Sunday, August 16, 2020

Disenfranchised Grief


A disenfranchised life.

The loss of my friend remains an open wound.  It created a sort of void in my life, yet no words are available to me to explain that adequately.  Friends have said it's remarkable, that I have my faith to get me through.  Perhaps that is true, yet it can also be a torment.  Questions like, "Is my friend saved?"  strike a sort of terror within my soul.  Thus I fill my days with rosaries and chaplets for the repose of his soul, I request Masses to be said, and dear friends online have responded in kind.  Others, not so much.  The good side of all of this is my constant thought on the so-called 'last things'.  Praying for a holy death, preparing for death, praying for the dead, and so on.

I'm reminded of the great sadness experienced by St. Margaret of Cortona, when her dog led her to discover the corpse of her beloved.  I believe a certain terror struck her, she feared for his salvation, considered how uncertain salvation is, even for the just man, etc..  No words of comfort can assuage such grief, no sympathy can connect with it, no fire and brimstone logic can destroy it, nor can the pretense of solicitude expressed in sentimental terms, such as, 'he's in a better place', or 'he is free now,' can take away the pain.  For the most part, hope against hope seems to be the only support available.  Bolstered by faith of course, and charity - that charity which covers a multitude of sins.

"To love makes one solitary..." - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Over the years, I adopted that sense, that I am a solitary, even though I lived with my friend and cats for 42 years.  It wasn't a lie.  Soon after moving in together, I realized I couldn't be Catholic, or more to the point, I couldn't receive the sacraments if I was living in an active sexual relationship.  I told my friend as much.  He asked if that meant I would leave, and I said I thought so.  He in turn said, well if it means that much to you, I want you to stay with me, and we will live as brothers then.  He meant it.  

I credit St. Joseph, because I had made a novena to him, asking for a way to tell him, as well as asking him to arrange matters for the good.  He arranged matters beyond my imagining.  It was important for me not to just up and leave in an attempt to live a life of penance, or something like it, as I'd often done in the past with trysts.  I took no notice of how the other person would adjust, what they would do, and so on.  Although, their salvation was as important as my own.  Thus, I didn't want him to be bitter towards the Catholic Church and Catholic teaching, therefore I couldn't cut it off like that.  Yet it wasn't a compromise.  Long story short, it turned out well, we remained best friends, we remained together - companions, and as very real supports to one another.  Like two cell-companions as in the desert fathers.*

That was in 1982, which turned out to be a year of transition.  We helped and supported one another, not simply in virtue, but we helped each others careers, supported one another through deaths in our families, and so on.  The most meaningful of which, was moving in with his mother after his father's death.  It was my very first experience of a stable family life,  Our schedules worked out so that his mom was never alone.  I was off during the week, and I was able to devote my time to his mom, taking care of the house, as well as painting.  On the weekends, Friday through Monday, I worked at the Cancer home - it was almost like religious life for me.  We cared for his mom as diabetes became worse, and her health failed.  It was the happiest period of my life, actually living for someone else, taking care of another.  After his mom died, it was the first time I experienced that sort of grief which results from deeply felt loss, which I couldn't express.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was a disenfranchised grief.

With my parents and my brother, when they died, it was another sort of grief.  Our relationships were deeply affected by dysfunctional family dynamics.   I was more or less disenfranchised by my family at various stages, and I disenfranchised myself, as well.  It was easier to cope and survive in life if I kept a distance.  I maintained privacy to avoid being hurt again, or shamed, I suppose.  This carried over professionally, and for the most part, in friendship - even close friendships.  Except for my friendship with Darold, of course.  He knew me through and through, you might say.  My friendship, our lives, were kept private.  I always said, lest people are scandalized - which he didn't understand.

If two men live together, they must be gay, and if they are gay, they must be sexually active.  That was a constant battle I encountered with church people.  They never understood, thus I likened myself to a solitary.  Never going out to dinner at friend's houses, never speaking about my private life, and so on.  Later, when acquaintances got to know me better, they often claimed I deceived them.  On the other hand, those who knew us both and were gay, called us closeted, not understanding the celibate character of our friendship.  Fortunately for me, I have always had supportive spiritual directors and confessors, one well known, the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, who consoled me when he said that my friend and I formed a Courage group of our own.  (He likened it to how a civilly divorced and remarried couple could live as brother and sister while remaining together.)  Of course, there remain those who claim that can't happen.  But it did.

"And in his love for David, Jonathan renewed his oath to him, because he loved him as he loved himself." - 1 Samuel 20:17

Lately, I often think of Cardinal Newman, missing his close friend Ambrose St. John.  Their friendship developed into a model for myself and my friend.  Their friendship was chaste and caring.  Over the years many have wanted to 'label' it - but their friendship was based upon virtue.

In “Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle offers students a refreshing alternative to the instrumentality of modern life: the pursuit of goodness. Goodness inspires honor, and mutual honor is the stuff of friendships of virtue. These are the friendships which yield the greatest happiness.
"Friendships of virtue depend, of course, on the mutual strength of character in the friends themselves; and friends must continually hold each other to high standards. The formation of moral virtue requires both an exemplar and a cultivated desire for and recognition of the good when one sees it. But the complete moral life which leads to full human flourishing, Aristotle claims, includes another dimension of virtue: intellectual. As rational animals, the life of the mind naturally plays a critical role in being human. And friendship based on contemplation of the good, the true, and the beautiful—though rare—is a friendship to be treasured most. " - The Goods of Friendship

It has always been my conviction, that by the grace of God, this is possible to same sex friends who agree to live in fidelity to Catholic teaching regarding marriage and sexuality.  In other words, they help one another to live a virtuous life, while endeavoring to practice good works, as 'faith without works is dead.'  Like Jonathan, who loved David as he loved himself, they support one another in fulfilling the "royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (James 2:8)

This was what inspired and encouraged me in the example of Cardinal Newman's friendship - never for an instant do I suggest he and St. John were gay.  I remember Newman's grief after St. John died, and I am consoled to know he mourned his friend in much the same way I mourn my friend's death.  Newman and St. John lived a 'communitarian life' for 32 years.

Another saint attempting to express his sorrow over the death of his (same-sex) best friend 15 centuries earlier, wrote:

"My eyes sought him everywhere, but they did not see him; and I hated all places because he was not in them, because they could not say to me, 'Look, he is coming,' as they did when he was alive and absent." - St. Augustine

I wanted to repost this last segment, since I believe it was misunderstood, thus the long prologue at the beginning to explain my circumstances.  I want this to be a sort of testimony of how noble my friend Darold was.  There is even more to his story, perhaps I can continue that some other time. 

Disenfranchised grief...

So what is it?  It's what I have been talking about.  If you ever read Isherwood's book, 'A Single Man', or watched Tom Ford's film with the same title, that is in part, what it's all about.  In George's case, he's not invited to the funeral of his friend by his family.  Tondelli's 'Separate Rooms' is about the same thing.  If you Google it, you will find Ken Doka's definition, “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned”.

It's real.  It's not something a person can just let go of, or snap out of it from.  Yes, you can 'let it be' - but you need to go through it, you need to embrace it.  One friend explained to me the reason why several friends haven't even acknowledged my friend's death, or the grief, is because of how private my life has been, and perhaps, they just don't know what to say.  Hence - disenfranchised.

Nothing to see here.

*I love to repeat the following anecdotes when speaking of chaste, same-sex friendship:

"... one must have friendships in life. [ . . .] Let yourself love. There is no danger so long as the spirit of prayer exists in you. And young priests have hours of loneliness that are very hard. They need affection and tenderness. If you don't give it to them, they will go looking for it just anywhere.

Also, at certain hours we need someone to show us affection: a mother, a sister, a brother. Otherwise, if the heart is not anchored, it goes anywhere at all, and is lost." - Fr. Mark, One must have friendships in life.

Mark asked Arsenius, 'It is right, isn't it, to have nothing unnecessary in one's cell? I saw a brother who had a few cabbages, and he was rooting them out.' Arsenius said, 'It is right, but each should do what is right for his own way of life. If he is not strong enough to endure without the cabbages, he will plant them again.' - Sayings of the Desert Fathers