I met her in a small diner in Rawlins, WY, called Rose's Lariat. She was riding her bicycle across the country, I was at my family's ranch, in town for groceries. The minute I saw her, my mind said, "Well, there she is". I figured out a way to let her know I was "safe", I asked her if she was riding her bike to the Michigan Women's Music Festival. It was 1995. Her name was Jan Lambertz.We stayed together from that moment on. She moved to WY to be with me, after I tied her bike on the top of my car and dropped her off back on the trail, but not before asking her to marry me in Durango, CO. Every day I was in town, as she rode, I traced her progress, and called the chamber of commerce to find out the motels that were in the towns where she was likely to be that night, then called each one and asked for her. I managed to get her most nights. After two weeks of this, she decided to take the train back to me.
We moved into a house in Laramie, WY, where I was a nursing student. When she got a job we moved to upstate NY so she could take a position as the Director of Counseling at St. Lawrence University. My children lived with us off and on during those three years. We attended the Unitarian Universalist Church and had a very close community.
Soon after we moved to NY, Jan began feeling unwell. She was pale, had dark circles under her eyes, and had a general lack of stamina. She had been the country's first female athletic director, at Evergreen State College, and was generally extremely healthy and fit. Something wasn't right, but her doctor told her it was "just perimenopause" and that estrogen would cure it all. She didn't believe him, and declined the estrogen, but kept going back with more and more complaints. During that time, Jan and I restored a 105 year old Italianate Victorian home. Jan had a full set of tools and had restored homes in the past. She was quite a skilled carpenter.
Finally, reluctantly, she agreed to the estrogen, as a last ditch effort to feel better, and she had a mammogram to make sure it was safe. They found cancer. She had a mastectomy and all of her lymph nodes were full of two kinds of cancer. They staged her at a stage IV, the most lethal stage, with metastasis.
We tried everything, including traveling outside of the country, to try to find a cure. We cashed in her life insurance and paid for alternative treatments.
Meanwhile, we decided to go ahead the the wedding. At that time, in NY, you couldn't get legally married if you were a same sex couple, but our UU ministers agreed to officiate. We asked our friends to bring either food or flowers, and hired some local musicians to play. We bought dresses and rings. Each day she grew weaker, but woke up and asked "When is the wedding?".
The day before it was scheduled, she got very much sicker. I could tell she was trying to hold on until the wedding, but she was fighting a losing battle. Her breath came heavier, and she started to turn yellow, as her organs started to shut down.
By the evening, my father, who had come to town for the wedding and for my graduation from nursing school, suggested that she was trying to stay alive for the ceremony. We decided to go ahead with it at home, and called the ministers, who came over. Friends joined us at the bedside, we made bouquets with flowers people had sent, someone played "Here Comes the Bride" on the piano. A friend made us a wedding cake. Jan was not showing any signs of consciousness but we went on ahead. The ministers read the ceremony, as planned, and I spoke my vows. The ministers read her vows and asked her to blink if she said "I do." She blinked hard. Then, afterwards, when they said that we could kiss, she puckered up and gave me a HUGE kiss. Everyone clapped and left the room. Minutes later, after telling her how much I would always love and honor her, she breathed a HUGE sigh and stopped breathing. I could no longer see her heart beating in her chest. She was gone. I was devastated.
The next day, the day of the wedding, I put a sign on the UU Church door, directing them to our home instead...guests arrived with food and flowers, and I had to tell each one that she had died. We had a wake instead. My nursing school Dean and other teachers from my Master's program I was in at St. Lawrence (at the same time) came as well, as did many friends. Her family, devout Seventh Day Adventists, had withdrawn from her during the illness, but came briefly after I called and begged them to come see her one last time.
At the time of my beloved Jan's death, my three children were under 15. I did not inherit Jan's two pensions, I did not get any part of her property, a cabin on 7 acres in the San Juan Islands, which was co owned by her ex and her (a legal maneuver they had to make when they were together, but it required the consent of her ex to dissolve it, and she refused.) I didn't even get any of her CDs or her IRA as it was still tied up legally in that same agreement with her ex. Her ex was very wealthy, and I had three young children. I started my first job some weeks later. In the meantime, her parents came to our home, when I was not there, with a moving truck and stole everything they wanted, including nearly every tool in the workshop, including those that were mine and those I had given Jan.
If we had been legally able to marry, I would have had enough money to work part time, buy a home, and return to my children wholly and able to care for them, as they, too, had gone through a lot. As it was, I ended up working tremendously hard, not being able to be there for them as they needed, and pushing myself way too hard. Marriage is a legal contract that sees to it that in cases like this, a young widow with children is not left out in the cold, by either greedy exes or by institutions that owe pensions. Now that I am able to legally marry, I will not be subject to this inequality. For anyone who doesn't understand why people would want to get legally married, this might help you understand. And for those of you with kids, I encourage you to consider it. There are some very good reasons to get that protection.
Thank you for reading this. The grieving for this monumental love has never stopped. I was married and widowed on the same day, two weeks before I turned 40. It has not been easy.
San Francisco, CA