A par­ent’s death forces a new look at life

IN Magazine - - INSIGHT - By Paul gal­lant

When my fa­ther’s spread­ing can­cer set a very short timer on how long he had to live, i wanted to spend as much time with him as i could. Though i had left my child­hood stomp­ing ground of Prince Ed­ward is­land in my 20s, as so many LgBT peo­ple from ru­ral and small-town back­grounds do, my re­la­tion­ship with my fa­ther had grown stronger and mu­tu­ally more sup­port­ive as i grew older. The guy’s guy who had grown frus­trated try­ing to win his only son over to his pas­sion in cars, boats and out­door en­deav­ours had grad­u­ally de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in talk­ing about my re­la­tion­ships and gay life in gen­eral. So last year i shuf­fled my work­load to spend a cou­ple of months at his side, in­clud­ing his five last, painful weeks in the pal­lia­tive care unit of a small health­care cen­tre in the heart of potato-grow­ing coun­try.

in do­ing this, i cer­tainly wasn’t ex­cep­tional. in fact, stud­ies have found that LgBT peo­ple are more likely than their straight coun­ter­parts to step in as care­givers when a fam­ily mem­ber is ail­ing. in a 2004 sur­vey of older LgBT new York­ers, one-third re­ported that fam­ily ex­pected more of them be­cause they were LgBT, and per­ceived them to have fewer ex­plicit fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, “even though this as­sump­tion was of­ten false.” at a gut level, at least, our be­hav­iour seems to have vin­di­cated the sci­en­tific the­ory, which i’ve al­ways thought was half-baked, that the evo­lu­tion­ary pur­pose of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was pro­vid­ing child­less care­givers-at-large to ad­vance the fam­ily genes, if not their own.

in prac­tice, though, LgBT peo­ple face par­tic­u­lar strains when deal­ing with the de­cline and death of a par­ent at a time when there’s no short­age of trauma. Con­flict caused by the dec­la­ra­tion or con­ceal­ment of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion haunts many re­la­tion­ships to the par­ent’s last dy­ing breath and, if no sort of clo­sure or heal­ing is achieved, long be­yond that. Even where the fa­mil­ial bond is strong, LgBT peo­ple of­ten have to step out­side their com­fort zone to re­turn to places they had long ago dis­con­nected with.

iso­lated from my cho­sen fam­ily, i faced a pageant of rel­a­tives and fam­ily friends, all very like­able and sup­port­ive at­lantic Cana­dian peo­ple, who re­vealed in their faces that they did not rec­og­nize the kid they watched grow­ing up in the some­what more ur­bane adult stand­ing by the hos­pi­tal bed. i of­ten felt like a mys­tery man, my re­la­tion­ships, pro­fes­sional achieve­ments and per­sonal in­ter­ests all hid­den off­stage. on one hand, to not be asked about an ab­sent wife is a friendly short­hand for “Your dad told us you were gay and we are fine with that.” But to not be asked about any­thing else

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