Publisher’s Perspective: When darkness is welcome

Publisher’s Perspective: When darkness is welcome

TomDyerHeadshotI met my new client, Bill, in the reception area shared by Watermark and my law practice. A slip of a man in his seventies, I offered to help him out of one of the awkwardly low chairs we provide. He waved me off, shook my hand and thanked me for seeing him on short notice.

When we were settled in my office, Bill looked at me across my desk with the sweetest and most unassuming smile you can imagine. He explained that his estate was simple, but he had no Last Will or health care directives. In just a few days he would undergo a difficult procedure to remove bone from his leg and insert it in his jaw, which was deteriorating after cancer treatments.

“If it works and it helps, well that’s great,” Bill said with that beatific smile. “But if it doesn’t, well that’s fine, too. I’m ready. I just want to make sure everything is in order.”
There wasn’t a trace of resistance in his voice. As I obtained the information I needed to complete his estate planning documents, I came to understand his calm acceptance. As usual, out of curiosity I asked more than I needed to know.

Two years prior, Bill had lost his partner of 52 years. They had been together ever since a fateful golf date arranged by Bill’s brother. It was 1956, and no one suspected that sparks would fly on the fairways.

Bill and Frank lived together in more than a dozen places, eventually settling in Sarasota.
“Some were big cities and some were small towns, but we were accepted in every neighborhood,” Bill said, still smiling. “If there was a party, we were invited.”

But the social norms were different back then, and difficult to unlearn. Even in my office, Bill lowered his voice before saying “gay.”

After Frank’s death, Bill relocated to Orlando to be closer to his gay nephew and his partner, a local television reporter. He rented a small condo in a downtown high rise, unaware that he was surrounded by potential new friends.

“There are other [whispered] gay people in my building, really?” he asked me sheepishly. I could think of a dozen off the top of my head.

Bill returned to my office the following day to sign his documents before his nephew drove him to the hospital in Jacksonville. I asked him to call and let me know how things went. Still smiling, he looked at me and held my eyes, then thanked me again.

A week later, the call came from his nephew, Marty. The surgery had gone well, but there had been complications afterward and Bill had died the previous night. Later that day in my office, Marty told me that Bill had called him after the operation and shared that he had been praying for death.

“I think part of him died two years ago,” Marty said, still shaken. It was clear that he had loved his uncle dearly. “When Frank was around, Bill was the life of the party. They brought out the best in each other. Bill missed him every day.”

Bill was on my mind the next day, when I read that President Obama had directed hospitals around the country to honor patients’ wishes about who may visit their sickbeds or risk losing federal Medicaid and Medicare funds. The order made no mention of gay couples, but it was clearly intended to benefit them, and to reinforce the kinds of documents I’d just completed for Bill.

And then I grew infuriated as I read on that conservative activists had denounced Obama’s initiative.

“Most certainly [Obama’s] political agenda is to undermine traditional families,” said Focus on the Family’s Carrie Gordon Earll.

“President Obama’s memorandum undermines marriage,” said the Family Research Council’s Peter S. Sprigg.

“I think it’s primarily pandering to a special interest group,” said Orlando’s John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council.

The names of these organizations are as offensive as their pronouncements, and this issue exposes them for what they are: ignorant, fear-based and hypocritical; seeking to quash loving family connections, not cultivate them. It is frightening to imagine what they would render upon us if left to their own devices.

The president has declared that, at least when it comes to hospital visits, same-sex partners are family. His memo ends discriminatory rules that some institutions have used to limit even death-bed visitation by committed couples.

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