Chapter 2: How discrimination and oppression can impact grief

Unrecognized and unsupported - Death or advanced illness of a partner or spouse

I've been there
Aimee speaks about having to prove wife was immediate family. Not having this recognized by nurses. (3:22)Video transcript

Other people don’t see it as grief. They don’t understand that I have lost the one person who shared the history of our marriage.

If you are living with a partner or spouse who is dying, or if you are grieving their death, you may be dealing with various forms of ignorance, discrimination, or oppression that can add to your feelings of isolation and grief. Click the boxes below for examples.

  • A co-worker or neighbour refers to your partner as your “friend” or uses an incorrect pronoun or gendered noun (e.g., “he” instead of “she.” or “husband” in place of “wife”).
  • Healthcare or other professionals refuse to use your correct name or gender pronoun, or they refuse to acknowledge your relationship.
  • Healthcare or other professionals don’t acknowledge your relationship and refuse to share information with you or involve you in decision-making (e.g., regarding healthcare, funeral or burial arrangements, or settling the estate).
  • Members of a bereavement support group assume that you are grieving the death of a “friend,” or they incorrectly refer to your partner or spouse as your “husband” or “wife.”
  • Your partner’s family refuses to acknowledge you and your relationship with your partner, taking control of and excluding you from funeral or other arrangements.
  • Your relationship is mis-identified in the obituary (e.g., as a “special friend”).
  • You can’t find a support group or resources that are 2LGBTQ+ friendly.

If your grief is ignored or discounted, you will not only be left to cope with the usual experiences of loss, but you will also have to manage additional layers of grief that come from being judged or possibly silenced. You may begin to think there is something “wrong” with your grief, or that no one relates to it or wants to hear about it. This can leave you feeling alone, resentful, guilty, or even desperate.


Explore options to discuss and record your partner’s or your own end of life wishes through advance care planning. Ensure that arrangements are in place for a healthcare directive, mandatary, substitute decision-maker or power of attorney, depending on the process in your province or territory, in the event that decisions are required to be made on behalf or your partner or yourself. You might also wish to consider creating a will so that wishes can be honoured after a death. 

For more information, see Planning ahead: Your wishes.

What may help

  • Remember that you need to take care of yourself while caring for your partner/spouse. Reach out to supportive friends, family, faith leaders, or 2SLGBTQ+ services.
  • If your partner who has died did not want the true nature of your relationship known, you may have mixed feelings. You may need to seek support from a trusted friend or a grief counsellor.
  • If you don’t want to disclose the true nature of your relationship, you may be able to find other ways to talk about your partner loss; it’s important, however, to recognize that this can be stressful and may add to feelings of shame and isolation.
  • Consider looking for 2SLGBTQ+ services that can provide you with a safe environment. You may prefer to make use of a hotline service, where you can remain anonymous.
  • You may not feel like reaching out, but if you can find a 2SLGBTQ+ support group for widows or widowers in your area or online, this might be very helpful in reducing feelings of isolation and providing some encouragement for the future.
  • Remember that if you are feeling overwhelmed or “stuck” in your grief, it’s important to reach out to a supportive, professional grief counsellor.

Helpful resources
Planning for my care - Canadian Virtual Hospice