Death in the Family

Life can change at a moment’s notice; so it’s good to be able to adapt.

We were having breakfast this morning, getting ready for work, a little before 7am. We got a call from Tim’s brother in Arkansas; a bit unusual for the timing, but not unheard of. Turns out an ambulance was seen earlier leaving Tim’s dad’s house. He lives in a small town in the South; everyone knows their neighbours and their neighbours’ family, so news spreads like wildfire. Tim called Daddy’s wife; apparently he had been feeling sick the day before and had collapsed in the morning morning. That’s why the ambulance was there. Seems it was a massive heart attack and he was in ICU, on life support. Everything else was in flux; Tim said he would call back at 8am. Events were very quick; although there was some brain activity, his heart had stopped beating and he’d been without oxygen for twenty minutes before the paramedics arrived. The family followed his wishes (Tim had had this conversation with his dad) and disconnected life support. He had passed away by 9:30am.

I had already started thinking about flights. When my father had died ten years ago, it had been something of a nightmare (added on to the stress of my father dying) to get a flight from Arkansas to Toronto at short notice and without awful expense. We’d used some kind of “family emergency” clause provided by airlines, and I had to use a friend who had worked in the travel agency. But today: I’d never used my “Aeroplan” miles, so I figured I’d give them a try. By 10:30am we had an afternoon flight booked using those miles built up over the last few years for a total cost of $183 (airport fees and taxes… both of which are relatively high at Toronto’s Pearson Airport). I dropped Tim off at 11:30am and he called me about twelve hours later (I will admit I had to sleep) to tell me he’d arrived safely.

So far this sounds like many couples’ experience with the death of a parent. My Dad died in 2002; Tim’s mother died some years before that, and although he has a number of half-brothers, I believe Tim was his father’s only child.

But our relationship makes this a bit messy. Or perhaps I should say: others’ opinion of our relationship makes this messy. There are many in Tim’s family who don’t know that we’re married, and who would not approve if they did. I decided almost instantly that this was not the time to take a stand on gay rights. Much though I know I could have (and in my mind, should have) supported my husband and gone down to support him in this time, I did not want to make it worse by forcing a confrontation of the issue. We had to weigh the pros and cons to determine whether I would be more a help or a hindrance at a time of family reflection. Much though I am a part of the family (by our choice and Canadian law): many of them don’t know it. So I have to do my best to be a supportive spouse, hidden and from afar. Many families have to do this, for many different reasons: and as the reality of who is included in “family” changes, hopefully those like us will not have to do it much longer. 

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One Response to Death in the Family

  1. Holly Buchanan says:

    So sad that you even have to debate about going to your husband’s parents funeral. I cannot imagine what this would be like. I only hope in my life time that this type of discrimination and ignorance ends and we can all just be who we are and proud!

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