In Memory: Charles Stephen Hughes

www.charlesstephenhughes.com

 

 

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From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff, a book of hours

 

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Last June 28th, when we went online to make reservations for our July 23, 2013 wedding in San Francisco’s City Hall, my partner of fifteen years complained of a side-ache, which he attributed to having overdone the weights at our last workout.  We’d been waiting on the Illinois Legislature, hoping to have our ceremony here in Illinois, but decided it would be better for us to get married sooner rather than later.

Here’s why marriage equality was so important to us.  These are the private vows we exchanged with each other following our official ceremony in San Francisco on that Tuesday in July:

--Know that my life is devoted to looking out for your best interests, that I will treat your needs and desires as equal to my own, that I will not consider anything good for me if it is not good for us and the life we share; and know that I am secure in the knowledge that the same is true for you with regards to me.  Our interactions with others will always be conducted so as to maintain and strengthen the trust we have in each other.

--You are the first person with whom I will share a joy or a sorrow, a fear or a conviction.  You are the first person to read the story of me as it is written each day, the only person with rights to access all the words as they are laid down, unedited and uncensored, the person I most trust to know, understand and protect the truth of who I am.  And I want you to know without question that you may rely on me to be that same person for you.  To be true to myself, I must know, understand and protect the truth of who you are.

--I gladly make known to the world that you are the keeper of the artifacts of my life, an equal partner in the business of the life we share, an equal voice in how we make and manage our home and all of our belongings.  I gladly enter into the annals by which our society is ordered the declaration that you are the person whom I trust to make my decisions and handle my affairs if I am unable to do so for myself, that you are the person to whom I give control even of my body if I am unable to manage it for myself, that you are the person to whom I entrust the closure of my life should you outlive me.

--In as many ways as I am able to devise I will bring you pleasure and delight, I will seek to nurture and enliven your spirit, I will celebrate and appreciate your self-expression, I will meet your creative spirit with my own so that together we may discover new ways to explore and understand our connection with Creation and the Creator, the many and one whose soul we share, in whose expression and endurance we participate with our every breath.

--We are the known in the unknown.  Together we will share unknown blessings, and together we will address unknown challenges.  Together we reach beyond ourselves to embrace our shared destiny, whatever that will be.  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, come what may we are together until death do us part.

While in San Francisco that week, Charles called his doctor back here in Chicago because the pain in his side was getting more intense.  Based on his description, his doctor suggested it might be an ulcer or possibly something with the gall bladder.  She scheduled an ultrasound for him for the week that we returned to Chicago.  The ultrasound showed a large tumor in his liver, 17cm x 15cm x 12 cm.  We soon learned that he had a stage four case of liver cancer which had developed, undetected, from a symptomless case of hepatitis B.  He’d had blood tests periodically over the years, one as recent as June, but his liver functions had always tested normal.  The tumor was too large to allow for either transplant or surgery, so our only hope was to extend his life by months through radiation and/or chemotherapy, if we could do so while still allowing him a decent quality of life.

My point in sharing our story is this:  civil unions such as were offered in Illinois at the time are not the same as marriage and are not adequate.  Too many states don’t even offer civil unions.  In large part due to the Obama administration’s vocal support for marriage equality, we were able to be married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.  Due to the Obama administration’s wide interpretation of federal law, my employer was able to grant me leave to care for my husband under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  At the time, nothing has been established in Illinois law to require an employer to do so.  FMLA would not have been available to me had we settled for being joined in a civil union here in Illinois.  Leave to take care of my husband would have been left completely to the good will of my employer.  Despite having lived in the same home with joint finances, supporting each other in our careers and sharing all of the other interpersonal commitments of being a couple for fifteen years, we only began the countdown to the required ten years of marriage before being eligible for each other’s social security benefits as of our legal marriage this year.  Those in civil unions haven’t even begun the countdown.  We didn’t make it through our countdown.  My husband passed away on November 15, 2013.  I won’t be entitled to his social security, but I was entitled to have all the rights of a surviving legal spouse recognized by the hospital, the funeral home and cemetery, his employer and mine with regard to the rollover of his 401k, the IRS and inheritance tax law, his family (though blessedly that wasn’t an issue with them; with many families it is), and by all entities involved in closing out his life’s affairs.    

Last spring I was impassioned about the Illinois legislature approving same-sex marriage as a matter of principle and respect.  It didn’t pass.  Little did I realize just how soon how very tangible the legal disparity between  marriage and civil unions in Illinois at the time would be made to me.  Marriage equality will be fully recognized in Illinois effective June, 2014.  Fortunately, we didn’t wait.  In large part due to the Obama administration’s past and continuing strong and vocal support for marriage equality, perhaps soon no same sex couples anywhere in this country will have to wait much longer.

 

 

Blessed In Love

Stephen and I had a long conversation this evening as we sat in the front room this evening looking at his memorial  painting, I on the sofa and he in a side chair, inhabiting the photo of him in front of the Golden Gate Bridge that was displayed on an easel at his funeral.  He pointed out to me how remarkably blessed I’ve been to know an unbroken flow of romantic love in my life for the past forty-some years.

Back when I was fifteen years old, Ben and I committed to be together for the rest of our lives.  The week before my sixteen birthday we’d made plans to go to the same college, to the same law school, to form a law firm together, to get married and buy homes next to each other (though in retrospect I expect that by that point in time we would have realized that we actually wanted to buy just one house and get married to each other, though that wasn’t a concept that had yet dawned on us as a possibility in 1973).  In any case, a few days later Ben pulled out onto the road in front of an oncoming semi tractor-trailer, and on my sixteenth birthday I served as a pall bearer at his funeral.  The commitment we made to live our lives together, however, was not broken because to this day my love for him remains a part of my life. 

In 1979, my senior year of college, I met Dennis, and upon graduation I moved in with him.  We relocated together to Portland, Oregon and then to Chicago.  After two and a half years he asked me to move out so as not to be a part of the addictions he was developing.  Eventually I did, but my love for him did not end, nor did his love for me.  He kept me in his life as a touchstone with whom he’d connect every few years when he’d make another attempt at sobriety. 

In 1982 I met Jeff and we started our life together, but six years later, when Dennis was discharged from the AIDS ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Jeff made room for him to stay in our extra bedroom for a year as he recuperated.  My love for Jeff grew immensely as he honored my commitment to be a caretaker for Dennis, and in 1990 to be the executor of his estate.  In 1994 Jeff succumbed to AIDS, and I grieved for four years.  I was beginning to work on a book of writings for Jeff for my eventual Master’s thesis when, in 1998, I met Stephen. 

For two years Stephen made room in our new relationship and encouraged me as I completed my project honoring Jeff, and his doing so grew exponentially and made permanent my love for and commitment to him.  My fifteen years with Stephen were truly, as I entitled the book I gave him as a marriage proposal, Bliss.  Now Stephen, too, has passed away, but as he pointed out as we conversed this evening, I cannot think of his death as a tragedy because at no time did our love diminish or die.  While it’s adjusting to new circumstances and has taken on new means of expression, it still flows strong.  The stream of love that I first knew at age fifteen with Ben has successively merged and grown with Dennis, Jeff and now Stephen.  While I’ve experienced the death of lovers, I’ve never experienced the death of love, and in that I am extremely blessed.  For that I am extremely grateful.

 

Philip D. Hughes-Luing, 12/21/2013