Death doesn’t hold back.
When it hits, it punches holes in your life.
Mourning the loss of a partner ushers in a hard season of deep holes.
Your expectations and everyday reality are filled with voids left by the one you loved.
In life, you and your partner had each other to count on.
Now, you may be mourning the loss in a host of ways:
You lost his or her loving acceptance. You lost your combined freedom of expression. You lost a home filled with daily support.
If you are a gay or lesbian person, the holes left by the loss of your partner may feel deeper and wider in a world that often diminishes the value and validity of your love.
Mourning the loss of long-time love in an unresponsive, and even callous society, may lead to feelings of disenfranchised grief that make your loss doubly painful.
Disenfranchised grief occurs when mourning is complicated and compounded by further loss of social acknowledgment, affirmation, and encouragement.
You might feel as though your right to express your grief is being squelched.
You might feel as though your right to grieve at all is being removed.
You might feel powerless to fight against a community or family that refuses the reality of your grief.
Loss, for you, may include the following dynamics:
Invisibility: LGBT mourners often miss out on the understood sympathies and relational support offered a grieving heterosexual partner. Discomfort or denial of your identity and relationship may create a vacuum of normal kindnesses and care from those in your families and community.
Social stigma and interpretations of “valid” partner grief keep people away. They can’t place your grief under their “acceptable” label. So, they pretend they can’t see it and stay away. Unfortunately, you’re left even lonelier.
Societal resistance and family disapproval essentially conspire to keep your grief at arms length when what you need most is to be comforted and embraced.
Illegitimacy: LGBT partners sometime find themselves mourning the loss of relationship status as well. First, you must accept transitioning from partnered to single. Then, you may realize you no longer have a shield from the outside forces that would invalidate your union.
You must face people who don’t recognize your relationship emotionally, legally, or even historically. For them, your grief doesn’t register. Your years in a committed relationship, building a life and a home, don’t count.
At a crucial point of vulnerability, it feels like the world is taking even more from you when what you really need is communal and institutional support, to help secure what you’ve built and shape a new future.
Isolation: LGBT people, who feel disenfranchised throughout their grief process, also feel very alone.
Mourning the loss of love is one thing. To do it knowing that your grief is unacknowledged and your relationship is unrecognized is extraordinarily isolating.
What you really need is compassion for the hurting individual you are.
Disenfranchised grief is not part of being gay or lesbian. It’s part of being an LGBT person in a “hetero-normative” culture.
To be gay and grieving is sometimes a harsh reminder of how the world still views you.
To be lesbian and mourning the loss of love often feels like grief is just kicking you when death already has you down.
But the unfairness of being invisible, invalidated, or isolated at such a difficult time deserves attention.
Your relationship was real love. Your pain is real grief.
You deserve compassionate bereavement care.
You deserve to be comforted.
You also deserve a hand to hold.
Reach out to someone who sees you.