My dearest Elise,
I remember the first time we met like it was yesterday.
Dancing at a party, you came over to join me. ‘Can I get you a drink?’ you asked, then handed me a can of bourbon and coke. It wasn’t the most romantic of starts, but you were certain I was the one. ‘That’s the woman I’m going to marry,’ you told your friends.
But I took some convincing! Just out of a relationship, I didn’t want anything serious but I soon realised we had so much in common. We both worked hard and shared the same values.
After two years we were madly in love and bought a house together. We joked that we’d get married on 10/10/10. Of course it wasn’t legal for same-sex couples to get married in Australia, but we knew we loved each other and that was all that mattered. As the date neared we decided to go for it. What was meant to be a small party turned into a gathering of 101 people at Seal Rocks, NSW.
To stand there in front of our friends and family and say those vows was magical. Neither of us got through it without crying. Getting married meant so much more to me than I thought it would.
It wasn’t legally binding but we called each other wife and I took your last name.
We decided to start a family and went to a fertility centre for a sperm donor. During my pregnancy, you were so protective. When our bub Ivy arrived, we got through the sleepless nights together. Our relationship only got stronger. As Ivy grew, we had so much fun together.
We soon wanted another baby. Using the same donor, you carried our child this time. I remember you had bad morning sickness for those first three months!
When our second little girl Skylar arrived, it felt like our brood was complete. ‘We are a proper family of four now,’ Ivy said at the hospital, with the biggest grin on her face. It was true.
Those first two weeks were filled with more sleepless nights, but we were incredibly happy. On February 8, it was a typical Monday morning. Running late for work, I was frantically trying to get Ivy ready for day care.
‘I’ll take Ivy,’ you laughed.
While Skylar slept soundly, you left with Ivy. Her day care was just across the road so I expected you to be back in 10 minutes. As time passed, I grew impatient, thinking you’d got caught up painting or something else fun. But when I looked out the door, I saw police tape cordoning off the road. My pulse raced as I ran over to Ivy’s day care.
‘Is Elise in there?’ I asked.
‘Oh Lara...’ a teacher replied, with a horrified look.
Then I saw one of your thongs on the road.
Thankfully Ivy was safe at day care, but devastatingly you’d been hit by a car. I went into panic. ‘Where is my wife?’ I screamed.
One of the day care workers took me to the hospital. Holding Skylar close to my chest, I rushed into emergency.
‘I’m Elise Ryan’s wife. I know it’s not legal but I need to see her,’ I cried out.
‘I’m going to take you in to see Elise, but she doesn’t look herself,’ warned a nurse.
Seeing you laying there battered, bruised and swollen, I already knew you’d gone.
'Where is my wife?' I screamed.
You were only being kept alive by machines. Ivy couldn’t see you that way, but that night Skylar and I stayed by your bedside.
How was I going to cope?
Along with your family, I agreed you’d want to save others, so the next day your organs were taken for donation. When life was unbearable, that gesture gave us some hope.
After that, we faced the impossible task of saying goodbye to you. 400 people came to your funeral. We let go of rainbow balloons and danced to Donna Summer with tears streaming down our cheeks.
Since you died, not only have I been devastated by grief, I’ve also been drowning in paperwork. On your death certificate I couldn’t even tick that you were my wife. I had to cross out the word ‘husband’ and write wife. Trying to access your superannuation so I can support our girls has been an ongoing struggle. If our marriage was recognised, it would’ve been so much easier.
After one particularly frustrating day on the phone, I vented on Facebook.
She is the mother of our two girls, she is the future I dreamed of and she is my safe place to land. I wrote.
Gay marriage should be legal because love is love and we should celebrate it and encourage it always.
The next day it had been shared over 50,000 times.
I couldn’t help but think how mad you would be, Elise! ‘We don’t do politics’ you’d always say. But it isn’t political. From my point of view it’s just about love. People contacted me from all over the world, which added some comfort in my grief.
Today, Ivy talks about Mumma all the time. Skylar is too young to understand but she smiles and giggles just like you. As she grows, I’ll tell her about how special you were.
We three miss you more than words can ever express. You’ll never be forgotten, my darling.
All my love, Lara
Originally published in issue 27 of that's life! magazine - July 7, 2016.
Visit Lara, Ivy and Skylar's GoFundMe page here.