Bett Norris


These Two Things


Two things happened yesterday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech about LGBT rights as human rights. It was awesome, moving, logical, articulate, passionate. At the same time, President Obama signed an order directing all US agencies to promote and protect the rights of gay people.

And a friend of mine lost her partner.

I cried when Secretary Clinton said, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” and again when she said, “It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.”

I cried when I learned of the loss of my friend and fellow writer, Mari SanGiovanni.

I don’t know why these two things affected me so personally. I don’t understand what they share in common. They both happened on the same day. They both moved me to tears.

I am cynical about political speeches, having heard too many fine words that were followed by no change as promised in the moving rhetoric. I am hardened to loss, having suffered too much of it.

Yet I cried. Still.

The are five stages to grief, as propounded by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I can relate from my own experience that these are not stages but waves, floods, and they do not progress in a linear fashion, but wash over and through you together, all at once, and you can drown in any one of these deep pools. You can get stuck in anger unable to find the waterfall that sweeps you into depression, unable to resist the swift current of denial or the whirlpool of bargaining, and and you can swim as hard as you want to reach the soothing, waters of acceptance, and you just want to float, and look at the sky, and hope that you can rest. Then another one comes, and it is a tsunami, and you are swept back into denial or anger or depression when you thought you had successfully navigated them, and they were supposed to be behind you.

Grief is a snaky, curved thing, with few peaceful eddies, with tall banks that block the view of whatever comes next.

I don’t know why I was so deeply and emotionally affected by a friend’s loss. I never met Mari’s partner. I did not know her.

The five stages of grief are not stepping stones that carry you from one side to the other.

This morning, the anger is back, for me. If it is a stepping stone to something easier to bear, then let the easier thing come. Let the easier thing wash me clean. I want the soothing waters, not this flood.








Kim and Mari.


5 responses to “These Two Things

  1. Marianne Martin December 7, 2011 at 6:49 am

    This is why you are a writer, Bett, because you express emotions, our humanity, so absolutely beautifully. Thank you for sharing that gift and for saying what is in so many hearts right now.


  2. Barrett December 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks, Bett, I share your feelings and glad you can describe these complexities so clearly.


  3. Jill December 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I cried when I read this. Thanks, Bett.


  4. Joan Opyr December 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    One thing that has helped me with grief is something I’ve learned in nursing school — Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was wrong. Maybe grief has five stages. Maybe it has twenty-five. It might just be infinite. What we do know is that not everyone begins with denial and ends with acceptance, as if we follow a series of steps and wind up at an inevitable conclusion. When the well-meaning tell the grieving that, “It’s time to move on,” they just don’t know what they’re talking about. We feel what we feel, and we must do so without apology. We grieve as we grieve because of who we are and how we love and are loved. Another myth is that time heals all wounds. It doesn’t. What time gives us is some measure of comfort with our pain — pain becomes a welcome reminder of love and a way of coping with unspeakable loss. Until time takes us to this place, we cry, and that helps mark the trail.


  5. Jewell December 8, 2011 at 7:31 am

    It’s a tribute to a life well-lived, to good friends and love exchanged along our journey that when we pass, someone is moved to tears and such an eloquent expression of heartache. Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile. If you believe in a heaven, I’m sure that’s where your friends are, awaiting your arrival when it’s your time to leave this earthly plane.

    Few things affect us as viscerally as loss -of any kind. I am sorry to hear of your friend’s passing. Having lost many friends over the years myself, I’ve come to terms with death. Remember the final scene in the movie, “Long Time Companion” where all those who’ve passed on meet again on a beach in some heaven just for gay people? Cue the disco music. It’s not far from the reality of what lies beyond the veil between this world and the next. Peace.


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