Karen Picture

If you’re lucky, you really can’t definitively pinpoint the “worst day of your life.” Apparently, I’m not all that lucky, because I can. It was Friday, July 13, 2012 – the day my husband of 3 years was diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer. It was terminal. There is no Stage 5. For a lot of reasons, July 13th was even worse than August 29th, the day 6 weeks later when he died of complications from cancer — but the day you’re told your life as you know it is absolutely going to end, well…it really doesn’t get any worse than that.

I met Richard in 1996, but we didn’t marry until 2009. As a liberal and a feminist, and for a variety of other reasons, I never felt any great compunction to be a wife or mother. “Marriage is a piece of paper” – that whole attitude.

After a couple of years, people (usually married people) started asking “when’s the wedding?” Then they would proceed to expound on how being married makes a relationship better, stronger and more meaningful. I always answered “Oh, no wedding. We like living in sin” usually followed by “It isn’t broke, so we aren’t going to fix it.” — and for 13 years, we happily lived in “sin”.

And then, out of the blue, Richard proposed. I was shocked. I made him repeat the proposal, but I said “yes”. My thought process being, “well, we’re already in this for the long run, what difference is that piece of paper going to make.”

In October of 2009, we eloped. My mother still hasn’t forgiven me. We went to New York City and got married at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau (kind of the anti-Las Vegas) and I have to tell you, no one was more surprised than me – the liberal feminist anti-marriage rebel – to learn what a difference that piece of paper makes.

Honestly, I fell even more in love with Richard after we got married. The first time I heard Richard call me his wife, I felt real joy. The first time I called him my husband, it was so great, because boyfriend is such a silly word to use to describe a 55 year old man you have lived with for 13 years.943477_589083437789648_1094537861_n

That piece of paper made a big difference emotionally – even to someone who never really wanted it in the first place. And, of course, legally, it made a big difference too. When Richard died, there was no question that I would decide how we would celebrate his life. There was no question that I’d inherit, virtually tax free, the proceeds from the sale of the business we had both sacrificed to help create, from the home we bought together, the retirement accounts and investments and everything we, together for 16 years, had built and made happen. It was then that I knew marriage really, really mattered.

So when a fundraising job at Q Center became available in March 2013, I jumped at the chance. I’d always dabbled in LGBTQ activism, but now I really truly understood how very, very wrong it was that the joy and the contentment and the peace of mind that marriage brings was being denied to Oregon’s LGBTQ community. I wanted to do whatever I could do, as a straight ally, to make marriage equality happen.

When I joined Q Center, it had been 7 months since I’d lost my husband. Initially, I felt like this weird anomaly – often the only straight among a group of gays; widowed at the age of 44 among people who weren’t allowed to marry at all. At least I’d had the privilege and the right to marry, and I wondered, should I share my sad little story of widowhood, or just keep it to myself? Emotionally, I was mess, and some days I found it hard, as they say, to pull up my big girl panties, and deal.

966069_675749665789691_395723980_oBut because of my work at Q Center, I began to meet a lot of wonderful people in the LGBTQ community. People who, despite the trials and tribulations their being gay had caused them (family rejection, for example, or addiction) had finally found joy and meaning in their lives. And they opened their arms to me – perhaps recognizing another wounded soul when they saw one – and helped me find joy and meaning in my life again too

That’s what Q Center is all about, really. Whether it’s providing social and support services for queer youth, or helping LGBT seniors reduce social isolation and build community, or making public schools safe from bullying, harassment and violence, Q Center is about helping to make life joyful and meaningful for the LGBTQ community.

And since Q Center can even help the straight girl, I hope you will consider becoming a part of Q Center in some way – perhaps as a program participant, or an Affinity Group attendee, or as a donor; or just come in sometime and check out the Aaron Hall art gallery, exclusively featuring LGBTQ artists.  If you’ve not spend time in Q Center’s Kendall Clawson Library, you’re missing out on an amazing collection of LGBTQ literature – some of which can only be found at Q Center.

I am so very thankful to this community for making me feel like a welcome part of it. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to adequately express in actual words how fantastically wonderful everyone I’ve met in the last 18 months has been, and how appreciative I am for it. I do know, though, that I have made a lot of new friends in the LGBTQ community who will be a part of my life forever…and really, there’s nothing more a straight girl could ask for than that.

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