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37, Gay and a Widower

August 4, 2016
Bay Windows
by Bryan Li

I am a 37-year-old gay widower living in Boston’s South End.  I never thought I would string those three words together. I didn’t really even know what “gay” was for most of my high school and college years. I certainly didn’t think it was possible to marry the love of my life because we were a same-sex couple. And who could have known that – at age 37 – I would be a widower?  Sadly, I lost my husband Jerry to brain cancer this past December.

I am a very private person, but I am allowing this glimpse into my life to help fellow members of the gay community learn about important programs and services that are available. I felt it was important to introduce the compassionate, professional staff from Care Dimensions  that helped me through this difficult time, especially as a foreigner living in this country. I would have fallen apart without their help. I want to uphold Jerry’s memory by giving back and helping others. I just returned from Toronto and saw the Pride Parade while I was there. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led the parade. To my knowledge, no other national leader has led a Gay Pride Parade. It sent a strong message to the world that he supports the Gay community. I want to do my small part to do the same.

My journey started in the summer of 1999. One day I was searching online for lyrics to a song by Boyz II Men. I found much more than song lyrics on the Internet. I stumbled upon a world that, as a third-year college student attending China Medical University, I didn’t even know existed.  I discovered that my attraction to men was not abnormal and that there was a whole world out there with people just like me.

I was not sure of my sexual orientation at that time. I was trying to be “normal” and dated a girl in college, to be like other classmates. I was relieved to learn there are other men who shared my desire to be with a man. This opened a whole new world for me. I was like a sponge – researching online and making discoveries of this whole new world.

Soon, Jerry and I had logged into an online chat room for gay people. We were very curious about many things in the world and started talking about everything from music to Asian art to culture.  Once we started talking,  the conversation never stopped right until the day he died. Jerry used to muse that we talked more than most married couples. We talked about everything. It’s what I miss most about him.

Jerry collected clocks, antiques, American and Euro tiles. He loved history and art. When we met online, he had retired from his job at Harvard University at age 55. He was just starting to pursue his vast interests and travel. After one whole year of chatting online, Jerry came to visit me in my hometown in China. That day changed everything. Before, we were in a virtual world, but meeting him in person turned what we had into something very real.

We started traveling together when we could. When we were apart, we talked almost every day on the phone about art, politics, and everyday life. This went on for 16 years. Phone calls turned into Skype calls and then FaceTime, with annual trips to Boston to spend my holidays when not teaching at the university. Jerry was American. I grew up in China.  We had a lot of differences visibly and yet somehow, something clicked. We enjoyed traveling and browsing through museums. We traveled extensively throughout China and the U.S. We frequented botanical gardens everywhere we went, and spent a long time in our own home garden. It is quite spectacular, if I may say. It is filled with flowers that bloom one after another, including Jerry’s favorite clematis and several flowering bushes and trees.

I moved to Boston permanently in January 2015.  Jerry was getting older and I worried about him living alone.  I wanted to stay in America to take care of him. We learned from immigration lawyers that gay people can get married  and have the same immigration benefits as straight couples do. Our family and friends were very supportive. We were excited and happy – planning our future.  We had a wonderful spring working in our garden, but it was all too brief.

In June, I noticed Jerry was unsteady on his feet and urged him to see a doctor. But it was too late. An MRI showed an egg-sized tumor in his brain.  Our blissful spring ended abruptly as we searched for answers. Jerry’s brain tumor was inoperable and radiation therapy limited.  The prognosis was not good for glioblastoma. As a med student and later teacher for China Medical University, I understood the physical process that was happening – but when you lose someone so dear to you, I was not prepared at all. I was a mess. This was so personal, so painful, so real.

Jerry had the insurance to stay at the rehab facility after the biopsy surgery, but wanted to be home where he felt safe and comfortable. In two weeks, I had wheelchair ramps and hand railings installed and remodeled the bathroom to accommodate Jerry’s wheelchair. Days and months passed, Jerry’s condition worsened. I knew I couldn’t handle his care alone anymore.  Care Dimensions provided the professional help I needed during the final month of his life. The staff was caring, compassionate and respectful. They were properly trained to make sure Jerry was comfortable and guided me through this nightmare. I don’t know how I would have gotten through these dark days without them. When Jerry was nearing his final days, I panicked. The team from Care Dimensions walked me through different scenarios of what to expect – the symptoms, the behaviors and what to do.  Jerry died with his hand in mine, listening to his favorite music.

Seven months after Jerry’s death, I still feel empty inside. Nate Lamkin, Director of Bereavement Services for Care Dimensions, has reached out in concern to let me know that they have support programs and services, and groups geared for the LGBT community. I’m just not ready. I try to find solace knowing that Jerry and I had 16 years together before our wedding – visiting places around the world and making beautiful memories. I’m grateful for the friends and family that supported me through Jerry’s untimely death. I would have been at a total loss if it weren’t for them and the professional help I received from Care Dimensions. After what we’ve been through, it’s clear that Care Dimensions understands that every loss is unique and deeply personal. It is equally comforting to know that programs and services are readily available to continue to help me through . . . so that I can try to move forward in a rediscovery of personal resiliency.

Care Dimensions has been recognized as a leader in healthcare equality from the Human Rights Commission: Read more at

The next LGBTQ Grief Support Group begins on Wednesday, September 28 – November 16 from 6:30 to 8pm at the Bertolon Center for Grief & Healing, 78 Liberty Street, Danvers. This eight-week group is for LGBTQ-identified adults of any age who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Participants in this identity-affirming space will make connections with one another as they explore the many feelings and facets of grief, foster coping skills, and support each other’s unique grief journeys toward healing. To register, visit or call 855-774-5100 or email: [email protected].

Anyone—patient, family, care provider—can make a referral. Fill in the form online or call us today.

Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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