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Chosen Family

July 15, 2014

Chosen Family 

We were in the emergency room in the middle of the night.  The admitting nurse told my spouse to stay in the waiting room as he motioned me into an examining room.  I had awakened with my shoulder screaming in pain.  When the pain was still severe a couple hours after taking mild over-the-counter pain medication, we decided to go to the ER at a nearby hospital. 

The date for our move from our spacious Victorian flat to a modern condo complex was two weeks away.  I had been focused for the last two months on organizing, downsizing, donating and packing.  It was a daunting task to reduce thirty years of accumulated treasures, papers, books, furniture, and family mementoes sufficiently to fit into space that was half the size of our flat.  I had been careful to pack into small size boxes and not lift anything too heavy.   I didn’t think I had done any serious damage but why was my shoulder so painful?

“Who’s the woman with you?”  I realized the nurse was speaking to me.  “My spouse.”  I replied.  He quickly motioned to her to join us, realizing that married same-sex couples have the same hospital privileges as heterosexual married couples.    Through the discussion with the nurse, the examination by the doctor and the report of the x-ray, we were treated with courtesy and respect as a couple.  The doctor reported that I had overdone it...packed and moved too many boxes, carried items that were too heavy and repeated the motions of reaching and wrapping too many times.  I had severe bursitis or tendonitis. My shoulder was immobilized and I left with prescriptions for a stronger painkiller and advice to see an orthopedist.  Obviously this was not a major traumatic injury requiring hospitalization or surgery.

The experience was, however, enlightening and re-assuring.  We were making this long planned move to smaller space with less maintenance, security, amenities and no stairs in preparation for our future.  My spouse and I had both cared for and visited relatives who waited too long to move into space they could handle.  Often they were forced to move by the realities of aging and illness and the pressure of adult children only to find themselves lonely in facilities they hated, suffering from the trauma and the loss of their home and without the comfort of familiar surroundings.   Neither of us wanted that experience.
We wanted to move to a space we could take care of, feel secure to age in place and seek support as we needed it.

We also wanted to live in our new space long enough to meet friends and establish community…a community where we could both give and receive needed support in our aging lives.  Having the support of “chosen family” and community is particularly important to those of us who came out as lesbian or gay many years ago and experienced the rejection and hostility of biological family.  Research reveals that many LGBT seniors live isolated and alone or go back in the closet when they enter an assisted care or nursing facility.   We were being proactive now to take care of ourselves in the future. 

The nurse’s response in the ER, the final packing and experience of unpacking and getting settled in our new home, offered reassurance and highlighted the importance of the choices we had made.  The nurse inviting my spouse to join me in the examining room demonstrated in a small but reassuring way the sea change of LGBT patient rights made possible through same sex marriage…having a loved one with us in the hospital.  In the middle of the night, I could relax a little.  I had an advocate, a second pair of ears and someone to provide comfort. 

More importantly, in the future when a hospitalization might be much more serious, we could be assured that we would be allowed to support, visit and comfort each other.  In addition, with my injured shoulder limiting my mobility to pack and unpack, friends from our community stepped forward to help, demonstrating the value of building a community of supportive friends who can step in to help when its needed in the future.

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Bev is the founder and creator of The 3rd Act whose mission is to support positive aging.  She writes about the issues and challenges of the boomer and traditional generations.  She is currently focused on writing fiction based on the story of her paternal grandparents, her first novel.  She has served as an internal organization and management consultant for over 35 years, taught organizational psychology and established an external consulting and coaching practice.  She published the second edition of, Consulting on the Inside co-authored with Kim Barnes in 2011. Bev is now in what she considers Scene 3 of her own third act, and enjoys creating and writing the script. For more information go to www.bevscott.com or www.the3rdact.com.