While engaged in finding potential interviewees for CYBILL UNION in the late fall, I discovered the story of a set of elderly gentlemen in San Francisco whose relationship spanned over fifty years. Greatly respected in the community for their selfless contributions and involvement, their situation ideally fit CYBILL UNION’s demographic, resulting in my inviting them to the conversation table, a request that appealed to one of the partners.
A week later, we spoke. The time was around Thanksgiving, 2014. Sadly, I learned he was approaching the holiday without much thanks to give because his husband had fallen gravely ill and had been under hospice care since the 14th. As proof of his own uncertain situation, my new friend’s voice sounded shaky as he described how little free time there was to talk since the majority of it was spent by his spouse’s side, where he was only occasionally recognized due to the rapid onset of senility his loved one suffered.
Still, the stronger partner expressed interest in talking about this great love of his life and asked that I call back within two weeks. Other than attending his loved one at the hospital, he had his own health to maintain, he explained, and had a complicated schedule of medical appointments and minor surgery to complete.
Happy to grant him enough room to deal with these difficulties, I waited three weeks before contacting him again. The conversation went well, only, he had very sad news to share with me. His partner of fifty-five years had passed away on November 19, leaving him behind to deal with his grief. This shared, he continued our conversation by steering it in a different direction.
“I don’t know if you’ll care about this, but I’m having a very difficult time dealing with this right now,” he started. “Jack and I were together for fifty-five years, and I just don’t know who to talk to about this.” He continued to speak intimately with me about his situation for a few minutes more before hanging the phone up to prepare for a quiet dinner with a friend in a corner of the cafeteria, where each could speak to each other and find comfort.
Once the line was disconnected and I sat alone at the table in my dining room, I considered the size of my friend’s dilemma. Although stories existed in prior decades (and millennia) that included same-sexed couples whose arrangements and intimacies spanned for years of their own lives, we are alive in the first time ever that they have been able to declare themselves married in the eyes of many of these United States. This is without precedent, I believe, and it is glorious. Still, there is a situation within this glory that has yet to be considered. It is: as members of this aging population of newlyweds loses their partners, how can we lend support during their grieving processes, especially in smaller or rural environments where grief support groups may be biased against a widow or widower whose love was same-sexed?
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