From San Bernardino to Orlando: gay man whose partner was killed in December speaks

Daniel Kaufman and Ryan Reyes, at Bent-Con 2014
Daniel Kaufman and Ryan Reyes, at Bent-Con 2014

BY RYAN REYES  |  I am the boyfriend of Daniel Kaufman, one of the fourteen  killed in the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California on December 2, 2015.

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There are no words that can express how I feel about the events that have taken place in Orlando, Florida.  

My very soul cries for each and every person that this horrific event has touched.  They (you, if anyone that has been touched by this event is reading this) are in for a very tough, long road.  I know because I have been walking that VERY same road for the last six months.  

One of the most difficult things that you will face is that your life is never going to return to what you considered normal.  Not only have you experienced a deeply traumatic loss, but it is by no means a private one.  You have now, unwillingly, joined a club that no one wants or should be a member of.  

Losing a loved one is never easy but when hatred is the cause there is no context and nothing to help you navigate the loss. The specter of radical hate/terrorism ties you forever to the horror.  That is not an easy thing to understand, especially when you are grieving and still trying to come to terms with the reality of what just happened.

My advice to you on how to handle the process is simple : be yourself.  Only you know what is best for you.  Do not let ANYONE tell you how to grieve or how long it should take.  Everyone has their own timeline and healing will come when it comes.  Do not try to rush.  If you feel you need to bury everything inside and keep it there for awhile, by all means, do so, but know that at some point, you will need to let it back out.

You need to grieve in order to get to a better place.  

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LAUGH AND SMILE!  Yes, you are sad and hurting, but if you see or hear something funny, it is perfectly fine to react to it and do not let anyone tell you differently!  Joy does not mean you are “over it” or being disrespectful.  Many of my friends were unsure what to think when they saw joy in my eyes during the memorials and family gathering I attended after the San Bernardino attack.

Our loved ones that have left us behind want us to continue to LIVE and not just exist.  

If you don’t want to talk to anyone about it, don’t, and don’t let anyone force you to.  Even though talking about things helps the most people, it is not a productive option for everyone.  

A big reason I was able to speak on TV and before audiences without breaking down is because I talk it out.  I’d recommend counseling, especially if you have trouble talking it though with friends and even some strangers. Whether or not you are a talker, finding a grief counselor or therapist is very important.

Talking has actually been one of the things I have been attacked for.  People feel that because I talk I am not grieving because I don’t look sad on camera.  Well, for me, it is hard to feel sad when I talk about Daniel because Daniel didn’t make me sad.  I am very private when it comes to my grief; my own family rarely sees me cry.  

Daniel was such a bright light in so many people’s lives that when I talk about him, I don’t even think about the fact that he is physically gone because I can FEEL him with me, giving me the strength I need to do what I feel I need to do.  When I am at home and things are quiet, that is when I feel the hurt from him not being here physically anymore and that is when I go through my “hot mess” periods with hysterical crying.

Death can bring out the worst in people.  

Anger and lashing out is a normal part of the grieving process, however, know that because of the high-profile of your struggles, it can get REALLY ugly, REALLY fast.  

LGBT people (and some of our families by extension) are a community that can sometimes be socially isolated, distanced, estranged or even disowned from our extended family because of who we are.  This is where it can be especially hurtful since some of the contact and offers of support will anger you because it feels disingenuous.  

For your own sanity (I speak from experience here and wish someone had told me this), choose your battles wisely and be careful about what you respond to.  You know who truly loves and supports you and who your true friends are.  If someone’s support makes you uncomfortable, be polite (for your sake) but move on.  Don’t make your journey harder and don’t be held back from moving forward.

Surround yourself with your true friends and loved ones and the new ones you will make.  Do something you enjoy, something that brings you satisfaction.  Do the things you love but rarely find time for; those are the things that will help you the most.  

Remember that love is stronger than hate and that we are a community of love and inclusion.  We always have been and we always will be.  We are stronger now than we have ever been and we won’t let anything tear us down or break us.  

It is normal and okay to be angry, but PLEASE my brothers and sisters, NEVER let hate win.  We have proven that when we lead by example with love, we can conquer all.  Now is the time for us to mourn our losses and love each other even more than before.  We are all in this and grieve together.

I am going to include my email address here for anyone that wishes to talk, discuss, whatever.  Please give me 24-48 hours to respond as I get pretty bombarded at times:

Love wins all.

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