These Bloody Ambushes – the joy/sorrow nexus

I was at a really lovely wedding yesterday of two women friends I’ve known for years. It was a spectacular summer day. The ceremony and reception were held in their garden resplendent with roses in full bloom. One of the brides was a former colleague of mine. My partner Bill had taught the other voice lessons. 

The one bride is eighty-two years old. Her partner is considerably younger. They’ve been together for twenty-five years. In planning a garden party to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary, they decided to supplement the occasion by getting legally married. Apparently, they deliberated long and hard. It eventually came down to two questions and one conviction. Why not? If not now, when? And, we are so happy together, this would be a good occasion to share our joy more formally with our family and friends.

The guest list included many friends and former colleagues whom I’ve known for years. During the gathering time, we all sipped wine and nibbled on delicious hors d’oeuvres as we chatted and wandered around admiring the beautiful plantings.

I was in a buoyant mood and with good reason—the idyllic setting, the laughter and conversations with so many wonderful friends, and our shared excitement to be witnesses to such a joyful event for two people whom we all love dearly.

We took our seats as the ceremony began. All was perfect…until I glanced up and saw the two of them hand-in-hand, beaming at each other, standing and listening to the minister’s opening welcome:

“This union of heart, body and mind is intended for their mutual comfort and help, to know each other with delight and tenderness in acts of love, and to continue to grow and be united in that love…may the light of their love illuminate their home, making it a place of welcome and hospitality, and may it make a difference in the world.”

Grief ambushed me. I was totally unprepared. I should have anticipated that my long-term relationship with the women and the symbolism of the event would resonate deeply and poignantlythe melancholy of the widowed when in the presence of the joyfully coupled. But I hadn’t. I went catatonic, hopefully unnoticeably.

The service concluded with a musician playing “La Vie en Rose.” Bill had sung this piece (en français) at a community concert in Puerto Vallarta, during our last February vacation there together, six months before his death.

After the service, I quietly slipped away and came home to be alone. I listened, over and over again, to a playlist of music that I had prepared for Bill’s memorial weekend.

I’ve gotten used to the sad triggers that are so frequent during the yearthe dates of Bill’s birthday, our anniversary, his diagnosis, his death, and on and on. This was the first time that I had experienced a joyful occasion being a trigger of renewed grief.


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My memoir “August Farewell” tells the story of the two weeks between my partner Bill’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and his death. Interspersed among the scenes are vignettes from our thirty-three years together as a gay couple.

Information on “August Farewell” and on my novel “Searching for Gilead”, including YouTube video book trailers on each, is available on my website at

Both the memoir and the novel are available for order from your local bookseller or on-line retailers including,,,,

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2 responses to “These Bloody Ambushes – the joy/sorrow nexus

  1. I fully understand. Even 17 years after his passing, I still sometimes am thrown by a moment of grief for Shane. This, despite "moving on" with a wonderful partner and two kids. But I think it is essential that we experience such moments fully. While the temptation may be to shrug them off, we can learn more about ourselves by letting them linger…

  2. Jill Mills

    This happened to me too, this past Sunday, out of the blue. It was the words of a liturgy at my church – it was about our city – as we said ‘Where I fell in love and married and raised my children" – I was suddenly overwhelmed with grief. My husband left me a year ago, and this is the city where we met and fell in love and married and raised our children. This innocent one liner completely filled me with grief. So I felt your ambush acutely as I read your post. Prayers for your peace, even as these memories continue to fill you at unexpected times.

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