After David's partner Roy died in 2010, David experienced loneliness that felt like "a slow-burning pain". Here he shares the difficulties of grieving as an older gay man, and why it’s important for him to keep Roy's memory alive.
I was born in Wales, where I had an extremely happy childhood. We lived in a fairly large house with land around it, on which there were horses, so I did a lot of riding.
It was only when I moved from Wales to Yorkshire at 35 that I first realised I was gay. I was very lonely because in a sense I’d cut my roots and had to build up my social life. When I had got to know Yorkshire and travelled around, I suddenly realised that I wanted something more. I wanted a companion, and he had to be gay.
I met Roy through someone at the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, which was in a way a forerunner for Stonewall. The first sight of Roy was a revelation. Here was this tall, extremely handsome person, and his very fair hair shone in the darkness.
We got on right from the start. He had this wonderful personality and sense of humour - he worked as a hospital porter and on one occasion he dressed up as the matron, riding a bicycle through the wards and having everybody in fits of laughter.
Remembering the happiest times
I’d always had this feeling that I wanted to retire at 55, and Roy at 60. In 1985 we found a small cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, which I still live in today. Here we spent some of the happiest times of our life together.
One of the reasons we moved here was that we had a lot of gay friends around us. By this time homosexuality of course had been decriminalised, and I was never in fear of being found out. But to people who weren’t gay, I never introduced Roy as my lover. I just introduced him as my friend, and then as time moved on, as my partner.
We had a civil partnership ceremony pretty soon after this became possible. We led a very active social life, going to a lot of parties, and Roy was a very good cook.
Dealing with male grief
Then sadly, in December 2009 Roy had a massive stroke. He was 84, and he was in hospital only six weeks. There were signs that he might have got better, although he’d lost his speech and he couldn’t swallow, and that raised all sorts of medical difficulties. But he had the most wonderful care.
Around Christmas he got pneumonia, and very shortly afterwards, on January 23rd, he died. The shock was horrendous, and was a sort of stimulus to me, to settle his affairs as quickly as I could. We never had any secrets regarding our financial affairs so it was relatively easy to do, but that was almost a kind of diversion, as the awfulness of the situation had not really sunk in.
Then of course came the fullness of the bereavement, a time which was hell because old age was approaching me fast - I’d had my 80th birthday in 2010. Friends were extremely supportive, but I think a lot of them had difficulties dealing with male grief. This is something I have noticed; it is much easier for women to deal with grief than men. Men try to bottle it up.
I got a dog after Roy died, which made all the difference to my life because there’s nothing worse than coming back to an empty house. I remember my GP, after Roy died, saying: “keep busy”. This is something that I have tried to do. I’ve participated in many social activities happening around where I live, and if anybody wants to come and see me, and talk about problems, I’m always happy to do so.
Keeping Roy's name alive
I did have some counselling which worked to a certain extent. But I realised that as an elderly man, my social life was diminishing. That is not to say that I was dropped by my gay friends, but I had become, in a curious way, marginalised. I was almost like, and this might appear to be a somewhat fanciful image, a wounded animal at the edge of the pack. Invitations were not as frequent, although when they came, the warmth was there.
I've studied loneliness quite a bit. Phone calls are enormously important for lonely, elderly gay men. The Loneliness Commission, established by Jo Cox's colleagues after her murder, and a new organisation in Leeds called Friends of Dorothy, are trying to reduce loneliness and the ageism that exists amongst certain parts of the gay community.
I miss Roy dreadfully. One thing which has always stuck with me, is when a very good friend said: “your grief is your tribute to Roy”. I think that’s a wonderful way of putting it, and it makes it easier, for men in particular, to express their grief.
I’m very anxious that Roy’s name should be kept alive. I always bring him in to conversations. People shouldn’t just disappear like a puff of smoke, and I’ve made very sure that as part of my growing old, that the love of my life should not be forgotten.
- If you, or someone you know has been affected by a bereavement, visit Hospice UK’s page on finding bereavement support
- Hospice UK’s Dying Matters campaign aims to create an open culture where people feel able to listen and support those who are planning for the end of life, who are dying and who are bereaved. Sign up on the Dying Matters website
- This blog has been adapted from David's interview for West Yorkshire Queer Stories, a collection of oral histories about LGBTIQ+ life told by people of all ages and backgrounds from across the region. Visit the WYQS website to find out more.