Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Surviving Wife

RantWoman arrived at Meeting for Worship this week full of tragic news and unsure who except those she knows also prowl the interwebs or whom RantWoman herself had already told already knew. To make matters worse, RantWoman noted that several people who had been at the FGC gathering where the tragic news transpired made it to worship in spite of horrendous plane schedules. This did not exactly solve the problem of whether and how to impart the tragic news.

Does RantWoman rise and proclaim the news at the beginning of worship? RantWoman can without work feel slight tugs to offer messages that wander all over multiple universes. For numerous reasons, RantWoman seldom discerns a need to take her entire Meeting for Worship on the whole excursion.

Does RantWoman worship and worship and see what she or someone else might be led to do?

Does RantWoman worship with her own thoughts and leave the public telling to someone else?

The first thing RantWoman did was make enough shuffling noise to find her glasses case and take off her glasses.

Meeting for Worship brought several thoughtful but general messages about peace. RantWoman was struck in reading some of the Bonnie Tinker remembrances about how much her life was about peace activism as well as Love Makes a Family. So every peace message nibbled a little at RantWoman's "should I say something?" wobble, but something kept holding RantWoman in her seat.

A Friend rose to close worship. He started the go-around in his own section. The returning travelers all brought their greetings but said nothing about the tragedy. Introductions and greetings continued around the room and finally RantWoman was called to speak. RantWoman explained about being cheap and not having physically gone anywhere to come back from and attending to three different conferences including FGC online via Twitter. Then RantWoman just plunged in and shared the news about Bonnie Tinker. RantWoman did not remember to mention the part about all the peace work but she certainly remembered the part about Love Makes a Family and made a plug for many memorial links found through Bonnie's Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/bonnie.tinker?ref=ts. The meeting closer simply asked for a moment of silence.

Then one of the returning Friends rose with more touching details. The state of Virginia still has objectionable laws on the books about private conduct and RantWoman does not expect it will be endorsing gay marriage soon. RantWoman would love to be wrong about the latter, but RantWoman thanks the Friend for sharing that Bonnie Tinker's VA death certificate lists her partner as her "surviving wife."

RantWoman wonders whether that is usual practice in VA, whether usual practice includes asking the loved ones of the deceased what should be listed on death certificates, or whether this was something unusual for this situation.

Despite the weight of such news, RantWoman is on balance glad she shared it. One Friend specifically thanked her; others used the opening to debrief and talk about their own feelings. RantWoman will summon focus and clarity and recognize that next week at NPYM annual session, there is likely to be still more grieving and debriefing. Prayers, patience, Light all around. Maybe RantWoman will digest this in the light of her recent episodes getting poor people connected about disaster preparedness. More likely RantWoman will put all of it, deaths, debriefing, disaster preparedness and daily drags into the hands of God and decide from there what next.

RantWoman was thinking about names and bureaucratic state practices and community and partnership while watching a wonderful video posted at http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.com/2009/07/bonnie-tinker.html Unfortunately, Bonnie's comments on the video about her meeting not being able to sign state marriage certificates until they came to unity about taking same-sex marriages under their care too hit one of RantWoman's sorehead nerves: what if people who cared about gay marriage did what people did to get states to recognize the Martin Luther King holiday and just boycotted states with outright bans? RantWoman seems to remember a lot of states suddenly being persuaded when thinking about lost convention revenues. RantWoman does not NECESSARILY endorse this approach about this subject but the soreheaded thought did cross her mind.

Then RantWoman bounced along to her personal conceptual problems about what the heck to call one's partner. RantWoman knows that current usage of the word partner includes:

Pairs of people of multiple gender combinations who are long-time partners but NOT legally married

people from certain countries where church and legal marriages may or may not coincide.

people from one's work life where the word partner has commercial rather than romantic content

people like RantWoman whose relationship status falls into the Facebook category "It's complicated"

the sociological category for people who engage in certain activities together whether or not there is a longterm relationship.

And then there is all the historical and family law freight of the words husband and wife. RantWoman is very glad for people who want to use such to label their partners. RantWoman's emotional bramble bush is such that she has need for idiosyncratic usage in her situation; RantWoman does not feel that needs further explanation here. In fact, what sounds like the most fun would be a romantic afternoon in her college library reading reference books and poking and prodding and thinking about the word wife.

RantWoman thinks fondly of a time she and Blind Roommate did spend a whole afternoon poring over reference books, as friends after romantic winds had of necessity shifted, about a different word. Blind Roommate was a HUGE fan of Womyn's Braille press, but for some reason the women at Womyn's Braille Press were thinking of dropping their y and resuming the conventional, expected spelling. Thanks to Blind Roommate and RantWoman, they wound up keeping the y; the only problem is that a few years later, they went out of business entirely.

Blind Roomate was on RantWoman's mind for another reason, another tragic fatal traffic accident. RantWoman has a personal reason to have some memorial reverence on the Fourth of July. RantWoman this year feted the occasion with a few hours of blessed nerdy solitude poking around on the internet. One of the places RantWoman poked was the memorials on her college alumni site. RantWoman has at times spent a certain amount of time reading alumni memorials and speculating about who was gay or who died of AIDS; memorials from people in classes from the 1980's on are sometimes quite frank about both cause of death and any surviving partners, but many earlier classes and even some family of later alumni are quite coy or even outrageously dismissive of the whole topic.

Blind Roommate's family fall into this last category. Blind Roommate was killed a few years after college. She died for being 5 feet tall and crossing the street in front of a bus at dusk on a late fall evening. RantWoman lived a few states away and could not do much except go through her address book and phone and phone and get as many nearer people to the memorial as possible.

RantWoman also called Blind Roommate's parents who generally liked RantWoman in spite of not walking near certain topics. The call delivered the desired level of emotional content though RantWoman was discomfited by Blind Roommate's mother observing that other people had suffered at the same intersection.

RantWoman asked whether they planned any kind of investigation or lawsuit and they said no. RantWoman does not think nearly everything it is fashionable to sue about merits legal bluster but does believe legal levers are one way to bring added emphasis to public policy concerns such as badly designed infrastructure or inappropriate traffic behavior that might otherwise be overlooked. RantWoman does not necessarily blame shell-shocked loved ones for not wanting to keep reliving hurt during a legal process, but RantWoman reserves the right to wonder...

RantWoman was thinking about all this while poking around her college memorials and then RantWoman came across the one for Blind Roommate. RantWoman remembers shaking when she read it the first time in print, and it made RantWoman shake again on the computer. There was NO mention of huge parts of Blind Roommate's life: Blind Roomate was in graduate school on a gay studies fellowship. There was no mention of this or of many, many activities Blind Roommate was proud of while in school. Worst of all, there was no mention of Blind Roommate's surviving partner.

Today RantWoman took another excursion on this journey. RantWoman of course remembers the name of Surviving Wife, the person not mentioned in Blind Roommate's alumni magazine memorial. RantWoman remembers that she and Surviving Wife have professional interests in common and have even exchanged touching emails because the anniversary of Blind Roommate's death falls on a date important to RantWoman for other reasons. RantWoman punched Surviving Wife's name into her search engine of choice and there is no doubt that RantWoman has found the right person. There is no doubt that due to changes in RantWoman's life, it would be totally reasonable to contact Surviving Wife.

Now, um, for a better less freaky-stalker-sounding presentation than "hi, you might not remember me but a rotten tragedy make me think of you and your rotten tragedy!"


  1. Thinking of you with love and gratitude. I'd been tasked with making the announcement of Bonnie's death. Because you did it, I was able to share that wonderful not-so-little tidbit instead, without my announcement going on too long. Although I think Friends would have forgiven me, I don't know that they would have been able to listen just then...

    There was also a news story on a local tv station that listed Surviving Wife as just that; although that part didn't make it on the air, it was on their website.

    As far as I know, it is not VA's practice to list same-gender spouses on death certificates; it was an act of grace - and of the courage at the people who'd accompanied Surviving Wife to the funeral home.

    According to a Weighty Friend who was there, when the funeral director asked, "Was she married?," the responses went like this:


    He, tentatively, looking around the room: "Well, I was at the wedding."

    Others, first tentatively, then with certainty: "Why, yes, so was I." All around the room.

    Pause. Then the funeral director asked the name of surviving spouse. It was given. He wrote it on the death certificate.

    Blessed be.

  2. Thank you for more of the story. What a wonderful account.

    I hope I did not steal any words with my announcement.

    Today I was poking around a website related to my high school reunions. There was a retirement notice for my 8th grade social studies teacher and Tinker vs DesMoines was one of the big changes he listed in education in the US over his career. I do not think I had ever heard of it before Sunday.