Dealing with Death and Dying in GLBT Families

by Katharine Swan

Death is a normal part of life, but that doesn’t make it easy to deal with. Those who have lost loved ones can encounter any number of hardships, including a complicated grieving process, and a lack of understanding from friends and family. GLBT families have an added difficulty, as bereaved gay or lesbian partners are often not given the same recognition and support as heterosexual widows and widowers.

Dealing with Your Loss

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is difficult business, whether they are a partner, a parent, another family member, or a close friend. Here are a few things you should do to take care of yourself during the grieving process.

Sad Children

Know the stages of grief. A lot has been written about the five stages of grief: sadness, disbelief, anger and resentment, guilt, and fear. It is good to know this theory as you go through your own grieving process, but at the same time, remember that it is just that – a theory. Not everyone experiences all five stages, or in the same time frame. The important lesson to take with you here is that grief triggers a myriad of emotions in a person – and that as long as your grief does not lead you to harm yourself or others, and does not persist to the point that it interferes with your normal life, it is in fact perfectly normal to feel any and all of these feelings after the loss of a loved one.

Seek support services for gays and lesbians. Hospital staff and other professionals are trained to recommend support services for those who have lost loved ones. Unfortunately, their training does not always extend to gays and lesbians, and in fact they may not recognize the importance of your relationship with a deceased partner. If no one suggests support services to help you through your grief, be prepared to ask for a list of LGBT-friendly therapists or counselors.

Get help if you are having a hard time dealing with the grief on your own. Many gays and lesbians avoid seeking help after losing a partner, either because the relationship was a secret or because they are ashamed to come out to a perfect stranger. However, grief can be tough to deal with alone, particularly if you are hiding the relationship from friends and family. Some grief counseling services specialize in working with gays and lesbians who have lost partners or other loved ones, which may help to make you feel more comfortable in seeking help; but at the very least, you should be sure to talk to a close friend or family member about what it is you are going through.

Consult a lawyer if necessary. Some gay and lesbian couples have the foresight to set up wills ahead of time, but even so, family members who disapprove of the relationship may challenge the will after your partner’s death. Dealing with grief is difficult enough without your partner’s family pouring battery acid into the wounds! Don’t try to deal with it all alone – seek out legal assistance in dealing with your partner’s family.

Helping Children Deal with a Loss

Dealing with your own grief over the death of a loved one is often only part of your responsibility. More gays and lesbians than ever before are now starting families, so if you and your partner have taken that plunge, remember that the loss of a loved one affects your children as well as you.

Here are some tips for helping your kids deal with death.

Talk about it with them. Don’t make your kids to feel that talking about the deceased is some sort of taboo. Although many people will tell you that kids don’t understand death, the truth is that they feel the pain of loss just as strongly as we do. Any lack of understanding that they have is because they haven’t been exposed to it before. The best thing we can do to help children understand death is to talk to them about it.

Listen to them. When you talk to your children about death, you shouldn’t be the one doing all the talking. Your kids may have things they want to ask, or they just may need to express what they are feeling. Only by listening do you know what needs to be said.

Cry with them. Yes, it is okay to cry in front of your child – and it is certainly okay to let them cry. Whatever you do, don’t tell your child – or give them the impression – that in order to “be strong” they have to squelch their grief.

Encourage self-expression. Creativity can often help children (or adults) find ways to express themselves and deal with their grief. Encourage your child to express their grief in positive ways, such as by keeping a journal, drawing or painting, or creating picture collages in memory of their loved one.

Allow them to attend the funeral. Many parents refuse to let their kids go to the funeral of a loved one, claiming that “A funeral is no place for a child” and “They shouldn’t have to remember him/her that way.” Unfortunately, for some kids not going to the funeral is worse than going, because they view this tradition as their opportunity to say goodbye. If a child expresses a desire to attend the funeral, his or her wishes should be honored.

Honor the memory of the deceased. Grief can take a long time to heal, but it is important to keep the memory of your loved one alive. Talking with your child about the person, looking at pictures, and telling stories of his or her life are all ways that you can cherish the memory of your loved one.

Dealing with Death Together

Being a family means that you experience things together, and are there for one another. This is especially important for gay and lesbian families who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Remember that while not every family member’s experience of grief is the same, you are all still grieving. Your kids especially will depend on you to help them get through this difficult time.


Tips for Families in Dealing with Death

Dealing with Death

Death and Grief

Helping Yourself and Others Deal with Death

Not ‘Just’ a Friend

Grief Reactions Associated with the Death of a Gay Partner

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Disclaimer: The Rainbow Babies provides sample contracts and legal/social health articles for informational purposes only—please do not consider it as legally-binding advice of any kind.