By Glenn Jamieson
As an older gay male, I was living a charmed life, was completely content, and woke up every day looking forward to whatever the day would bring. I was in a long term (almost 40 years) relationship with my best friend and soulmate, and while we weren’t openly gay, most people who knew us knew we were partners. We didn’t have a lot of gay friends, mostly acquaintances, but we were happy with the life we had created for ourselves.
That life came crashing down in July of 2018 when my partner suffered a heart attack and passed away.
Since that time I have learned more about grief than I’d ever thought possible. Over the years I’d lost aunts, uncles, grandparents, a parent, and coworkers, and while each was a terrible loss in it’s own right, I never really thought about what losing a life partner would be like.
Typically, I would attend the viewing, sometimes the funeral, and would offer up my condolences and support. Over the next few days I would think about the deceased and feel some sadness, but after about a week or so, depending on who it was, my life would continue on as it had previously.
What I never really thought about, nor could I have truly comprehended, was that for the surviving partner their life would never again be as it was. From that day forward, from the start of their day to the end of their day, every day, they are constantly reminded of who isn’t there anymore. There isn’t a day that goes by, and it’s almost four years now, that I don’t think of him.
There are times that I wish someone who’d been through a loss like mine would have warned me, or prepared me, for what it would be like. But I know that even if someone had, I still wouldn’t have been able to grasp the enormity of it.
I joined a local grief group, and while it was a help, I was the only gay person and there were aspects of our lives that I didn’t, or couldn’t, share with a group of heterosexual people who would have no idea of what growing up gay was like in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond. My partner and I met at a time when gays were still reviled by mainstream society; we lived in the closet, and a few years later AIDS had started popping up in cities around the world. I think those circumstances made us value each other and our relationship more strongly, and in the end, because we were all that each other had, made the loss that much more intense.
I ended leaving the group after a couple of weeks and faced the loss on my own, reading books on grief, and a year later finding a gay grief group on Facebook. It was comforting to have found others who were experiencing the same type of loss I’d had, but unfortunately, none of them lived locally, and then with COVID, meeting others would not have been possible anyway. In grief, as in so many other situations, it’s beneficial to be able to sit down with likeminded individuals who are going through the same experiences as you are.
I’ve found that grief doesn’t end in six months, a year, two years, or four. The pain of the loss isn’t as intense as it was, but the loss is never ending. I can have great days, but at the end of the day there’s a sadness that’s ever present. I’ve spoken with others who have been widowed 10 years and more, and they’re still missing their soulmates. They don’t share much about it with non widows/widowers, but we can talk to each other, and we understand.
I guess my intent with this post is to make people aware of how fragile life is, and to let everyone know that gay people, still, in some cases, are not treated equally, not just in life, but also in death.
If you’re currently in a committed relationship, sit down with your significant other and tell them how much you love them, and how much they mean to you. Tell each other what you would wish for them moving forward if anything should happen to either of you.
Make sure you’ve got a will and a power of attorney for healthcare, and for finances, for each other. Make sure you’ve named each other as beneficiaries to your pension plans, and whether married or not, have legal papers drawn up showing you consider each other life partners. Don’t wait to do this, do it now!
There are some in the gay grief group who have not only lost their partners, but have been left with nothing because they didn’t have the proper legal protections drawn up, and the family of the deceased has come in and taken everything, including in some cases, their home. Love means protecting each other, and that includes in death.
One other thing I would recommend is to take pictures – lots and lots of pictures -and videos. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is priceless! With a video you get their essence and their voice. A lot of widows/widowers miss hearing their loved ones voices and will save messages from their answering machines just so they can hear still hear them. Once we’re on our own all we are left with are the pictures, the videos, and the memories.
Life is shorter than one may think, and can change in a flash. Value those you love above all else, because in the end, they’re all that matters in this life.