It's More Than a Tree…

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Never one to be a horticulturist, I am always intrigued by the variety of beautiful trees we have in this diverse country of ours.  Now that we are back in Florida, I am reminded about the beautiful foliage that Florida has to offer, especially the Palm Trees.  You really don’t get to see many Palm trees in St. Louis.

In Missouri, just like here in Florida, there is an abundance of pine trees.  In fact, we have a pine tree  in our yard where I am constantly picking up the pine cones that fall from the branches.
While picking one of the zillion or so pine cone, I noticed something at the base of the tree that caught my attention…

Intrigued by the green plastic sprouting out of the ground, I asked ‘The Little One’ to explain this phenomenon.  ( I did not know we could grow plastic in the ground and first thought that we might have come across the next great invention and I wanted to be sure we got the Patton on this discovery!)

“Herman planted that tree in 1976, that is the plastic bucket that the tree came in that is coming out of the ground.  Every time I see that tree, I think of Herman!”

WOW…talk about some powerful symbolism!   While Herman has been gone now for over 13 years, Herman’s tree grows tall and strong as a reminder to ‘The Little One” of a long and beautiful relationship.

Richard (a.k.a. ‘The Little One”) and Herman were together for 44 years and moved to Florida in 1976 before it was in vogue to move south.  Like us, there was an age difference between Herman and Richard.  And like us, Richard became Herman’s care giver:  funny how roles change in life when we age?

When Richard  cared for Herman, many of their friends came to help them with their daily task.  Herman often asked Richard…’What would I do without you?”

While caring for your love one or partner should be assumed, that is not always the case; especially for LGBT seniors.  According to SAGE USA  LGBT Seniors are:

  • Twice as Likely to Age as a Single Person
  • Twice as Likely to Live Alone
  • Three to four times less likely to have children to support them
The care giving needs for the LGBT senior community are enormous.  While society norms are (slowly) changing, many LGBT senior today are still living in fear, living in solitude, or afraid to reach out for help because of the fear and discrimination that they experienced when they grew up. However with programs like SAGE USA, The National Research Center on LGBT Aging : SunServe Social Service’s Noble A. McArtor Adult Day Care Center just to name a few,  heighten the awareness of this critical issue in our society which will help foster change.
Often times, the LGBT community is portrayed in a negative light which only heightens our fear.  Richard and Herman were together 44  years…YES, 44 YEARS!  
As a former staff member at The Sunshine Cathedral, I had the pleasure to watching life partners celebrate 30, 40, 50 years together.  There are thousands upon thousands of LGBT couples across the world who celebrate long lasting relationships that often go unnoticed. Many of these couples prefer to go unnoticed and that is OK as personal privacy is important and should always be upheld.
While those positive  stories of love and commitment often go left unnoticed in the main stream media,  many  LGBT Seniors who live alone, or as a couple often times have to fend for themselves as they age because of society ‘norms’ because of their fears that they experienced in their youth.     Bullying just does not happen in High School.  How can we break this cycle,  when will we break this cycle of hate and fear?
Being 81 and growing up in Brooklyn and living in Manhattan, “The Little One”  knows a few things about society norms, hate, fear and the such.   He lived through Stonewall and beginning of the AIDS epidemic; he has  experienced discrimination;  he experienced the draft board and the gay issue in the 50’s.  All in all, he would tell you that the LGBT issues today are no different than they were in the 50’s; equality, marriage, children, the whole package.  For him, what is different today is that these issues are now out in the open and people are talking about them.
Now that people are talking about these issues, the next key ingredient is to have the policy makers listen so that we can foster change in our communities and in our society. Communication will foster change, change will foster opportunities for service and care for everyone.      We have to do a better job in getting the word and the need out in a calm and pragmatic way.  Unfortunately,   listening is often an overlooked  communication skill.
As partners we don’t need a piece of paper to secure  our love or commitment for each other; but as a LGBT couple, we  need that piece of paper to get into hospitals to visit our loved one, we need that piece of paper to get access to so many common, taken for granted services  that have a direct effect on our health and well-being.  This list is endless, yet the need is there, especially for those  seniors, (no matter what side of the fence your on) who have no one to care for them.   Could this really be right in America today?
Come to think about it, we do have that piece of paper…it’s in its natural  form as a tree!  
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