Jan and Mary Anne live in Helena and have been together as a couple for 30 years. Jan, who is 69, and Mary Anne, who is 77, each have two children from previous marriages and when they moved to Montana together in 1983, they lived with two of the children, raising them and making parenting decisions together. Mary Anne’s son’s affectionate nickname for Jan was “DepMo” – short for “Deputy Mom.” Today Jan and Mary Anne have four grandchildren living nearby in Bozeman and one granddaughter who died in infancy. “I can’t imagine anything else in life except being with her as long as she’ll have me,” Mary Anne says of Jan.
The couple met in Colorado, where they both worked in public health. Mary Anne is a retired pediatric neurologist. Jan is a retired registered nurse. When the couple moved to Montana, they opened a statewide child neurology practice, which served children and families for 12 years. In 1998, Mary Anne was elected to Montana’s House of Representatives and served one term. Mary Anne was the first woman president of the Child Neurology Society, a national professional organization, and recently was honored with CNS’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Both Jan and Mary Anne have devoted their retirement to continued work on public health and other community causes, volunteering with a variety of nonprofit and service organizations.
Jan and Mary Anne are committed to taking care of one another in sickness and in health, but they worry that they may not be able to do so in an emergency. This concern was borne out following Mary Anne’s hip replacement surgery, when a doctor’s assistant refused to speak with Jan because he didn’t have Mary Anne’s medical release in hand.
Jan and Mary Anne’s story (video)
Kellie and Denise live in Laurel and have been together for 14 years. Denise, 48, is a middle school science teacher and a basketball coach. Kellie, 49, worked for many years at a juvenile detention center, but is on disability because she suffers from a rare brain condition. Kellie has had 56 brain surgeries and over 300 spinal taps over the past ten years. She has endured a broken hip and arm in the last six months. Kellie will probably never be able to work full-time again, but she works a few hours a week for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County when she is able.
In November 2009, Kellie and Denise jointly adopted Kellie’s 4-year-old great-nephew Morrgan who is now eight. Morrgan had been living with Kellie and Denise for a year and a half before the adoption took place. “He constantly reminds us that he is an expert at Legos and Minecraft and would live on the computer if we let him.” Before Morrgan came to live with them, the couple had already been raising Kellie’s two daughters from a previous marriage: Jordan, now 19, and Charlee, now 22. Kellie’s mother, Patricia is also an integral part of the family structure, helping out with Morrgan and Kellie.
While state employees like Denise automatically receive 10 days of bereavement leave when a family member or in-law dies, Denise was denied bereavement leave by her employer when Kellie’s father died in April of 2010.
The couple had a private commitment ceremony in 2001 with about 30 friends and family members present, are very active in their church, and love to travel, camp, and fish. Kellie credits Denise standing by her through all her health problems: “She never left me when I was so sick. I endure her relentless love of sports and she endures my need for dogs. I love her to infinity and beyond!”
Rick and Gary have been together for 24 years. They met in Texas and moved to Butte in 1994 for Rick to take a new job and have lived there ever since. Rick, 57, is retired from his work as a mental health therapist. Gary, 62, is retired from the insurance business.
Gary was in the Army for a year and a half in the early 1970s. His brother was killed in Vietnam, so Gary was given a waiver and allowed to serve stateside. He gets most of his medical care through the Veteran’s Administration
Gary has been living with HIV for many years. While he is doing well now, at one point in 1995 he was so sick that he was told he had six weeks to live. Rick hadn’t been acknowledged as part of the family until he had to call them with the news that Gary was dying. Gary’s mother later called the doctor and the doctor told her that Rick was the best caregiver a person can have. Rick and Gary both volunteer with Butte AIDS Support Services. They also volunteered for 10 years for a statewide community planning group for HIV prevention, for which they both received governor’s awards for their work.
“We’re pretty much joined at the hip,” Gary says of their relationship. “We’re just always there for each other, we have been since 1989, and we always will be.”
Nancy and M.J., both 68, live in Basin and have been together as a couple for 20 years. They are proud grandparents to Nancy’s son’s four children, who all call them both “Grandma.” Nancy, who has Ph.D. in anthropology, is recently retired from her job as a college professor. M.J. is a professional jazz vocalist and trombone player, as well as a partner in a faux-finishing painting company. M.J. and Nancy were among the founders of the Montana Artists Refuge, a residency program for artists that also sponsored art exhibitions, live performances and workshops in Basin for 17 years.
Nancy and M.J. own their home together and have health care directives, but they still worry that the paperwork they have filled out won’t protect them in an emergency. In 2001, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer. While she was undergoing treatment, Nancy was concerned the hospital might not share Nancy’s information with MJ, even though they had been in a stable, committed relationship for over ten years at the time.
Although Nancy was able to convince the hospital to share her information with MJ, the couple worries that another hospital could easily take a different approach.
Nancy and M.J. both love arts, travel, and taking care of their home. “We have been on wonderful journeys together, in our minds and in the world,” says M.J.
Mike, 59, was born and raised in Montana, the son of a ranch hand. He and Rich, 42, have been together for nine years and live in Bozeman, where they raised Kevin, Mike’s 20-year-old son from a previous relationship.
Until Kevin left for college at Pacific Lutheran University in fall 2011, home life was centered around helping him with his homework and attending his football games and weightlifting competitions to cheer him on. Now they watch over from afar. “Rich is the one who nags about homework and watches his grades,” says Mike. “Maintaining a good family space for Kevin is the important thing to us.” All three love skiing, floating the Yellowstone River, and skeet shooting together.
Rich, a Navy veteran, is a mechanical engineer and Mike is a hospital laboratory supervisor. “We fight over who wrote what check without recording it, we take turns waiting up for the kid on weekends, we nitpick over who squeezed the toothpaste, and we work on fixing up our house,” says Rich. “We just do what it takes to take care of each other.”
Mike and Rich’s story (video)
Stacey, who is 47 and a certified professional midwife, and Mary, who is 49 and until recently worked as a manager at the Community Food Co-op, have been together for 15 years. In 2003, the couple held a commitment ceremony at Emerson Hall in Bozeman to celebrate their relationship with over 200 friends and family members.
Stacey and Mary know from experience that not having legal protections for their relationship could leave them unprotected in times of greatest need. Long before Stacey and Mary met, Mary’s previous partner of eight years was killed in a tragic workplace accident. Although Mary and her previous partner had taken steps to try to protect their relationship, Mary found herself powerless in a number of essential ways following her previous partner’s death.
Grief-stricken after the accident, Mary was denied access to her former partner’s remains, as the coroner explained that she had no legal relationship to her partner. Although she and her partner both worked for a company that offers paid bereavement leave to its married heterosexual employees, Mary was not given bereavement leave after her partner’s death. Several of her coworkers stepped forward to cover her work shifts and assist her financially. Mary’s partner’s family also received the partner’s worker’s compensation death benefits and filed a wrongful death suit for damages – both things legal spouses can do, but not Mary, even though she had been in a committed relationship with her partner for eight years. Eventually Mary was forced to sell the home she and her partner had bought together just to stay afloat financially.
Mary struggled to put her life back together after her devastating loss, and credits family and friends for helping her through. A few years later, she and Stacey met through a mutual friend. Later on Mary suggested they walk their dogs together and struck up a friendship. Eventually they went on their first date to go see Godzilla and then, Stacey says, “That was that. We’ve been together ever since.”
Stacey and Mary feel very lucky to have found one another and to be together. “We know better than anyone that you can lose everything in a moment,” says Mary. “So why not cherish what you have and live every moment you can to the fullest?”
Mary and Stacey’s story (vide0)