‘Talking Out Loud’ About Sex After Loss

Author Joan Price’s new book focuses on intimacy after grief

Author Joan Price

By Tina Antolini

In the difficult months after her husband Robert’s death, Joan Price found herself confronted with a veritable mountain of self-help books about grieving. None of them touched on the subject that would preoccupy her for the coming decade: What about sex?

Price is a sex educator, with an emphasis on older people, so perhaps she was primed for this question. But others have noticed this glaring absence in the literature of grieving, too. “The unspoken message, as I received it: keep your mouths shut about sex,” writes Alice Radosh in Modern Loss: Candid Conversations about Grief. “I turned to self-help books for widows, and found that there, too, discussions about sex were pretty much nonexistent.”

Price is used to older people’s sex lives being ignored. “I call it the ‘ick factor’ our society has,” she tells me, when I meet her near her Northern California home. “Eww: old people having sex, wrinkly sex!” she giggles to herself. Price says this ageist notion prevents older people from enjoying their sexuality, a vital part of being human, however old one is.

“We have internalized this ‘ick factor,’” she says. “We see ourselves as undesirable, as over the hill. We see ourselves as needing to say goodbye to sex when things don’t work the way they used to.” And therein lies Joan Price’s mission: to “talk out loud about senior sex,” even in life’s hardest moments. Her new book, Sex After Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality After Losing Your Beloved, seeks to fill the void in grieving literature.

A Life-Changing Love Affair

Seeing Price now, you’d have little external indication that she spent years struggling with the weight of bereavement. The first word I think of when I meet her is “spritely.” Just shy of five feet tall, Price has a twinkle of a laugh that frequently punctuates our conversation, and a playful, vibrant sense of fashion. Her fingernails are painted the purple of grape candy, and she’s wearing dangly earrings of bright, geometric shapes.

At 76, her calendar is filled with giving talks on sexuality, reviewing sex toys for her blog and teaching a bi-weekly line dancing class at a local fitness center.

It was at that line dancing class that a couple of decades ago, Price met the man who would become her husband, an artist named Robert Rice. “He walked in, and I forgot how to breathe,” she tells me. “As soon as he started moving his hips, I lost my place in the dance I was teaching. I just couldn’t take my eyes off this man.”

Price was in her late fifties at the time, already in her second career, having left a job teaching high school for one writing about fitness. The last thing she expected was a life-changing love affair. The blossoming of her romance with Robert nurtured yet another new area of work for her: writing about sex.

“It was an amazing revelation because sex was fantastic with him, but it was not the same as younger-age sex,” she says. “There was much slower arousal… It just took a lot of earnest effort on his part… It was very different. But I was feeling that sex at our age was better, that that wasn’t a defect.”

She wrote a first book, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty, celebrating that discovery. A second book, Naked at Our Age, sought to answer the questions and resolve problems that older people were experiencing in their sex lives, from what position to use when pained by arthritic joints to a definition of sex that didn’t center orgasm as the only worthwhile goal.

It was when she was just starting to write that book, that Rice was diagnosed with cancer. “I put a hold on everything,” she says. When he died in 2008, Price was completely undone.

“I thought because I knew Robert was dying, that I was getting prepared for it,” she says. “You can’t prepare for that. You cannot know how that bludgeons your brain and your heart. It was all I could do to remember to brush my teeth.”

She would cry all day, pull herself together to drive to the health club, and teach her line-dancing class. Then she’d resume crying in the locker room, and weep all the way home.

A Difficult Subject to Discuss

For months, Price writes, her sexuality was dormant. That period of deep grief was followed by the fits and starts of trying to find her way into a new version of her romantic and sex life. This became the fodder for Sex After Grief. Price wanted to give other grievers a manual for navigating the tangle of experiences they might have.

“Some people feel frenetic sexual energy and yearn for a sexual outlet right away,” she writes. “Some start dating immediately, some gradually, some not ever. Some withdraw from sexual possibility. Some share their bodies but not their hearts. Many give themselves sexual release to the fantasy of their lost loved one.” All of these different responses are normal, Price insists. There isn’t one right way to move through it.

In keeping with the absence of sex in the literature of grief, there’s been very little scientific research into it, either. One of the few studies of “sexual bereavement,” as its authors term it, came out in 2017 in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters.

The study revealed that 72% of respondents (who were women age 55 and older) anticipated missing sex with their partner, and that 67% would want to initiate a discussion with a friend about it. But there was also a disconnect: 67% reported that it’d be difficult to discuss sex with a friend whose partner had died, attributing that difficulty to embarrassment.

Price addresses that embarrassment head-on in her new book. She dives into the thicket of myths and taboos of sexuality after loss — from questions of loyalty to one’s deceased partner to how long grieving should last — offering readers scripts for how to respond to advice that doesn’t resonate with their experience.

“Because in the moment, you know, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, am I supposed to take that on?’” she tells me. “’Am I supposed to be embarrassed? Am I supposed to be shamed? Am I doing the wrong thing? Am I doing grief wrong?’ You’re not doing grief wrong.”

Price’s message is clear: our sex lives don’t have to end as we get older, or when our partner dies. Whether we’re having partnered sex or not, she advocates, our sexual selves continue.

The book delves into the practicalities of solo sex, as well as various approaches for dating and different relationship models for older people who may not want to follow a marriage with another long-term relationship, but still want to remain sexually active.

Price is an advocate for thinking about a trusted “friends-with-benefits” arrangement, and quotes a 2013 “Singles in America” study from Match.com that revealed 58% of single men and 50% of single women had had one, including one in three people in their 70s.

‘You’re Not Making Any Kind of Commitment You Can’t Reverse’

She writes about how she kept two journals: one to chronicle the difficulties of grieving and another to record treasured memories that kept her husband alive for her. She writes about feeling out her own personal timetable for when to start having sex again, and with whom.

Price had some false starts, which she found instructive. “If you don’t know if you’re ready to date, it’s okay to try it and then put dating on hold if it feels wrong,” she writes. “You’re not making any kind of commitment you can’t reverse. The same is true for sex. You can explore, then change your mind at any point.”

Price’s own story is one of persistence, of refusing to allow society’s derision of aging bodies to stop her from enjoying her own and of not allowing even the tremendous loss of her loving partner to stop her from engaging with her sexual self. The story, she says, is always continuing.

In the past couple of years, it’s had yet another twist. Price put up a profile on OKCupid, and, after more than a few disappointing dates, she met a retired anthropologist named Mac Marshall who lived nearby. Marshall had recently lost his long-term partner to illness. They shared their grief stories amidst a flurry of other information on their early dates, and in emails.

Price dedicates Sex After Grief  both to her husband Robert, “who lives in my memory and in my heart,” and to Mac, “who shows me that joy is possible after grief.”

Complete Article HERE!

Mourning From the Closet

When you lose a parent before you come out, you grieve twice.

By Madeline Ducharme

The day after I saw my dad for what would turn out to be the last time, I surprised myself and told someone I’m queer.

It was first-year move-in day at college. I had just left behind the breezes of Southern California for the 90-degree temperatures and relentless humidity of late August in New York City. Soaked in sweat but giddy, I took a break from sorting out storage bins and dorm décor to sit on the floor and get to know my three new roommates. Early into our conversation, I suddenly said, “I’m pretty sure I’m bisexual.”

I remember inelegantly shoving it into our early introductions, unprompted. To my roommates, I’m sure this brief declaration was as laid-back as the tie-dyed crop top I was wearing that day. (It said “stay rad” across it. I know.) But for me, it sparked a moment of exhilarated panic as my mother and aunt—both of whom did not know about my recent self-discovery—returned to my room. As the two of them struggled to help me organize my life in our itty-bitty shared space, I whispered from the floor: “Don’t mention what I said earlier. I’m not out to them.”

Actually, I wasn’t out to anyone, except a few close friends. My mom and sisters were largely progressive, but I had also been raised in a Catholic home and attended Catholic school through eighth grade. My father, meanwhile, was a kind of atheist, nonvoting libertarian, often hellbent on defending his own political apathy. In one of the very last conversations I ever had with him, he kept trying to press my buttons. As he drove my mother and me to the airport to begin my college journey, he shared tongue-in-cheek admiration for “our future female president”: Carly Fiorina. (This was 2015.) He laughed and I rolled my eyes, but it felt clear I couldn’t tell him what I was realizing about myself.

In the latter half of my high school years, I hadn’t quite come out to myself either. I consistently explored the now virtually nonexistent corners of queer Tumblr. (Remember #girlskissing? No?) After I used every silly, drunken senior-year Model U.N. party as an opportunity to kiss my girlfriends, my own sexual fluidity started to become a little clearer. I had come to see historically women’s colleges as queer havens (thanks, also, to Tumblr), so I chose one for myself. I decided that a journey of coming out could be safely relegated to college, and maybe—just maybe—if I got a girlfriend, I would have reasonable enough “proof” to open the conversation at home, with my mom and, somehow, my dad.

Less than two weeks after I arrived at my dorm room, my dad died of a sudden heart attack. I had just finished my first week of classes.

My immediate grief saw me fluctuating between long days in bed and spurts of typical freshman social energy. I felt most alive after campus activities related to the queer community. I joined a Facebook group called “HELLA GAY MOVIE NIGHTS.” I attended monthly LGBTQ dance parties. I performed in our musical theater society’s Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast.

I emerged more fully out of the closet, but I still hadn’t come out to family. In fact, I felt like I was living a double life: one part of me idle and in mourning and the other, out. The thrill of that felt so distinct from my grieving self that it was almost as if the openly queer part of me was unburdened by my loss—so separate and distinct that my old life, and its sudden tragedy, began to feel less real.

Returning home for breaks during the school year shattered that illusion. My grief ruled me. I came to a realization: While I wanted to share my new self, my new life, with my mom and sisters, I felt a devastating relief that I wouldn’t ever have to come out to my father. I had no way of knowing how he would react, but I took comfort in knowing I’d never have to face even the slightest disapproval, criticism, or judgment from him. It was a dark kind of consolation.

Then I met my first girlfriend. I fell in love with her. I envisioned a future with her. In a few clumsy, emotional conversations, I finally shared my secret—and my relationship—with my family. They were awkward, but ultimately happy to embrace this part of me.

When you lose a parent in your teens, you immediately imagine all the milestones you’ll hit without them: graduation, a first job, a wedding, and a family of your own. But I also started to realize that my father might not even recognize me anymore, not only because of how I had aged but also because of who I’d become.

I began to have recurring dreams where he came back to life and I was tasked with welcoming him back to our world, back to our family, and to the new me. I would update him on all he had missed. It took this chimerical notion to make me rethink my relief: If any of these dreams ever took place on my wedding day, it’s possible that my father would look right past me, because I might be next to a woman.

Nearly a year later, that realization launched a kind of second mourning. I lost him first, then, later, lost the opportunity for him to ever know who I am. To know me at my happiest. I felt intense guilt and shame about the comfort I had initially taken in avoiding the conversation.

Around that time, I realized something else. I wanted to tell my most elderly family members who I was before they were gone too. This presented obstacles. My living grandfather is an octogenarian from the Middle East. My living grandmother and her sister are 92 and 100 years old, respectively. These two women live in my family’s home. They are all deeply Catholic.

Last May, my grandfather was set to visit New York City for my commencement. A few weeks prior to the ceremony, my mother mentioned to me over the phone that if my then-girlfriend would be celebrating with us, I owed him a conversation before his trip “to avoid any surprises.” Before I could gather the will, my girlfriend and I broke up, and my grandfather’s lymphoma kept him in California.

Soon it’ll have been another year since then. I still haven’t come out to any of them. I’ve worried that I’ll experience the same parallel grief when their times come. After college, I stayed on the East Coast, so perhaps I really fear being absent in the last years of their lives. Perhaps I don’t want to trouble them with an exasperated conversation in their old age. Perhaps I want to spare myself the pain of rejection.

Another part of me believes they already know. They don’t comment on my short haircut or my unshaven body hair when I’m home, and they’ve stopped asking me about my romantic prospects. Maybe there’s a mutual, unspoken understanding between all of us.

When I think back on the dark nights scrolling through Tumblr or that steamy move-in day with my quiet coming out, I look fondly on a person who was finally allowing herself to live the life she wanted. I don’t judge her for hiding before. I don’t scoff at her past fears. Instead, I respect her for waiting for the moment to be right for her.

More than a half-decade later, I’ve discovered a different side of that person. The side that accepts the person her father knew when he died. And the side that, when it comes to revealing her full self to the rest of her family’s elders, gives herself permission to be OK with what they may never know.

Complete Article HERE!

Yes, Grief Can Make You Horny

Craving sex is an awkward but deeply human response to one of life’s worst moments.

by Hannah Smothers

Death is, in general, a bummer, and there’s nothing really “sexy” about it. Yet some percentage of people find themselves improbably motivated to fuck as they mourn the loss of a loved one. It turns out that grief, the emotion that should be the least horny, is actually…quite horny.

This is kind of an uncomfortable premise, which could perhaps explain the (very disappointing!!!) lack of substantial, peer-reviewed research on this topic. (One of the only studies in the horny grief vein focuses on “sexual bereavement,” and basically just establishes that people who lose their long-term sexual partners will miss the feeling of sex, and not just the person they shared it with.) Therapists and sex researchers, though, say it’s a normal and fine thing to feel inexplicably horned up after someone close dies. “It’s really about filling the void — literally and figuratively,” Patti Britton, a clinical sexologist and sexuality educator, told Mel Magazine in 2018. “The grief trajectory is about a loss of closeness — a loss of intimacy. That’s why our libido kicks in: To fill that void.”

This makes sense. Living through the death of a loved one can put people in a very YOLO state of mind; faced with the fleetingness of life, you may as well bone while you can. It’s like humping away as the world burns around you (which is…kinda what we are already doing right now). Life will end, and so perhaps the way to feel most alive (at least for some people) is to smoosh your parts against another warm-blooded person.

But beyond filling a void, grief sex is also a pretty solid distraction from the pain and/or numbness that death brings. “The body becomes quite broken [after a death], and having sex— decent sex—drives the dopamine system,” Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, told VICE. “Any stimulation of the genitals drives the dopamine system in the brain, which gives feelings of optimism, energy, focus, and motivation.” The flood of dopamine can, at least for a little while, calm you down, Fisher explained.

Writer Anjali Pinto echoes this theory in an April 2018 essay she wrote in the Washington Post. Writing about the string of sexual encounters she started five months after the sudden death of her husband, Pinto describes a “rush of feel-good chemicals [that] created an overwhelming sense of happiness, even amid my loneliness.”

But more than the biological thrill of the dopamine hit that comes from good, consensual sex, Pinto wrote that seeking out casual flings with strangers gave her a sense of control in an otherwise bleak time. “Having sex with strangers healed me in ways that therapy, friendship, travel, writing and photography could not,” she writes. “These encounters made me feel empowered, desirable and more in tune with my body. They gave me agency when my life felt out of my control.”

Of course some people in “””polite society””” are going to poo-poo the banging of strangers (or banging anyone, TBH) in the aftermath of a major traumatic event, Pinto noted. Sex, especially when a woman is doing it, is still just taboo enough to feel like a manic response to a bad thing. But, I don’t know, man… losing a spouse is like a top-five bad thing that can happen to a person. Losing any loved one is. Barring legitimately destructive or dangerous behavior, it sort of seems like someone going through that hell of an experience should be able to do whatever it takes to feel better. As the saying goes, ‘Everyone grieves differently.” And experts say that some people grieve by boinking. That seems, in the grand scheme of things, very fine.

Complete Article HERE!

Getting Back to Sex After Pregnancy Loss

Though your body might be ready to return to sex after a miscarriage, are you?

By Jessica Zucker

How soon can you have sex after experiencing a pregnancy loss? It’s a common question among women of childbearing age, considering that up to 20 percent of pregnancies result in miscarriage and approximately 1 in 100 in stillbirth. There’s not a standard — or straightforward — answer. Generally, physicians counsel patients to wait until they feel ready. But readiness for a woman and her partner can depend on a number of physical, and emotional, factors.

“From a medical and practical perspective, the primary thing is to ensure that the pregnancy has passed completely, the cervix has closed, and that there isn’t an increased risk of causing infection in the uterus,” explained Zev Williams, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “The timing for this depends on how far along the pregnancy was at the time of the loss and how quickly the woman’s body recovers.”

A couple’s romantic readiness is another question altogether.

Emotional roadblocks are a big factor: Women may feel reluctant to engage in sexual intimacy while still grieving their loss. Miscarriage can also change a woman’s relationship with her body, and what sex represents to a couple might shift. If this seems hard to understand, it is: I am a psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, and I didn’t fully comprehend how complex returning to sex could be until I experienced a second trimester miscarriage firsthand. Then I understood all too well: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

“There are no guidelines with regard to telling patients what to expect about returning to sex after miscarriage. Routinely, we don’t discuss sex after loss unless patients bring it up,” said Jessica Schneider, M.D., an ob-gyn at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “There’s research about how safe it is to get pregnant again after a loss, but not about sexual function or satisfaction.” And the fact is, sexual function and satisfaction can, and do, change.

I talked to several women about their experiences around sex after pregnancy loss to find out how they approached returning to intimacy. (The women preferred their last names not be used due to privacy concerns.)

Some women, like Ash, 36, felt ready to have sex right away. After experiencing a stillbirth, she turned to sex for healing. “It was a way to feel powerful in my body,” she said. “I felt like my body had failed me, and sex was a way to get that back.” There was one caveat though: She didn’t want to risk another pregnancy. “It felt better to engage in sexual acts that couldn’t result in one.”

Trying to get pregnant again is a sensitive topic medically and emotionally. The World Health Organization’s official stance is to wait six months before attempting another pregnancy. Recent research, however, suggests that having sex sooner doesn’t have a negative effect on future pregnancies and could actually help success rates.

“The doctor told us to wait until we were comfortable,” said Maria, 26, who has had four miscarriages. “It was nerve-wracking to return to sex. I think because I was terrified of getting pregnant again and losing it or not getting pregnant again. It was challenging mentally.”

It’s understandable to feel conflicted, but the odds of future success are good: Up to 85 percent of women who experience a pregnancy loss, and 75 percent of women who have had multiple losses, go on to have a healthy pregnancy.

Shame and self-blame can enter the bedroom after pregnancy loss and create trouble where there previously was none. Hanan, 27, thought she was ready to have sex again immediately after a stillbirth, though her doctor told her to wait six weeks. She said she felt arousal and the desire to have sex, and engaged with her husband in everything other than penetrative sex, while waiting for medical clearance. But the first time they had intercourse, she wasn’t prepared for her emotional reaction. “I cried so much after the first time. I felt very guilty,” she said. “My body wanted to, but my brain didn’t. It felt selfish and immoral — like I should have been celibate while grieving.”

These thoughts are especially challenging for women who are actively trying to conceive again. “I did not want to initiate sex after my loss, but at the same time, I did want to get pregnant again,” said Maggie, 32. “My vagina became a constant reminder of the loss.”

Some women said they resented their bodies for a perceived failure. “After my miscarriage, I couldn’t be with anyone for over a year,” Zachi, 27, told me. “The fact that my body failed impacted the way I felt sexually afterward. I carried the baby emotionally, long after physically.”

While a 2015 survey found that 47 percent of respondents who had experienced a miscarriage reported feeling guilty about it — and nearly three-quarters thought their actions may have caused it — the reality is that chromosomal abnormalities are the explanation in about 60 percent of miscarriages. Pregnancy loss cannot be prevented.

If you’ve been trying to conceive for a long time, sex following a pregnancy loss can become especially fraught — even unappealing.

“After my first miscarriage, we only had sex to conceive. It started to feel like a task,” said Gina, 30, who has experienced infant loss and two miscarriages. “That mentality compounded after my second miscarriage and killed all sexual desire for me.”

Sonali, 33, who has lost four pregnancies, had difficulty returning to the very place she got pregnant. “Sex with your other half in the bed where you conceived the babies you lost is so triggering,” she said.

“Sometimes, I’m thinking about where I’d be in my pregnancy now; how I wouldn’t be able to have sex in this position,” Maria said. “It makes me feel guilty to feel great, when I should be seven months pregnant and uncomfortable.”

Pregnancy loss can have unintended positive impacts on a woman’s sexuality, too. Zachi said that she is more assertive in her sex life because of her miscarriage. “I have to listen to my body now,” she said. “It becomes painful not to. I am a lot more sure in what I want.” A miscarriage ultimately brought Maggie and her husband closer together, she said. “During the loss, I felt like I was on an island,” she remembered. “The first time my husband and I had penetrative sex, I cried from relief, because I felt so re-connected to him.”

Having and enjoying sex again is really about one thing — personal readiness — which is what I tell my patients. It’s O.K. to feel grief and sexual desire simultaneously. “Moving on” is not a prerequisite for pleasure.

Complete Article HERE!

Dating While Dying

I found myself terminally ill and unexpectedly single at 40. I didn’t know which was more terrifying.

By Josie Rubio

One night, as a friend and I were headed to a bar to see someone I had met on a dating app, she asked, “What do you tell these guys?” I pulled up my profile and handed her my phone.

“I have cancer so if you want to hang out, act now!” reads the first line.

“This is great,” she said with a laugh.

A year ago, when my treatment was going poorly and I was getting sicker, my boyfriend of 12 years took a business trip to London, where he “reconnected” with an old friend, a recently separated Pilates instructor. After he booked himself a solo trip to Europe, I overheard him talk about how much fun he had riding around on the back of her motorcycle, holding her hips. He also said he enjoyed walking around by himself without thinking about cancer. And me, apparently.

And that was it. Our relationship was over. I found myself dying and unexpectedly single at 40. I didn’t know which was more terrifying.

My cancer isn’t going away. It’s being treated as a chronic disease. I’m definitely going to die from it, if I don’t get hit by a bus. (Why do people always offer that as an alternative to dying of cancer? “You never know!” they say cheerfully. “You could get hit by a bus tomorrow!”) Doctors buy me time and wellness with treatments, injections and transfusions. I have months of wellness, if I’m lucky. But over all, probably not much time.

The truth is, I was prepared to die instead of date again. From what some people told me, I might as well already be dead as a single woman over 40.

Right after the breakup, I resisted dating. I knew I’d have limited time to spend with people I care about before I got sick again. Why would I want to meet strangers? Still, friends pushed me into it. Sometimes literally. At Octoberfest in Copenhagen, the friend I was visiting declared, “You can’t let your last experience be so awful,” as he steered me into a crowd of Danish men in lederhosen drunkenly dancing and singing to “Time of My Life.”

Back home, my resolve weakened. One night I saw my ex at a concert with the woman he left me for. I didn’t feel sad or jealous, just relieved it was her and not me putting down a credit card at the bar to buy his drinks. It was time to move on.

One friend helped me sign up on a dating app. Another — the person who would become my dating app Sherpa — helped me with my profile and photos. “This guy has a picture of himself with Bill Murray,” I noted as I started swiping for the very first time. “Tinder is full of pictures of Bill Murray,” my friend said sagely.

Since my cancer diagnosis six years ago, I’ve had poison pumped into my veins, tubes threaded into my neck, organs removed, radiation tattoos applied. I’ve shaved my head multiple times. I’ve coughed up pieces of my esophagus. Doctors have given me a spinal tap and rooted around my bone marrow with a needle. But meeting a stranger for a date filled me with dread. “I’d rather be getting a bone marrow biopsy,” I texted my friends before marching out to meet my first date in more than a decade.

But I went. And it was fine. Fun, actually. So I stuck with it and dated some more.

After one great date, I had a crushing realization: I have only the present to offer, not a hopeful future. “You don’t know that,” a friend told me.

“Because I could get hit by a bus tomorrow?” I replied with a weak smile. Within a month I had given myself a black eye, chipped a tooth and skinned my knee. That morning, I had almost stepped off a curb into the path of an oncoming van. The likelihood of meeting my end slipping in the shower actually seemed to be edging out the cancer.

“No,” she replied. “Because you could still be complaining to me about dating when you’re 90.”

As I went, I made dating rules, then broke them. I pay for myself, because letting someone else pay feels too transactional. Plus, after years of paying for myself and my ex, it still seems like a good deal. I don’t eat on first dates, because it’s an ugly scene.

Then, after a meet-up drink, someone asked me to have dinner with him and insisted on paying. I told him, as I devoured a duck breast like I was a medieval king, that I don’t eat lambs because they’re cute, and I don’t eat octopus because they’re smart, but it’s O.K. to eat ducks because I read that they can be necrophiliacs. “If you think about it,” I said, motioning with my fork to my smoked duck in soy-honey jus, “being eaten is really the second worst thing that can happen to them after they die.”

I am great at date conversations. Cancer? Necrophilia? Pick a topic.

What is someone with terminal cancer doing on a dating app? I want what we all want, I guess. I want someone to enjoy spending time with. To tell me I look nice. Only it’s all for a much shorter time. I don’t expect someone to stay with me once I get really sick again. My last relationship made me feel like a burden. In actuality, he was lucky to be with me. I know that now.

I was (and still am) also afraid of something working out and hurting someone else. It feels selfish. But when I like someone, I’m all in. People probably think it’s because of the cancer, but I’ve always been like this, since my very first date at 14 on July 4, 1992, when I sat in a wooded clearing on my first boyfriend’s four-wheeler watching fireworks from nearby SeaWorld.

I had to get home but didn’t want to leave without my first kiss. When we wished on a shooting star, I had the opening I needed. “Do you know what I’ve wanted to do all year?” I said, referring to the crush I’d had on him ever since he entered my freshman English class the first day of ninth grade wearing a Guns ’n’ Roses T-shirt.

“What?” he asked.

“Kiss you,” I said. Then we kissed under the fireworks.

When someone recently texted to see what I wanted to do on our next date, I replied, “I hope this isn’t too forward, but one thing I would like to do is kiss you someplace that isn’t a rainy street corner.” Apparently, I am still the same person I was when I was 14.

Cancer left me with scars, radiation tattoos and a Mediport, but the bad relationship left me with scars I sometimes fail to see. I apologize too profusely, like when I knocked a date’s napkin off the table. “It’s O.K.,” he said, looking at me quizzically. “I’m not going to yell at you.” I realized I had been waiting for him to scold me, like my ex would have.

The guy who made me break some of my rules made me shatter more. I found myself, at his insistence, reluctantly and badly dancing, but laughing the entire time. I’ve held his hand across restaurant tables. I steal kisses from him in public. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself anymore.

I’m so happy and so sad at the same time.

Death isn’t an abstract concept. I live week to week, moment to moment. I live fully, but I have always done that. Since the new treatment, I can even walk around sometimes not thinking about cancer. I agree with my ex: It’s nice. Since that first 1992 date, I just wanted to find someone and feel like that part of my life was settled. But from ages 28 to 40, I just settled. Period.

When my ex kissed me goodbye on the day we broke up, I thought, “This will be the last time a man kisses me.”

It finally feels good to be wrong about something.

Complete Article HERE!

When your spouse becomes your caregiver

After Michael Draper was diagnosed with a rare brain disease, his husband retired to take care of him full-time

Terry Wicks, left, and Michael Draper

By DAVID TAFFET

Michael Draper describes the condition he’s been dealing with for seven years as a “designer disease.” His husband, Terry Wicks, said that when they finally received a diagnoses, “the bottom dropped out of our world.”

Draper went almost two years before receiving a diagnosis of MSA — multiple system atrophy — a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder that results in death.

Wicks has become his full-time caregiver.

MSA is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease, but it seems to be more related to other diseases like PSP and Alzheimer’s characterized by a build up of certain proteins in the brain. Wicks explained that with MSA, the proteins needed to transmit signals from one cell to another seem to crumple and block transmission. As that happens, brain cells die.

Functions that are automatic — maintaining body temperature, swallowing, breathing, eliminating waste — stop working. Speech is affected. Muscle coordination deteriorates. The person with MSA becomes unable to take care of himself.

In 2013, the couple was living in California. Draper was an executive with Yahoo. Wicks was an MRI technician.

Wicks remembers asking his husband one day, “Why are you so clumsy lately?”

After a year of a variety of symptoms presenting themselves and several doctors unable to diagnose what was wrong, they went to Stanford for a diagnosis. After almost a year of visits, their doctor told them that she was waiting for one more symptom to appear. When it did, she confirmed MSA.

Symptoms appear when a person is in his or her 50s. Draper was 52 when they first recognized something was wrong. Those manifestations progress for five to 10 years.

New drugs are being tried to halt progression, but Wicks said his husband’s condition was too advanced for the medications to work. And because it takes so long to diagnose, most people have progressed beyond the point where these medications will help.

Four years ago, both men had to stop working. Draper was unable to work any longer so Wicks, who’s seven years older, retired to take care of him.

They decided to move back to Dallas to be closer to family. Their doctor at Stanford told them Dallas was a perfect choice because a colleague of hers had recently opened an MSA clinic at UT Southwestern, so Draper would receive top medical care.

Wicks made a trip by himself and purchased a house in Garland. He said it was the only time in their 29 years together that he had bought a house without his husband.

Wicks describes himself as a planner. So before leaving, he had planned what they needed in a house. He found one in Garland that fit his needs — a 1980s one-story ranch without any stairs or steep inclines that could be outfitted for their needs.

Among the work needed on the house was a complete bathroom redo. They replaced the tub with a walk-in shower fitted with a large tiled seat and an entrance without a step so that a wheelchair can roll in.

Because someone with MSA eventually has trouble turning around, Wicks found something he calls a pivot disk, sort of a lazy susan for people. From his wheelchair, Draper can stand and Wicks rotates him 180 degrees so he can sit in the shower or on the toilet.

Wicks said a person who needs this level of care loses all personal dignity and they’ve worked to keep Draper as independent as possible as long as possible. When he couldn’t brush his own teeth with a regular brush, they got an electric toothbrush.

Draper joked that he could still use a razor as long as his husband didn’t mind seeing him with slash marks all over his face. An electric razor allows him to continue shaving himself for now.

While they still are able to make a trip to the hair salon to get his hair cut, their hairdresser said he’d come to house once he can’t get out any longer.

Until recently, Draper had been using mostly a walker. Lately, he’s less able to make it around the house that way, and he’s begun relying more on his wheelchair.

Over the last few weeks, Wicks said he’s also begun having to use a catheter in order to urinate.

Draper said he feels guilty that he’s putting his husband through this, but Wicks wouldn’t have it any other way.

To help them deal with their situation, they go to support groups. Spouses taking care of their spouses compare, commiserate and share. That’s how he learned about the pivot disk. Those with the rare disorder that may affect only about 15,000 Americans don’t feel as alone when they get together.

Wicks is also careful about caregiver fatigue. Draper’s parents will take care of him for a week while Wicks takes a trip to the Seattle area where the couple lived for a number of years to help decide if after his husband’s death, he wants to move back there.

Draper encouraged his husband to take the trip. This way, he can participate in making future plans even if he won’t share them himself. He wants to know his husband will be all right and will return to having a life beyond caregiving.

Wicks said he still is able to leave Draper alone for an hour to run out to the store for groceries. As Draper’s condition deteriorates, Wicks said he’ll have to hire someone to come into the house to relieve him so he can do errands.

Caregiving that includes everything from personal care to doing all of the housework is a full-time job, Wicks explained.

“Unless you’ve done it, you have no idea how much it entails,” he said.

In addition to the physical labor, caregiving involves stress. Wicks described what he’s going through as anticipatory grief. Most people don’t grieve until their spouse is gone, and Draper has already outlived original projections for his life expectancy with MSA.

Wicks doesn’t know if the grieving he’s going through now — imagining what life will be like without his husband — will facilitate the grief he’ll feel after his husband’s death or if he’ll experience the loss he’s expecting all over again.

But that anticipatory grief also propels him to make the best life he can for both of them. Draper still has his sense of humor even as communicating grows more difficult. But as they look at each other and tell their story wishing it was headed toward a different ending, there’s a contentment and bliss in their just being together.

Complete Article HERE!

Baby boomers ‘de-gay’ to survive life in Scottish care homes

Portrait of Alan Johnson who is in the ‘Return To The Closet?’ documentary

By Shan Ross

Baby boomer LGBTQI people in care homes are “de-gaying” themselves to hide their sexual or gender identity for fear of bullying and discrimination from staff and other residents, a film maker has said.

Glenda Rome’s film, Return To The Closet?, featuring Scots who lived in some of the toughest times to be gay, will be premiered at the CCA in Glasgow on 1 May, 2019, at the launch of the month-long 2019 Luminate festival for older citizens.

The documentary is released in the same year as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in New York, which saw a week of rioting breaking out after police raided the Stonewall Inn gay club in the early hours of 28 June, 1969.

The event was hailed as being a catalyst for the modern fight for the gay rights movement in the US and around the world.

Older LGBT people in care or who have carers visiting their homes have spoken of “de-gaying” their living space by removing photographs of themselves with a same-sex partner and mementoes of their past.

Others say they are afraid of how other residents will treat them if they reveal their sexuality.

However, Rome, commissioned by Luminate and LGBT Age, to make the film, said one of the most shocking things uncovered during research and extensive interviews was that many care homes report they have no LGBTQI residents.

“The idea of older people feeling they have to ‘go back into the closet’ is terrible. It’s something people are just starting to think about now and the last thing we need is for the progress that has been made, which was hard-won for a generation who lived through the criminalisation of their sexuality, to be undermined.

“The real value of this film is not about creating answers but about inspiring an important conversation.”

Homosexuality among men was illegal in Scotland until 1980 – lagging 13 years behind the law in England and Wales.

This was a factor behind former lecturer Alan Johnson, 77 – who lives in Largs, and appears in the documentary – leaving Scotland in the mid-60s, after graduating from the University of St Andrews to move to London.

“My decision to move to London was in large measure related to escaping from then Presbyterian, and distinctly homophobic, Scotland to a more liberal and welcoming environment where gay venues (bars, clubs and other meeting places) were already more established and accepted.

“Many of my friends did likewise around the same time, and for the same reasons.

“When I was a teenager in Scotland in the mid-1950s same-sex relationships were illegal, criminalised, condemned and pathologised; the word ‘gay’ was not in use; religious intolerance was widespread; and ‘coming out’ (least of all to my churchgoing parents) was quite impossible.

“Fortunately, so much has changed for the better in recent years – but this repression has left a near indelible mark on many older LGBT people, particularly so in Scotland. Many of us speak about this in the film.”

Johnson added: “The whole point in making this film was to influence carers, particularly in care homes.

“There are people who have had all sorts of bad experiences in care homes or when receiving care at home because of their sexuality.

“In general, before you need help, it can be quite common to be ‘out’ to some people but not all. But once you are in residential care that living space becomes your home and you should feel safe and have freedom to be honest about how you live your life.”

Liz Haggart, in her late-60s, from Edinburgh, who also appears in the documentary, said she and her LGBT friends had been speaking about their fears if they need care in the future.

“We’ve spoken about this a few times. We’re really worried about it.

“But the thing is, there’s probably a lots of gay people in the care sector, scared to come out, wondering how the rest of the staff would treat it.”

Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, who will take part in a Q and A session following the screening, said: “In order to become a carer staff must have a qualification, usually a SVQ3 covering equality and diversity. So in terms of the workforce I’m sure there will only be a tiny minority who may not choose to address the issue sensitively.

“Another factor to bear in mind is that any residents in a care home living with dementia may be less inhibited about expressing opinions which they held years ago, sometimes giving offence to others.”

Complete Article HERE!