The pain of grieving is there for all losses, whether spouse or lover. A partnership transcends labels and roles and one’s partner is primary when a strong bond exists. Regardless of how the relationship is named, the pain of loss requires healing. In life, we may be exposed to mini losses several times before a major loss presents itself. We “deal with it” and even understand it to a small degree. Yet, we are not schooled in loss or prepared for it in life, so when we experience a larger loss it can feel devastating.
When we love and lose someone, whether that someone is lesbian, homosexual, bisexual or transgender, we are overwhelmed by pain and sorrow. However, when our relationship is out of the mainstream, we might already have been so criticized and saddened, that in this final loss, we find it much more difficult to grieve, heal and move on to a fulfilling new life.
No one can understand totally the pain of another. We can meet at waysides of commonality and share our experiences and progress, and although there is healing in the act of sharing, we still feel alone in our sadness. What touches us in a positive way is when we feel understood. The loneliness of loss and alienation affects us deeply at the level of our souls.
Mourning the loss of a partner within a non-traditional relationship can encompass an additional burden if there is little family or community-at-large support. Such relationships may have had less approval, or in the case of a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender partner, even have been kept secret. If the immediate family is not approving of this relationship, they have trouble being supportive. In fact, they may not understand, but may also be angry over the relationship. The reality is that out of the mainstream experiences are harder to understand and accept when they are not “your experience.”
Parents who have accepted their non-mainstream children, who love and support them, don’t have to understand everything. Their love is a support platform. That said, however, joining a traditional support group may not be seen as a viable option because there is no common ground. Parents who are grieving want to meet other parents who are grieving. Grown children who are grieving want a group with others like themselves.
Widows/widowers prefer being with other widows/widowers although there are similarities, there are many differences. People want a good match, the compatibility that comes with shared understanding and similarities. People who are gay do not see a mainstream support group as a major support for themselves because “they will not understand.” People want a match for their experience; they want to know that they can feel understood and loved and not judged or ridiculed. They will drop out of mainstream grief support groups that don’t accept them.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
Established in 1983, the New York-based Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center has grown to become the largest LGBT multi-service organization on the East Coast and second largest LGBT community center in the world.
Doneley Meris, M.A., C.T. (Masters in Bereavement Counseling; Certified Thanatologist/Death Educator) is their Team Leader for Outreach and Education, Center CARE. Challenges for the LGBT community over grieving and healing are dependent on sensitive and inclusive grief LGBT-focused support groups according to Meris. Major cities have been able to address this concern by facilitating support groups but Middle America still needs to incorporate this unique service to the LGBT community which is a major challenge as religion, morality, and politics often get in the way. Meris maintains a bereavement psychotherapy practice in New York City where the focus of his work primarily is to meet the challenges of the LGBT bereaved community(ies).
“The LGBT community today continues to face discrimination in more mainstream venues for (bereavement) services,” says Meris. “When you add HIV/AIDS into the mix, the sexual orientation and the stigma attached to AIDS become major barriers to the comfort level, trust, and safety of LGBT individuals who attempt to participate in service programs that are not LGBT identified or sensitive. Secondly, there are many institutions that provide grief services that have not had sufficient and realistic trainings working with the LGBT bereavement population.
“There is sensitivity and humaneness specially required of any service practitioner in order to effectively move the healing process for this unique group of individuals. The big elephant of homophobia and heterosexism even in death has to be dealt with to be effective in providing quality grief services.”
According to Meris, grief counseling, however, is provided in many venues. “Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) has been very actively engaging and encouraging funeral homes, hospital chaplains, hospices, churches, HIV/AIDS service agencies, and other mental health and community-based organizations to incorporate grief services particularly to LGBT individuals in their service provision. Various websites have sprung up that address the unique grief challenges of the LGBT community.”