by Jessica Carreras
Jason Reichelt knows about grief – but he also has learned how to recover from it. Now, the 27-year-old Grand Rapids resident runs Gay Grief Support, a group for LGBT people who are dealing with the loss of a partner or loved one. Every first and third Tuesday of the month from 6:30-8:30 p.m., the group meets at the Free Spirit Worship Center to help deal with the pain of loss – together.
1) You lost your partner at a young age. Tell me your story.
The car I was driving was hit head-on by a drunk driver. My boyfriend, John Keiser, and I got out of my car to make sure the other party was OK. My boyfriend was calling 911 and my arm had gotten sliced really badly. My car was in the middle of the road, and I wanted to see if I could put on the lights or something to warn any other traffic that the car was not moving. Another car came along and I did not see it, but my boyfriend did and he pushed me out of the way. After he pushed me, he was still in the road and a car struck him. I did not know that he had just saved my life, all I knew was that he was laying in the middle of the road. I came over to him, screaming his name, and held him in my arms as he died.
2) How did you get involved with the LGBT grief and loss group?
After the accident, there were many court hearings, trials and appeals in the attempt to prosecute those responsible for John’s death. In the end of all that, the judge told me that I did not have any survivor rights because I am gay.
The state of Michigan does not recognize same-gender relationships and because of that the judge was unable to offer me any restitution. I wasn’t so much interested in monetary restitution, but in justice, for no monetary value could be put on this life that was taken from me. More than anything I wanted John back.
A friend suggested I call Colette Beighly at the Triangle Foundation. Colette told me about a grief group that was just getting started so I gave them a call. Since joining, I have taken steps to start the grieving progress. Without this group, I would still have a hard time telling you about all this.
3) Why is it important for LGBT people to have their own grieving group that they can attend that’s LGBT-specific?
We discuss a lot of things in our meetings about our lives and how our losses are intertwined. Outside of the same-gender context, there would be things that other people would just not be aware of or would not understand. Plus, there is the safety in knowing that we will not be judged, or that our relationships will not be marginalized, or that our loss will not be invalidated. Being with others who are facing a similar situation and can relate on that same level definitely helps us help each other in working through our grief.
4) Why do you feel that it’s important for you to keep this group going?
I believe that people in the LGBT community who are grieving need to know that they are not alone and that they can find someone who will listen to them and support them in their grief in a way that is non-judgmental and supportive.
5) What’s the best advice you can give to someone who is grieving over the loss of a partner or loved one?
You are not alone. It might feel like it, especially when some people will tell you that you will be OK, but you know you are not. Take baby steps with your life. You may have a good day, a good week, a good month, and then a bad day, but it’s manageable. After five years of working through it, I still have bad days. Also, it is important to not try to go it alone, so trying to find someone who will truly listen and help you work through your grief is so important. You can contact your local LGBT community center to see if they know of a support group near you. If not, you can contact me and we can help you find a group.
For more information, visit http://www.gaygriefsupport.org.