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social sciences

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When glbtq individuals seek support, such as in a grief support group, heterosexuals may not view the loss of a same-sex partner the same way they view the loss of an opposite-sex spouse. The bereaved gay man may hear comments such as "How can losing a boyfriend be the same thing as losing my wife?" The result is shame and isolation. This experience is common for glbtq individuals who live in rural areas or small towns, where discrimination may be more open and approved by the wider community as a part of their commitment to "family values."

Even professional grief counselors may not have sufficient experience working with gay men or lesbians to understand the nuances of the pain bereaved members of the glbtq community may be experiencing. Depending on one's geographical location, it can be difficult to find counselors who are knowledgable about gender expression and sexual orientation, let alone who are glbtq-affirmative in their therapeutic practices.

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Some glbtq individuals may also seek religious counseling to help them cope with grief, only to be met with condemnation or condescension or an attempt to "convert" them to heterosexuality.

It is crucial that glbtq individuals suffering bereavement seek help from professionals and friends who have no hidden agendas and who can appreciate without reservation the depth of love shared by same-sex partners.

Grief Recovery

Recovery from grief is a process, not an event. People differ greatly in the ways they heal from a loss. Many have an intense experience followed by gradual healing. Others have ups and downs over many years with a slow healing of their loss.

The following guidelines may be helpful to remember as individuals undergo the grieving process: 1) Give yourself time to heal and experience the changes in your life. 2) Avoid the temptation to try to replace the person or things you have lost. 3) Avoid engaging in destructive behaviors--such as excessive alcohol, drugs, sex, spending, etc.--as a way to cope with or escape grief. 4) Reach out to others for support and express your grief to sympathetic friends and professionals. 5) Be patient and gentle with yourself during the process. 6) Be open to new experiences and discoveries. 7) Find a spiritual--not necessarily religious--way to cope, such as practicing meditation, experiencing art and music, setting goals, and helping others.

Grief is a natural response to a loss, an experience shared by all. Loss is universal and is inherently a part of our humanity. Consequently, loss can allow us to connect with others at our very core. Though life may be different after a loss and can seem utterly diminished, it can in time be once again rich and satisfying.

Grief can bring people together to create a community of healing, as has occurred with the AIDS crisis. Though not readily apparent, losses may also engender gains. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

The Loss of a Pet

Although we typically think of grief in terms of the loss of a loved person, that is not the only kind of grief people suffer.

The loss of a pet, for example, may be a major blow, especially for people who do not have children or whose children have grown up. Pets often take a prominent role in people's lives similar to that of a child. The bond between a pet and a person can be very strong, and the loss can result in a profound sense of emptiness. Pets love unconditionally and offer a great deal of affection. Even the obligations they impose can provide structure and a sense of purpose to their caregivers.

When a loved pet dies, one may not know where to turn for support. The veterinarian can assist with some arrangements, but he or she usually offers little emotional support in the grieving process.

Many people may not perceive the loss of a pet as seriously as they would the loss of a person. Others may actually belittle an individual who expresses sadness due to the loss of a pet and may minimize the loss. As a result, this loss may not be allowed to heal unless one makes a concerted effort to grieve as one would the loss of a loved person.

Anticipatory Grief

Another kind of grief might be described as anticipatory grief. For example, a person who is facing retirement or who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or who is facing the break-up of a relationship or marriage may begin to experience reactions of grief even before the event has occurred. Uncertainty is a dominant reaction when the loss is anticipated, and uncertainty can be paralyzing.

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