SAN ANTONIO – The holidays can be tough for people grieving the loss of a loved one, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.
Almost two years ago, Deborah Myers lost her partner of 35 years, Nickie Valdez.
“She was a great person, my best friend,” Myers said.
Valdez was an LGBTQ+ pioneer in San Antonio and Texas as one of the first openly gay women in the Alamo City.
“She passed away on Christmas Day in 2020,” Myers said.
She said the holidays will never be the same without her partner.
In December 2021, Myers found a holiday grief workshop tailored to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I could share and be comfortable and not worry about that extra layer of vulnerability about being out,” Myers said.
“We had one lesbian woman who attended a grief group that was open to everybody, and the participants of that group were not open to the fact that she was grieving her wife. (They) almost treated her in a way that it wasn’t the same type of love, or the relationship was different because you’re two women,” said Robert Salcido Jr., executive director of Pride Center San Antonio.
That’s why Salcido was thrilled when Porter Loring Mortuary brought him the idea of a grief workshop at the Pride Center.
The workshops are facilitated by Darwin Huartson, the Bereavement Chaplain at Porter Loring Mortuary.
Huartson is trained in end-of-life care. Most of his career has been in providing bereavement support -- first at a hospital, then a hospice center, and at Porter Loring for the past six years.
“Porter Loring, in the last three years, wrote our own curriculum called Making Your Grief Count. Two years ago, we began offering it in various venues. We thought, ‘Why not offer it for the LGBTQ community as well?’” Huartson said.
They offer single-day holiday grief workshops from October to December and full 8-week seminars throughout the year.
The 8-week courses usually have around five to 15 people, whereas the holiday groups are usually larger because they’re drop-in meetings. Anyone from the LGBTQ+ community can just show up without registering.
“We believe, if we honor our grief, we actually can heal during the holidays instead of avoiding it,” Huartson said.
Myers explained that there are layers of grief in her community, saying, “It’s kind of disenfranchised grief.”
“Grief happens in the LGBTQ community in different forms. It isn’t always grief from a death but perhaps grief from not having a relationship with your family or having grief from losing a job,” Salcido said.
Those emotions can become more powerful during the holiday season.
“I do think our community experiences an extra grief during the holiday, because they don’t feel comfortable bringing their significant other home with them, or if there’s some stress about them bringing them home, or if they’re not out yet,” Myers said.
Myers said she learned so much from both the holiday seminar and 8-week course.
“How to make the best of it, to reflect on what you might need and what you might be able to do to -- either celebrate the person that you lost, or to connect with the people who also lost a person,” she said.
“What do you dread? Don’t do the things you don’t want to. Do lean into the things you like. We bring the loved one forward,” Huartson explained.
Myers learned that her relationship didn’t end with death. It still continues, just in a different way.
“They’re still with us, and each of us getting to share ideas and emotions and stories helps to process the grief,” Myers said.
Myers said Valdez would love the way these meetings bring together people who are hurting.
“She always wanted some people to have a sense of belonging, that they belonged, and that they were loved,” she said.
The meetings create a space where sorrow and isolation can bring together a new chosen family.
The last holiday grief workshop of the year, called Healing Holidays, is this Thursday, Dec. 8, from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Pride Center, located at 1303 McCullough Ave. Ste. 160, San Antonio, Texas 78212. There is no need to register for that workshop.
To take the 8-week courses, you must register on the Pride Center website. For more information, you can call the Pride Center at 210-370-PRIDE (7743). The next course begins in January.