A Rainbow Memorial
by J. Malec
“The threatened cloud has passed away, and fairly shines the dawning day!
What though the night may come too soon, we've years and years of afternoon.”
- From Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’
Love, Caregiving and Memorials in the GLBT Community
Over the last few years, Chris MacLellan has become the voice of advanced caregiving in the GLBT community. Also known as ‘The Bow Tie Guy’, Chris is the National Caregiving Advocate for AnswersForElders.com and a consultant for Emerald Elite Home Health Care in Wilton Manors, Florida. A man on a mission, he started a blog called ‘The Purple Jacket’ while providing care for Richard, his terminally ill partner. Chris also hosts a weekly radio show called “Healing Ties.”
By sharing his experiences, Chris is shaping conversations occurring all over the country around equal rights for the gay community when facing end of life decisions. The retelling of his personal story of loss is documented in a poignant series covered by The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The story "In Sickness & In Health: A Couple’s Final Journey" as told by Diane Lade and Carline Jean was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize Award by the Sun-Sentinel. Chris is also looking forward to the publication of a new book this fall: What's The Deal with Caregiving.
We reached out to Chris to ask for his thoughts. He was kind enough to allow the use of a quote from his upcoming book.
Same sex couples have always known a marriage license is not needed to solidify love. However, this license does solidify equal rights. Bigotry and hatred, unfortunately, will always surround us, yet the “license” provides clear legal protection to all married couples. When you look closely at the laws, both federal and state, you will see how rights are granted to those who are married; only then does the “argument” of marriage equality come fully into perspective.
We do not like to talk about death and dying, but when you get right down to it, rights granted by the laws of marriage are mingled with death and dying. Did you know that in every state of the nation the “next of kin” for an adult is the spouse? Once you’ve been denied the right to be with the one you love at the time of their death, then you will fully grasp the meaning of marriage inequality. When asked “who are you” by medical staff, or to be told, “you’re not next of kin” after your partner has died, clearly demonstrates the injustice.
When marrying, we don’t often comprehend the extent of being together to the end. Things that straight couples take for granted such as inheritance rights or the ability to direct end of life care for a partner, have only recently been extended to gay marriage. Equal rights to marry continue to be celebrated across the country. Deserving at least as much attention are the rights to Family Medical Leave, Social Security and other benefits that are now changing in the wake of that monumental victory.
A Rainbow Ash Scattering Sea Burial
Chris and Richard had discussed an ash scattering memorial at sea. Chris knew “that placing Richard’s ashes at sea WAS my last act of Caregiving for him.” On a sunny morning, Chris placed a white biodegradable cremation urn in the ocean. He then "watched as a beautiful array of colors gleamed at the top of the ocean as his ashes floated away on his eternal cruise." A memorial such as an ash scattering on an ocean voyage is one of many unique services that honor loved ones who have passed away.
The GLBT culture is slowly being integrated as part of the American mosaic. With this evolving shift, services and products that cater to this unique population are constantly growing. We saw a bevy of rainbow wedding cakes - the rainbow being a symbol of GLBT pride - in an explosion of material culture expressing gay and transgender pride. Sure to follow the merriment around the right to marriage equality, however, must eventually be purple-hued celebrations of life, as these loved ones pass on.
Chris explains, “the LGBT community does not need anything different when dealing with the loss of their spouse/partner. What the LGBT community needs is not to have to worry about how 'systems' will treat them when the loved one’s life transitions.”
Changing the law doesn’t mean that our nation’s hearts and minds will open overnight. But perhaps this change marks the beginning of a progressive understanding around the importance of marriage equality, as well as rights around end of life care and benefits.
While there has not been, as yet, a corresponding uptick in memorial services and products that cater to the GLBT community, this is clearly on the horizon. In the meantime, if a cremation urn in purple or rainbow shades seems appropriate, there are several available. One particularly beautiful option is the royal splendor ceramic cremation urn, handmade by artist Kerry Brooks and pictured above. If care for the environment is a concern, scattering urns, biodegradable urns or urns for burial at sea are also available.
J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.