Gloria Nieto

Elizabeth Edwards helped my breaking heart

Filed By Gloria Nieto | November 07, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: breaking heart, California, Elizabeth Edwards, grief, Maine, Maria Shriver, pain of loss, Prop 8

WhilePA270154.jpg living in New Mexico, I heard many folk stories. Tales of emergence, creation stories, even UFO sightings. One in particular has always had a profound impact on me, the story of Apache tears.

The story says that some Apaches were all lost in a battle with the colonizers. The men were all killed. When the women found out they had lost all the men, they cried such pure tears of grief, the gods were so moved they captured the tears and made them into the stones, the Apache tears. So now we are witness to the tears of the Apache women and their grief.

Today there are Apache tears from Maine all across the country.

Grief, such a small word for feelings that can swallow a life.

At Maria Shriver's Women's Conference in Long Beach, CA, on October 27th, a panel of women who look from the outside that they have rich, fulfilled lives, opened themselves to 15,000 participants to talk about their own grief.

Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California, moderated the panel. Elizabeth Edwards, a mother who lost her teenage son in a car accident, Lisa Niemi, Patrick Swayze's widow and actress Susan St James who also lost a teenage son in a plane accident, talked honestly and emotionally about their grief.

The lessons are many, especially for us in the LGBT community. Each woman spoke about the challenges of facing a life without their children, husband and mother. How does one accept a life when the calls no longer come from your mother or that you will no longer see your child? How does one face a husband who has cheated on you and that the entire country knows what he has done?

For us, how do we live our lives when we have been told we are second-class citizens time and time again? How do we face a day having lost our partners, our brothers and sisters to an early death from a disease no one seems to care about any more?

The grief they talked about was so overwhelming, I felt paralyzed listening to the discussion. That gut wrenching, soul suffocating pain of loss had taken over my life in the past six weeks. I had no idea until I heard my pain being described by these women and realized I had curled up into a ball and let the pain take over everything.

Since the defeat of Proposition 8 in November, 2008 I have felt completely overwhelmed with grief. It wasn't just my shove into second-class citizenship, it was loss of a job, then the loss of our house and the loss of a beloved dog. All the loss, the soul searching for a reason to get up in the morning that had become my life for weeks at a time.

Now we can add Maine to that list. We are now second-class, non-human beings in this country where our rights are voted on. The tyranny of the majority willingly believes the lies told by church after church both in California and Maine. Look at where the money for these campaigns comes from? Here is the link to the Maine money reports.

Here is the link for the Prop 8 donors.

So our community continues to be grief stricken and doing what to help our broken hearts? Some want to march, some want to go organize to go back in 2010 for another election. (I do not support that idea in any way, shape, or form.)

Elizabeth Edwards said with such clarity that if one does not heal oneself internally all the grief will come out sideways - as rage, anger or other behavior that is not good either for ourselves or the people we care about.

I wonder, can we heal ourselves after these defeats? Can we treat each other well? Can we say to the people in Maine, "You did a magnificent job and here is my hand so I can help you up when you are ready?" And get up we must. Probably not today, maybe not tomorrow but at some point we must get up. Elizabeth Edwards, a woman with stage 4 cancer, offered her hand to me, a total stranger, and helped me get up to fight another day. Betsy Smith, can I offer you my hand when you are ready to get up? Can all of us do that when the chance comes to comfort another?

Maybe not but I promise we make ourselves better people when we have compassion and show our generosity of spirit. We can all help heal each other in this small way.

Of course we will win someday. I remember asking Del Martin once about why she would work on marriage if she may not see marriage in her lifetime. It was always about the people coming behind her, "I'm doing it for them." Del beat the clock by two months, she died married to Phyllis Lyon. No one can take that away. Del had faith in the movement, in all of us, to keep getting back up and keep going to the end. I think I made that same promise to Elizabeth Edwards. Maybe not in so many words but in my heart, I promise to keep going. Grab my hand and we'll walk this path together. Maybe we will pick up a few on the way! I'll have some Apache tears in my pocket.


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Wow, awesome piece. One thing I can tell you, as a transwoman, is that when you're trans you get used to being treated like shit pretty much anytime you look for work, have to deal with cops, have to deal with government at any level, and most certainly when you're seeking fair and equal treatment under the law.

The decision in Maine on marriage was awful, but just as awful was when Maine refused to even protect the right their transgender citizens to live and work free of discrimination because too many Maine voters are so filled with hate for us and are disgusted by us so much that they aren't even willing to legally allow the possibility that one day they might have to share a public bathroom with one of us.

It can be hard, damn hard, but what keeps us coming back time after time until we get what we need is that we understand that there is a time to grieve losses, but then it's time to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get right back out there to try again.

We're used to it. We've become used to not only having to fight against genuine anti-transgender bigotry, but also on the part of those who claim to be on our side but then quickly turn on us when the going gets rough and betray our interests to further their own.

Still we keep coming back because we know that just laying down and letting the world around us crush our spirits just isn't an option.

There is no way to quantify or qualify grief. It's different for each of us. What is possible to do, however, is to refuse to let it destroy us.

These ladies obviously know and understand that, and you should too, Gloria. We will get there. There will be true equality in America one day. Let's mourn our loss here, but then we must move on. We all still have a lot more living to do.