widows at your wedding: marriage equality, grief, & social justice

Not that long ago, the US voted for marriage equality. Love is love is love, and being allowed to choose matters in all things, including marriage. Marriage equality is important for another reason, and it involves death, grief, and social justice. This week marks the anniversary of Maine’s adoption of marriage equality. Love – and social justice – are on my mind.

Without legal marriage or accepted domestic partnership, you might not be allowed into the hospital room as your partner is dying. You might not be allowed to make legal and medical decisions for your partner in life and death situations. You might be barred from funerals, left out of decisions about what’s done with their body, be stripped of your home. If your partner’s family doesn’t know about your relationship, or they know and do not approve, your lack of legal rights can be used to erase your presence in the face of major accident, illness, and death. One cruel, unjust, archaic, ridiculous, fear-based exclusion can exclude you from your partner’s side, where you belong.

Now, in many communities, love and inclusion and respect would happen even without the legal doc to back it up. But this is not so everywhere, and hate – and bureacracy – exist in many places. We’ve certainly seen the power of hate these last many months.

Why does this matter?

For those who haven’t yet lost someone close: Think of someone you love. Now imagine them ill or dying (I promise imagining it won’t make it so). Now imagine that some outside force tells you you cannot go to them. You are barred from being there. At this time when your person needs you most, you cannot be there. At this time when you need them most, you cannot be there.

Marriage equality matters for a million reasons. The real world implications of removing acceess to marriage for those who choose it extend into illness and accident, dying and death, and how the surviving partner is treated after their person dies. Do we die in isolation or community? Are we held by the laws of the land when the earth falls away from us, spinning into grief?

From who is allowed a “good death,” to grief in the wake of hate crimes, to the pain at the root of all violence, grief is a social justice issue. Love is a social justice issue.

Marriage equality was a hard won battle, and it took many voices speaking up and speaking out. There are so many places to fight, to rise up, to claim sanity and inclusion and grace. It matters in life, it matters in death, and it matters in grief. Your solidarity, your presence, and your voice makes a difference: speak out for love, in all its forms. Grief is a social justice issue. Love is a social justice issue.

It makes for a long post today, but I’ll close with this message on the blessing of widoweds at your wedding, written during Maine’s marriage equality celebration, just a few short years ago, in 2012.


It has been a long day.

I revealed my marital status to a new friend. It had become so awkward, all those silences, the gaps from my side of the conversation. The last couple of times we’ve talked, it’s sounded like I’m divorced, so that was weird.

Not saying something was awkward.

Saying something also felt awkward – not exactly a small-talk comment to just drop in casually.

Revealing something like this can go so badly, can divert even the most normal of conversations into strained territory.

But today, the awkward scale tipped, and I went with the awkwardness of saying “my husband died” rather than continue the missed beats and odd silence.

If a relationship is going to continue, I can’t keep evading such a large part of who I am. At some point, things get stuck and can go no further without feeling false.

I told my new friend about my marital status because we were discussing the equal marriage legislation that went into effect at 12:01 on the 29th. City Hall would be open for marriage licenses and weddings.  Some friends of mine were giving out free boutonnieres.

I, of course, made cupcakes.

I told my new friend about my marital status because going to City Hall with wedding cupcakes was not just a casual thing for me.

It was a gesture directly from my life, from my heart, from what I knew about love, and about loss. I baked for a few days, and then an also-widowed friend and I spent the afternoon frosting. We made 10 dozen pretty wedding cupcakes, infused with the blessings of widows.

The blessing of widows is a little like the 13th guest in a fairy tale, the guest who wants to give an uncomfortable beauty. I got to say it silently so many times that night:

Tonight, we’re bringing wedding cupcakes to honor your wedding.
We hope you have a very long life together.
And when one of you does die, we are so glad
that you will be legally honored as widowed.
Because to be widowed is hard enough.
To be widowed and given no legal or social
 acknowledgment is unconscionable.
Congratulations. Sorry it took so long.
We wish you long life and good deaths,
with the ones you love beside you.


Not wanting to be a downer on other peoples’ wedding day, I didn’t wander around that night repeating the whole blessing out loud. No one really wants to hear about death on their wedding day.

A photographer did ask why I was there, giving out cupcakes at City Hall, and I gave them the blunt, less poetic version. The closest I came to an out-loud blessing was when I offered wedding cakes to a couple who asked what they could give me in return.

I held their hands briefly as I said:

You can have a long, happy life together.
Please have a very long life.


Please my loves, all of you reading here today, please have a long and happy life.


flame-heart-100How about you? How have you navigated new friendships with people you’ve just met? And have you ever felt like that 13th guest at the table, silently giving the widow’s blessing to those around you? Let us know in the comments.

And be sure to check out the Writing Your Grief e-course, where we spend some time creating our own 13th guest stories. Please join us in the next session. We’d love to have you.