Two of my wife’s family members died recently: Her 108-year-old great grandmother, and her grandfather, both on her maternal side. Their obituaries ran a month apart in the same small town Midwestern paper, both listing many survivors, a testament to their strong genes. Beside everyone’s names were their spouses, all except for “Julie.” Julie had none.
“They didn’t list you,” Julie said before I had the chance to see for myself. “I think my mom wrote it.”
I looked for myself, reading the tribute to her great-grandmother. I don’t know if I thought she’d missed it somehow, but I needed to see the omission for myself. “But what about your grandpa’s?”
She shook her head, sad and at first I thought she was embarrassed, like she’d done something shameful. Then I could see it was anger.
“I’m going to say something about it. He was at our wedding. He liked you.”
I thought back to our wedding, two years ago this month. Her grandpa had touched my arm and said something softly that I couldn’t understand. The music was too loud, his voice too hard to hear. I asked him to repeat himself and it was still unintelligible. “I wish I knew what he’d said,” I told Julie. “I’m sure he was saying you looked beautiful,” she said. “He was always saying really nice things to women.”
Her grandpa had stood and watched with everyone else in the family (save for one religious grandmother on the other side) as Julie and I exchanged rings and vows, and signed our legal marriage certificate in the state of Iowa. He’d been there to celebrate with us, and now in his passing, that was erased. The writer of his obituary had made a conscious decision to pretend it hadn’t happened, that one of the happiest days of my life didn’t count.
The person who penned this final salute to a member of their family can come to my wedding. They can look me in the eye at gatherings, they can send me birthday cards and holiday wishes. But I’m never part of the family. Not if it means they have to put my name next to their daughter’s in a public forum. Not of the neighbors might see.
When she came back from the funeral, I asked if Julie if she’d said anything.
“No, not yet. It wasn’t the right time.”
I couldn’t blame her. She spent the few days she had with her family grieving over two family members, and also her grandma’s recent cancer diagnosis. There were a lot of emotions and memories and things to discuss. It wasn’t the top priority. It didn’t have to be.
I wonder if the writer of the obituary agonized over their decision at all. Did they think “What should I do? Should I include the name of Julie’s wife?” Maybe they don’t truly see me as “Julie’s wife.” Maybe they thought it was a big song-and-dance that they became spectators of to be courteous, but lost that feeling of graciousness or niceties when it comes to publicizing their family and anyone who cares to read every single name written under “survivors” in a single person’s newspaper farewell. Did they think “I wonder if Julie will notice”? Did they think “I wonder if Julie will care”? Did they assume yes, she might do both of those things and yet, what someone else in town thinks about seeing two women’s names together might notice and care is of more importance? Maybe they think God reads the newspaper but casts a blind eye toward gay weddings.
It’s a situation like this that keep me grounded in reality. What does it take to earn love and respect from someone who says they have it for you but just can’t show it? When will I deserve to have my name alongside Julie’s like her brother’s has his wife’s and his children’s’? I can come out over and over again but I am still kept closeted. I’m silenced, I’m erased. I don’t exist.
Maybe what he’d said to me was a warning. “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. The world’s not with you yet.”