s heartfelt essay on the comfort he found in referring to himself as a widower at the death of his husband, Gary, on Modern Loss a month after packing up our rental and flying back to the United States to be near friends and family. Besides identifying with his experience, I was struck by the fact that it was one of the few web pages that came up when I googled the words “gay and grieving.”

In my ongoing search for support, I read every nonfiction book on the subject—about four to be exact. I also discovered that there were no support groups in my community for LGBTQ+ people who have lost their husbands, wives, spouses, or partners. (Both proliferated right along with the AIDS crisis but seem to have disappeared now that it’s no longer the threat it once was.)

Why do we need special help when it comes to grieving anyway? There are hundreds of books and a plethora of other options out there for those experiencing loss. The sadness and depression that comes with the laborious job of grieving those we love are universal, whether the person experiencing them is gay, straight, bi, or almost any other persuasion one can name. Why can’t we find the answers we need in the same places our straight brothers and sisters do? At first glance, it appears we can.

But after looking at the scientific literature from the last thirty-five years on being something other than heterosexual and grieving, I learned that those of us who are gay often run up against what the experts call “complicated” or “disenfranchised” grief. By this, I mean that our grief work is often hampered by the homophobia and prejudice of those around us, whether it be family members, friends, or clergy.

This kind of delegitimized mourning is as subtle as being bypassed in the planning for a spouse’s memorial service or as blatant as being cut out of his inheritance.

Since LGBT marriages continue to increase, and more and more gay spouses identify themselves as widowed, being gay and grieving deserves not only further exploration but an ongoing conversation—a conversation we can start having here.

This blog is a safe place for us to talk about what it’s like to be gay and grieving. You’ll also discover some great reads and resources I’ve found on my links page. Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your personal stories.

11 thoughts on “The Reason I Started This Blog”

  1. Howdy Charles!

    Back in the 1980’s, I joined the “Men’s Movement” to help me process the grief I experienced during the AIDS crisis and my personal emotional and mental health issues. I NEEDED to talk about the experience of sitting with over 200 people dying in my life but could find little true understanding and acceptance there because of the stigma of being gay.

    There are two things here: (1) I’m not gay. I had many opportunities to explore my sexuality with men… it just didn’t work for me. In some ways, I thought my life would be improved if it had, to be honest. But, with the other men in the groups, no one could be sure. Emotional honesty and openness in the CIS community is equated with gayness. It was difficult enough for these men to process their own issues without me introducing homophobia into the mix. So, there was that. They didn’t know what to do with me other than nod and do the equivalent of mumbling, “There, there,” before sufficient time had passed to, thankfully, move on to the next person or issue. And (2) there were gay men in the movement, and they got their time. It was hard for them to process their emotions in those environments because of the implicit homophobia most of us carry. But, we were not natural allies, either. I understood their situation to the degree possible because of the years I’d spent working in the gay community and having become very close to so many gay men and lesbians. I can’t quite put my explanatory finger on it, but there was always a barrier there that I had never felt in the gay community.

    As a quick aside, I must say that gay men accepted me as straight much more readily than straight men accepted them as gay. We could flirt, and they always respected that boundary that I wasn’t really interested, if you know what I mean.

    One of the things that writing the Nanci Griffith post helped me realize that I hadn’t all those years ago was the absolute helplessness of being with someone as they died of AIDS in the ’80’s. There was really nothing we could do other than provide for their needs.

    I think I recognize that in Michael’s response, too. There is no bridging that gap of helplessness. Everyone who worked AIDS then was desperate to heal these men, but there was nothing that could be done, really.

    I remember at the time not being able to articulate that feeling of helplessness. Maybe it was so impossible because if I’d acknowledged it then it would’ve been too close to reality and emotionally overwhelming making it impossible to continue on providing the services that were needed.

    The most fundamental human need is to feel understood and accepted. Even today, even though LGBTQ+ issues are being addressed and on everyone’s minds, many cis people can’t do much more than provide lip service to it and hope that it never comes too close to them requiring them to make a real emotional connection or to do something that takes real courage and risk… sorta like the racial issues that we are confronting.

    Of course, there is that barrier between what it is like to have fought for your marriage to be accepted and recognized by the world and then to have lost your husband after that and what it is like to have had a cis marriage and lost your spouse. It is an issue that to fully address it might mean these folks would have to confront a very scary part of themselves at a time when they are already dealing with so much already.

    Now that marriage equality is the law of the land, the support groups you need will form. Until then, I hope you find your niche in the blogging community. I have found some of my most cherished relationships here amongst fellow bloggers, more so than on any other social media platforms.

    Huzzah!
    Jack

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Greetings, Jack:

      I was both touched and impressed by your thoughtful response to my blog. I truly appreciated hearing about your personal experience with grief during the devastating time that was the AIDS crises as a straight man and ally to your gay brothers and sisters.

      Thinking about that time brought back the feeling of utter helplessness for Michael as well, and was one of the reasons he could barely speak of it twenty years later.

      It’s people like you who help us reach out to each other–gay or straight. Here’s hoping that someday we can learn to give each other the understanding and acceptance we all look for when facing loss.

      Charles

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Howdy Charles!

        It seems like it ought to be possible since we all grieve the same even though each experience is unique, if you know what I mean.

        Given our current political climate, I wonder if we haven’t passed our zenith of acceptance of one another in general.

        Huzzah!
        Jack

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m not gay, but I have gay friends and family and I was shocked when a dear friend of mine, who for years had nursed his partner through an horrific terminal disease, was cold-shouldered by the family. We nearly didn’t go to the funeral because it conflicted with other important commitments, but I was so glad that we did because we were among the few who were there to console him in the way that anyone who is bereaved should be comforted.
    I was shocked because it was so unexpected. I had not imagined that the family would behave like that to the man who brought so much happiness to his partner, and then cared for him with true devotion right to the very end.
    I have witnessed a lot of change over my lifetime, but there is still some way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

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