As her partner of 17 years slipped into a coma, Janice Langbehn pleaded with doctors and anyone who would listen to let her into the woman’s hospital room.
Eight anguishing hours passed before Langbehn would be allowed into Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. By then, she could only say her final farewell as a priest performed the last rites on 39-year-old Lisa Marie Pond.
Jackson staffers advised Langbehn that she could not see Pond earlier because the hospital’s visitation policy in cases of emergency was limited to immediate family and spouses — not partners. In Florida, same-sex marriages or partnerships are not recognized. On Friday, two years after her partner’s death, Langbehn and her attorneys were in federal court, claiming emotional distress and negligence in a suit they filed last June.
The couple’s three adopted children were also refused by the hospital to be recognized as family. And it is my understanding that this scenario, or one like it, happens to same-sex couples far too often.
I think, as one naturally does, difficult though it may be, of this happening to me. I think of my husband being gravely ill and/or dying, and not being able to be with him. I think of the horror of not knowing what was happening to him, and of not being able to tell him I love him and say goodbye one final time.
I think also of being the person who is ill and/or dying, and how terrifying and isolating it would feel to be left alone and without my husband. Why is he not here? Does he not even care? Can I not tell him that I love him one last time, as he goes on to live life without me? Dying alone, I will admit, is one of my greatest fears. And so my heart is not only broken for Janice Lanbehn and her children, but also for Lisa Marie Pond.
I think also that this is not only about those people who would get married if they could, or who have legal documents that go unrecognized because they belong to two people of the same sex, and don’t have the word “marriage” to back them up. I think of everyone else who doesn’t have the word to back them up. I think of long-term committed couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, who have chosen to not get married. I think of couples who planned to get married but haven’t yet. I think of groups of friends who are not romantically involved, but feel like family to one another.
I think of when, back in 2002, I had serious kidney trouble. I was in excruciating pain and was living in Australia, away from my family. I think of how the only person who meant anything to me there was my husband, who was “only” my boyfriend at the time. I think of how he was there for me, how terrifying it was to be in such pain, to not know what was wrong with me, and to be in a place that I still did not fully understand. And I think of the concept that I could have been forced to go through that alone, because someone working at the fucking hospital said that hey, we’re not legal family. I think of how much more likely it would have been to happen if some bigots decided that our love was inherently sinful just based on who we were.
The hospital’s attorneys have argued for a dismissal of this lawsuit on the grounds that they have no legal obligation to let a patient see visitors.
The ridiculous and irresponsible fucking arrogance of such a statement leaves me almost speechless.
How about, instead, they have no legal right to decide whether or not a patient spends their dying — or hell, even their entirely non-fatal but still sick, vulnerable and horribly frightening — moments with the ones they love? How about the fact that while they seemingly love to play the role, the hospital is not fucking god.
I hope with all my heart that Langbehn wins her case. She deserves that, at the very least. But what I really hope for is a solution that doesn’t revolve around rights and respect only for those who have some sort of paperwork, or an ultimately stupid little world like marriage as support, no matter how equally accessible such things are.
No one deserves less dignity than I do just because I have a marriage license.
Janice Langbehn didn’t deserve to spend Lisa Marie Pond’s final moments with her because she had some paperwork, and because she could produce it and show it to everyone around her. She deserved to spend her partner’s final moments with her because it was the only humane possible solution. Because everyone deserves that much.