Thursday, October 3, 2013

What Do You Do After a Tragedy?

I've received some heart-wrenching emails in the past, but this one had me in tears.  I was easily able to put myself in this young man's place, and to feel what he was feeling.  Here's his email (with a few edits for clarity):

Hello Sir,

I have been following your blog for quite sometime now but never wrote any comment or emailed you.  I was always fascinated with the kind of relationship you have with your partner. I wanted to have the same kind with my partner, but unfortunately he died, this 20th August 2013, Tuesday. We knew each other since March 2011, wanted to live life together, make a home together, work together, but everything was snatched away from us in one dreadful moment. I always told him your stories, and he used to say that he wanted to be like you and wants me to be like your partner–he wanted to write and take care of our home.

He went to his place on 19th August in Rishikesh on Rakhi (a Hindu festival). The next day, with his friend, he went to river Ganga, saw an old lady crying for help, and went to rescue her.  In the process, his feet slipped and he drowned, never to return again. We have not been able to find his body yet, which I am sure we won't be able to, after more than 15 days.

I also saw dreams.  He loved me truly and I also loved him truly. I am numb and blank. I have no energy left in me. Wherever I see, I see his face only. Everything reminds me of him.

I am writing to you, because I am sure you would understand what I am going through.  It's like I lost my family, he was my family. In a country like India, where there is so much taboo about gay relationships, our relationship flourished.  Though we were not out to our families, we enjoyed little things together, as I am sure you and Chris do. 

Please advise me what should I do: is it easy to move on, is it easy to trust someone else, should I marry a girl–what should I do? Please help your younger brother.


Here was my response (again, with edits as appropriate):

Dear N.,

It’s difficult for me to write this because I have tears in my eyes after reading your email, and I can scarcely see my computer.  I am heartbroken that this happened to you, that you are going through this, that it’s all still so new and so difficult.  You are courageous to write me now, when you are in such pain.  I can’t tell you how honored I am that you shared your story with me and trusted me with it.  I pray I write something that, in some small way, will bring you comfort.

Of course, I'm so happy to know you’ve followed my blog for a while, and that you’ve opened yourself up to what I write.  Thank you for accepting me, and my work, into your life.  Whenever I write something, I don't know if it will mean anything to anyone other than me.  That’s why it makes a difference to hear from my readers, and to know you relate to what I say.  

I’ve just read your email again, and my eyes are still filled with tears.  I’ve written posts on my blog where I’ve speculated what it would be like for me to lose my beloved partner, Chris.  So, yes, you are right–I do understand what you’re going through.  More than you know.  Losing Chris would be the single most difficult thing to happen to me.  I can’t imagine it.  That’s why I’ve written that I hope I go before him.  I hate the idea of leaving him alone, giving him no choice but to make do on his own.  But, on a purely selfish level, I hate even more the idea of having to live my life without him.  I don’t know how I would do it, or even if I could.

Oh, my goodness.  Your comment about enjoying the little things together with your partner struck a chord with me.  Last evening was filled with little things, starting when Chris arrived home from work.  Even including when he walked in the door, after not seeing each other since the night before.  I’m always relieved when he arrives safely, when I know he hasn’t been in an accident on the shuttle or the train out of the city.  Then there was sitting down to dinner together, something we do every evening but that is so special when you think about it, because, one day, our evening meal together will truly be our very last.  Such a simple thing, sharing dinner, but so meaningful.

Afterward, we went for a walk.  The weather was warm and beautiful, and we were in each other’s company–talking, laughing, joking, planning for the future.  All the things it's so easy to take for granted, until we can no longer do them.

And, then, when I held him, felt the warmth of his body next to mine, and kissed him good night.  It’s something we’ve done for the past twenty-one years we’ve been a couple.  But, again, some day, one of us won’t be here to do it.  And it’s critical that we savor each and every moment we have together, because, as your story proves, we don’t know when it will all come to an end.

It’s difficult for me to offer you advice on what you should do, because, although I’ve lost people who were close to me, I’ve never lost someone I love as much as I love Chris.  But, N., I’ve given some thought to what you’ve written, and I think I can help.

First, you must allow yourself the time and the space to grieve.  You must allow yourself to feel what you do at any particular moment.  This is where you come to terms, in the best way you are able, with the fact that your partner is gone.  Give yourself as long as that takes.  I know it won't be easy, particularly since you aren’t out to your family, and you can’t discuss with them the pain you're in and why.  But I pray you have a friend you can share this with and can confide in.  And, if you don’t, you can always write to me.  I will try to help you through it the best I can.

You ask, is it easy to move on?  No, I'm sure it's not.  It would take me a very, very long time to move on if I lost Chris.  And here’s the thing.  I don’t think you should ever want to move on, not entirely anyway, from what you shared with your partner.  You will always carry a part of him in your heart, a part of what you shared, of what you were together, and you must always cherish that.  You must always honor what you had by remembering him, not focusing on his death and the fact that he’s gone, but on the wonderful human being and soul he was.

And on the wonderful time you spent together.  A little secret, N.  Some people, despite how old they become, never experience what you did.  Some people, for one reason or another, never find real and true love.  What a shame that is.  So you must celebrate that love.  You must let it burn within you.  You must allow it to comfort you when you are suffering, as you are now.  You loved another human being, and that’s no small thing. That’s why we are all here.  It’s what we must do.  And no one can take it away from you.

You ask, is it easy to trust someone else?  I don’t think that’s what you really mean, because, as far as I can tell, there was no betrayal of trust between you and your partner. You loved each other completely, and there should be no reason why you couldn’t trust someone else.

What I think you mean to ask is, is it easy to love someone else?  And, here, I must share with you what I learned from someone I once knew.  She had been married to a man, and they loved each other very much.  Then, he passed away after a long illness, and she was alone for some time.  Finally, she met another man, and she fell in love with him.

I asked her, can you love again?  And, what is love like the second time around?  And she said, yes, of course you can love again.  If you allow yourself to.  And then she said, love the second time around is still love.  It’s different, because the person you love is different from the one you loved before.  But it’s no less.  And it can be just as wonderful.  

I can only go by what she said, because, thankfully, I haven’t experienced this myself.  But I take heart from her words that I would be able to feel love again, if I lost Chris, and fell in love with someone else.  And I hope you do too.

You ask, should I marry a girl?  I find your question a curious one.  Why would you consider marrying a girl, if you are not heterosexual?  Because being gay in India is so difficult? Because you don’t believe you’ll ever find another young man to love?  Listen, if you’re gay, then you must be true to yourself, to the extent that you are able.  If you found love with a young man once, you must believe you will find love with another young man again.

Until then, I can’t let this opportunity go by without saying that, when you don’t have the love of someone else in your life, you must be able to count on the love you have from yourself.  This is a difficult thing for some people, especially gay men.  Many fall easily in love with someone else, and grasp on to it for all its worth, because, otherwise, they think no one will love them.  Because they feel empty and incomplete if they don't feel love from someone else.  

But the most important love you'll ever have in your life is that which you have for yourself. And if you need help with that, you’ll find many posts on my blog about that very subject. It is so important to me to show gay and lesbian people how important the love they have for themselves is, how not having it is detrimental to them in so many ways.  I sincerely hope you love yourself, first and foremost, especially during this very difficult time.    

I am so happy that you consider me like a younger brother.  Reading that brought a smile to my face.  I pray you’ve found comfort in my words, I’ve given you hope you’ll get through this tragic time, and you'll come out the other end of this feeling stronger and ready to experience the fullness and beauty of love again.

I send you my very best wishes and pray your life will be filled with the richness of love.

Your brother,


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