A Wedding and a Divorce
Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran, Sylva, NC
Sounds like some new movie for Hugh Grant to star in, but it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, there were funerals during this time too. Death waits for no one and cares not about our special occasions. My ex and I had planned our wedding shortly after North Carolina announced it was allowing gay marriages in the state. Paula Offutt and I were giving presentations about our new books at City Lights Bookstore. A friend who loved us interrupted the reading to let us know that the ruling had passed. None of us could believe it.
Now many are trying to take our newly given rights away again. States are creating bills and hoping to make laws that can discriminate against us. Let me tell you this. Now that many of us have had a taste of freedom, those states are not thinking clearly about making us go back in the closet. We have sacrificed too much to get rights that many take for granted. We cherish those rights and we will fight for them. The LGBTQ people are not afraid of hard work, protest, losing family, or physical harm. None of us want that in our lives, but we want to keep our rights.
If I did a timeline summary of all that happened between the time of the book reading, it would look like this:
New Book Release/Reading – Marriage Equality in NC – Wedding plans – my dad’s death – Disability Hearing – Wedding.
In all of that rejoicing, my dad died. There was no rejoicing then mind you. My family had a hard month with my dad on life support machines and with his being 78, we had to make a tough decision. There was tension in the family over a right to die and the meaning of faith. On the day my dad died, my family decided to leave my partner out of the surviving relative list in the obituary. That hurt. It hurt because I knew they loved her, and she loved them. Then, it caused problems because my partner thought I should raise my voice.
One marriage with many promises.
It wasn’t because I was chicken. I had stood up to my family (and lost) before. My concern was the fact that my mom had just lost her lifelong friend and love. Mom and dad fought all the time. So much so that at times I thought they didn’t like each other. Later in life, I realized that both of them liked to argue to a certain degree and that they had learned to make their peace with each other. In addition to concerns about mom, my sister and I were heartbroken over the loss of our dad. My sister worked alongside of dad, so the loss was deeper for her. In my attempt to minister to my family’s grief, I did not do as my partner asked.
Besides, my dad’s death caused a cyclone of feelings inside of me that I was having a hard time understanding. There was grief and loss, but there was also relief. Not only relief about my dad no longer being on life support machines, but I later realized his death meant one less person to condemn me in my family. Though we had made a kind of peace about me being present with my partner, it was an uneasy peace. After his death, he came to me in dreams to tell me how much he loves me. I write in the present tense because he still comes in my dreams to bring love to mind. Somehow after his death, I knew he could accept me in a way he couldn’t in his life. He was the only one of my family that later felt present at my wedding.
After the funeral, my partner suggested that we postpone our wedding. That really hurt. It hurt because it was the only way I got through the ordeal with the month’s waiting in the hospital. It hurt because I was afraid that my choice to not start a fight in the midst of family grief caused my then-future-wife to have second thoughts about marriage. I believe I even asked her that.
It was true what she said that I was grieving. I couldn’t see how postponing our wedding would make a difference. Though I’ve learned healthy ways to grieve, I am slow at it. Because of my tendency to ponder and analyze my every thought and feeling over events, doing the same with grief makes it seem exponentially longer. At this writing, it’s four years after my dad’s death and I still grieve at odd times. Still miss him when I see his harmonica or run across his guitar slide and the memories of him teaching me guitar make me wish to hear him. Even in 2015, I know that postponing the marriage would have only delayed my grief over the loss of my dad. To postpone would have caused me to stop grieving and wonder what was wrong with my relationship.
Choose to remember love.
Looking back now, perhaps that’s what I should have done anyway. The married and happily ever after was too enticing. Though I knew that life is always full of ups and downs, I was confident in the us that we were and that we had been. At that time, we had been together for nine years and had already gone through a lot. Hell, I thought the fact that two women went through menopause together was enough to cement our marriage. That wasn’t a fun time I tell you, but we made it and we still loved one another.
There also was the issue of my declining health. Even before dad’s illness, we had been working to get disability in place for me because of how it was impacting my life and ability to work. Though my partner talked about the stress of it, she promised she still loved me for who I was. The thought of being classified as “disabled” was horrible to me and caused a great identity crisis because I like to work. I didn’t know who I would be if I couldn’t work. I didn’t know where I would fit in the world, in my church, in my family if I didn’t work. This was going on before dad died; even when we planned to wed and, in the weeks, before the wedding. It made it even more difficult that the hearing before the disability judge came up to be scheduled on the day of our wedding rehearsal day. We asked the attorney about postponing it. She informed us that the judge could delay it another two years and we both knew I needed more medical help because I had no insurance.
We went to the hearing and the judge made an offer to grant the disability for the future, but it wouldn’t cover all of the bills that had piled up to the date of the final hearing. I can’t remember why the attorney suggested postponing our wedding at a discussion after the judge’s offer. My partner righteously and angrily explained to the attorney that we had waited all our lives for the right to marry. In truth, I think my partner surprised herself at how angry she was that the attorney suggested that. My partner’s standing up and claiming our wedding in such a manner made me even more confident in our wedding. The day before the wedding I was declared by the state as “disabled”.
That label did not affect me though because, at the time, I rejoiced in the fact that I was beloved. I felt loved by my partner, community, church, and even my family at the time. Though they did not know about the wedding. Dad died before we could even tell them about it. I knew they wouldn’t come anyway and did not want messages about my salvation mixed in with the grief, the stress of the disability hearing, and the stress (yet joy) of getting married.
Our wedding was simple. We dressed in our best pantsuits. We encouraged everyone to come as they were; casual and fun. The wedding was full of messages of love. From ancient Hebrew scripture to the reading of a Shakespeare ode, love was in the air. Friends played music. All of my partner’s family who lived in town participated. Friends helped. We walked down the aisle to “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” (my favorite Bach piece) and walked out to “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” (a favorite of us both). Our reception was provided by the locale business lesbian. Our photographs by the local and out partner of the business lesbian. We had Christians, atheists, agnostics, and Buddhists at our wedding. The church string band played Celtic music. We danced, ate cupcakes, and rejoiced in the love of family and friendship.
Everyone told us then and later that it was the best wedding they had ever attended. They talked of how much fun it was and that they were free to wear whatever they wanted. Everyone talked about how much love there was in the ceremony and the reception. It’s true too. Though I won’t post a photo of my ex here, you can look at her face and see love. Love for me, for her family, church, and for our friends. We both talked about how blessed we were.
Fresh flowers at The Balsam Inn, NC.
Our honeymoon wasn’t far away but a few towns over. Just enough to be out of our neighborhood for a mini-break, but also close enough so that if my 96-year-old mother-in-law needed us, we could get there in time. I was proud and honored to be a part of her family. In fact, they were a lot like my family except from Chicago. Okay, so that’s a lot difference. But the love of music and God tied us together.
Today, March 28, 2019, would have been our fourth wedding anniversary. Today is the one-year anniversary of our divorce. Yet, what I tell you now is that I’m going to celebrate the love and not the pain. I am sad that my marriage didn’t make it. That much is true. Yet, it is also true that in those years we had together I had more love than some people have in a lifetime.
My friends remain. I have made new friends in my new community who have brought healing and hope for life again at this age. For now, I’m unwilling to talk about romantic love, for I thought my wife was my “one”…she was the only person I was willing to marry. It doesn’t mean that the loss of her means there’s no such thing as romantic love, but that I still have much to learn about love. I still have the love in my heart after all the hurt. After all the loss, the love I have in my heart and life is greater than what I have lost. That is what I will celebrate today. I pray that you know you are loved too.