I lost someone very important to me last week. I knew he was important, but didn’t realize how significant until after he was gone. Sadness kept reminding me with a nagging, empty feeling. Suddenly the world looked like a different place and it took a while to get my bearings. The words of the great philosopher Lemony Snicket said it best for me,
It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
That’s pretty much exactly how I felt. The steps of grief aren’t predictable like a staircase in perfect light. Grief is more like losing your footing in the dark. I discovered that the denial stage of grief is not so much an outright denial as if nothing has happened, and more of a gradual awakening to a new reality that no longer includes your loved one. It comes through all the “firsts” that you don’t anticipate; the first time you walk into a meeting he’s usually at, the first Mother’s Day without her, the first time you see his Facebook page. The sickly feeling follows, and the mini denials give way to outright sadness.
Sadness has so many faces, and they all bite hard.
The question is, how do you find solid ground again once loss and grief take away that top step? How do you readjust the way you think about things?
For me the answer has always been the same- family. My family is my true north. I come back to them after everything seems to fall apart and I immediately feel whole. I come back to them after a heavy day and feel light. They know me. They accept me. They love me no matter what.
What is your true north? What people, relationships and communities keep you grounded? Where do you turn to readjust the way you think of things?
For many people the old comforts of religion no longer offer this grounding. We’re looking for something tangible, something here and now. We’re not looking for a stairway to Heaven. We’re looking to step more fully into life now; sadness, grief and all.
I want everyone to know the feeling I have in the presence of my family. Not everyone will find it in family. Wherever you find it, whether its friends, partners, or communities, hold these people close. Cherish these relationships. Nurture them. Give them time. Because soon enough you will walk into some crisis or other and that top step won’t be there, and you will reach out for a shoulder to balance you or to cry on, or to hold you.
I spent some time with my friend’s family a few days after he died, and this is exactly what they were doing. They alternated between laughter, as they found Ron’s stash of hidden candy and enough coins to cover a lifetime of parking meters, and tears as they realized that their husband, dad, grandfather and brother wasn’t in his usual seat making them laugh. They wondered who would start the grill at the next family function, and they made new plans. All the stages of grief were happening, and they were doing it together. It was so healthy, so honorable, so essential to the healing process.
Every person, and every family, deserves the right to this sort of support through the stages of grief. It’s tragic when someone doesn’t have this support for whatever reason. It’s unjust when society’s laws rob people of the chance for this support. Everyone should have the right to love who they love, marry if they choose to marry and grieve the loss of their loved ones. No law or homophobic insecurity should get in the way of this basic human right.
I was so moved by the story of Tom Bridegroom and Shane Crone. They were lovers, business partners, and planned to be married as soon as they could. When Tom tragically died, his family who never accepted his sexuality took his body back to their hometown and cut Shane out of the picture altogether. He was threatened with harm if he turned up at Tom’s memorial service. He was refused information from the hospital, and completely robbed of the chance to grieve the love of his life.
You can watch the very moving video of the story here.
Some people argue that same sex marriage will threaten the values of society. They say that the Bible encourages monogamous heterosexual marriage, forgetting that the wisest one of all, Solomon had more wives than Mitt Romney’s ancestors. Even the Catholic Church has endorsed same sex marriage at various times through the centuries. (See here for more information on this)
I don’t need to defend the institution of marriage. It’s not for everyone. But no one should be excluded from marriage because of their sexuality.
I believe that society is stronger when ALL people are given their rights to live in freedom, love in freedom, and give and receive support through the crises of life.
I couldn’t say it any better than Elizabeth Gilbert in her book “Committed; A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.”
Still it is true that many same-sex couples want nothing more than to join society as fully integrated socially responsible family-centered taxpaying Little League-coaching, nation-serving, respectably married citizens. So why not welcome them in. Why not recruit them by the vanload to sweep in on heroic wings and save the flagging and battered old institution of matrimony from a bunch of apathetic ne’er-do-well heterosexual deadbeats like me.