Gay Grief Is Different

GAY GRIEF

Grief, as you might have sadly discovered, is like a river that takes us where it wants us to go. We can't stop those heartbreaking reality waves of anguish but we can learn to once again drift with purpose. Getting there is rough, because no matter how many well-meaning friends tell you "time heals all wounds," there are just some losses we get "through" but we never get "over." No grief is like your grief because no relationship was quite like yours.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is horrific enough, but it is even harder when you're a member of the LGBTQ community. I know. I've felt this disenfranchised grief. Gay grief is marginalized. Many of us, depending on where we live and what kind of network we have, are excluded from experiencing society's mourning process.

My girlfriend of 14.5 years died five years before same sex marriage was made legal. While I was the health care proxy and caregiver, I'm haunted that I was not able to file a wrongful death suit regarding medical malpractice because I was not an "immediate family" member. I was not invited to the funeral hosted by her family. And compared to many of my gay sisters and brothers, I got off easy.

There are thousands of members of our community who cannot even tell their employers that the love of their life has died for fear of losing their job, and much worse.

We've made significant inroads in the past decade. But despite legislation on same-sex marriage, a push for tougher anti-hate crime laws, and the World Health Organization's declassification of transgender people as 'mentally ill,' the prejudice has not gone away.

The current administration has unleashed a culture of hate that is once again stacking the deck against us. They have erased LGBTQ terminology from various government forms. Beautiful families with same-sex parents are scrambling to lock down their rights in the event that rulings are overturned. Many are forced to conceal their true selves for fear of harassment. This dread and anxiety, especially among our trans family members, is making access to proper healthcare a terrifying experience.

Homosexuality is illegal in 73 countries. While not criminal in the U.S., there is a menacing climate present that ranges from wedding cake controversies to harassment and beatings.

If you lose your precious love, you might be denied a proper grieving process. This grief is forceful, commanding and unpredictable. We must grieve the loss of our loved one and the person we became with our love by our side.

If a long-term illness is the ultimate cause of death, will the medical staff be considerate and respectful of your relationship? How will you manage the discussions with the funeral home and cemetery arrangements? Will it be difficult to deal with your dear mate's family? Are you afraid to tell your boss and co-workers about your relationship? These are questions straight people never have to ask.

Gay grief is often not taken as seriously as the bereavement process is for a hetero relationship. Co-workers, neighbors, and so forth, might not have any gay people in their circle of friends and don't know what to say. They might not even try to console you. You might be completely ignored.

It's important to stick close to like-minded people, your LGBTQ family, friends and straight allies. The good kids on the block. If your gay community is small or non-existent, reach out to online resources including the Human Rights Campaign, The Trevor Project and Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) to make connections.

Look for a place to put your pain. Create a memory box with notes, cards, mementoes and souvenirs of your love. Write a letter and say all the things you wished you had time to say. Schedule a grieving session with yourself every day or week until the rushing river begins to subside a bit. Consider joining a grief group, but wait for the loss to really settle in -- that could take four to six months. 

Finding a gay grief group is, of course, the optimum situation. Talk about your grief with caring people. Reminisce. It helps.

A naming opportunity offers much solace. Find a charity building a walkway or other structure and buy a brick, for example, with your loved one's name on it. Contribute to a program that places park benches in your town inscribed with your loved one's name. If this is not an option, plant a flowering shrub or tree to honor your lost love. Watch it flourish and blossom every spring.

Plan holidays and special dates of observance in advance so you won't be alone or succumb to last minute plans with callous people who don't, won't or can't acknowledge your loss.

Join organizations, get involved. You might be able to help someone who is also grieving this traumatic death of a love.

Above all, be grateful for the time you spent with this cherished partner. Your life was better for having them in your world. It changed you, it shaped you. Take the golden moments with you. Grief is a war, but you are a survivor.

SUE RAKOWSKI is author of From Sue To Suetastic: how I went from broken & beat to finding my own inner healing superhero--and you can do it, too. The 15-step self-help guide she wrote to mend her shattered life is available at Amazon and in Kindle Books. All proceeds from the sales of the book go to Phoebe Legere's 501(c)3 Foundation for New American Art nonprofit.

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