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    After a Death, a Whole New Life

    reverendI met Chuck Agler nearly 4 years ago when I was a hospice chaplain and his partner John Capin was dying of cancer. Chuck and John were devoted partners and had a rich and deeply satisfying life for 40 years. Chuck, in his grief after John’s death, told me: “I was the one who was supposed to die first.” Chuck was 80 and John was only 65 when he died. After the memorial service, Chuck descended into sadness, depression and survivor’s guilt. He even considered suicide for a time, as he was not able to imagine love, joy and hope.

    The miracle is that Chuck, a psychiatrist, always knew to get help. He saw a bereavement counselor. He attended grief groups at hospice, at the LGBT Center on Market Street, and at Kaiser. These last two were absolutely marvelous; not only were they “mixed” (gender, age, economic group, race, education level) but also people really told their truth. Chuck said some of the stories of losses he heard were so terrible that he began to see that many people had suffered far more than he had. But, best of all, he had beloved friends and family members who paid attention to him, and made him promise to let them know if he ever got close to wanting to end the difficult period. Throughout the difficult period, Chuck felt loved and cared for during this difficult time.

    Meanwhile, Chuck found he was getting tremendous support from the big dynamic grief group at The Center and kept going, gradually falling into a habit of dropping in at Twin Peaks Tavern after his sessions. Chuck, though shy, would sit with a bunch of guys who were completely welcoming. They listened with compassion to his story and made him a part of their group. One of the men was Abel Santoyo, a warm friendly younger man who engaged him in conversation every time they met. After a trip to see family in Oregon, Abel picked Chuck up at SFO and took him to dinner at Anchor Oyster Bar. They had a fabulous time together and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Chuck said his life now is a joyous surprise—beyond anything he could have imagined. Abel, a drywall contractor who loves his job, has tremendous energy and works a lot, yet Chuck and Abel love what time they can spend together: alone or with friends, exploring new places, and just enjoying life. When Chuck expressed his concerns to Abel about their age difference, Abel told him, “You are what I was looking for.” Abel had taken care of his lover of 25 years, Richard, before he died, and Chuck knows Abel will take care of him when the time comes. Abel is warm, caring and very affectionate. He is the kind of guy people gravitate to because of his warmth and genuine interest in them.

    Chuck told me he wants to tell people, “If you are old and lose your lover, don’t give up hope!” He wants to pass on what he has learned about how to get through the times when despair seems to be the only thing there is, and hope seems impossible: Stay close to friends who support you, find new ones, get help, and keep telling your story. Doing so will help others as much as it does you.

    It is so beautiful to hear a story like that of Chuck and Abel. They both lost a beloved and then came to a place where they found someone new and built a new love and a whole new phase of life. What a blessing!

    Rev. Elizabeth River is an interfaith minister who officiates both weddings and memorial services. Find her at www.marincoastweddings.com or phone 415-669-9968.