It wasn’t long after Michael’s death that I felt an overwhelming need to talk to someone who had walked the same path. Don’t get me wrong; my life teemed with people who were willing to listen to the stories I told over and over again—tales of crisscrossing the world—everything from sailing down the Yangtze to gliding silently through dark Arctic waters. I told them about the unexpected gift Mike handed me every day just by telling me I was beautiful. I talked about the deep hurt we felt at not being allowed to share a family Christmas. I went over the reasons I loved him and the reasons he sometimes annoyed the hell out of me.
Nothing was sacred. Everything was on the table. I had to talk about Michael and our relationship. I didn’t know it then, but by bringing out these memories, holding them in my hand, and examining them in the light, I was beginning to work through my grief.
Friends and family wrapped me in a cocoon of love and understanding. They laughed and cried with me and celebrated the larger-than-life, flawed man who had shared more than a third of my life. They relived their memories of brother, son, and friend. They helped me sort through our life together, looking for clues that might explain the rollercoaster of guilt I felt over missed opportunities or the problems in our relationship I was still trying to fix. I couldn’t have asked for a better support system. On the outside, it was perfect.
But something was missing. There were things these well-meaning people didn’t—couldn’t—understand because they’d never been part of a couple like us. Everyone empathized with the dragging sadness that comes with such a loss. Some knew what it was like to be different. A few even lived their lives as part of a couple who’d experienced rejection and prejudice, but none of them were gay men who’d lost the man they loved. I couldn’t figure out why it was so important for me to find this kind of support at first, but the drive to track it down got stronger and stronger as the days passed.
When I finally ran into other gay men who’d lost their partner, it was in the last place I expected. Even though I was overcome with guilt because it felt like I was cheating on him, I joined an online dating site about a year after Michael’s death. My husband and I had few gay friends, and I was looking for companionship to combat the intense loneliness that sometimes ate away at my days. I figured out that there were quite a few men on the site who were also in the process of rebuilding their lives after their husbands had passed away.
I texted and flirted and then phoned a few, and we spent hours sharing what it was like for us to lose our man. One talked about feeling invisible after his partner died. I mentioned attempts to shut me out of my husband’s memorial. Another brought up the grief he carried alone because the man he loved was still in the closet when he died. But mostly, we cried over how much we missed the men we loved and laughed over the problems that can only come up when two men choose to share their lives.
And then I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief because I’d finally found someone who really understood.