Last week, Kelly O'Brien was visiting wedding chapels. This week, she's getting ready to make the rounds of memorial services. That's because O'Brien's fiance was Gabe Zimmerman, director of community outreach for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Zimmerman was one of the Arizona shooting victims, cut down by the gunman at just 30 years old. There isn't much out on the interwebs about O'Brien -- not surprising, she wasn't a celebrity but a nurse, a woman from Yuma, Arizona who works at the Tucson Medical Center. But it's the lack of details that tell the story here. O'Brien is left in that grey area of being not just a girlfriend but not a wife either.
The couple was planning an April 2012 wedding, which means she likely won't be receiving death certificates, she's not his "next of kin." A grieving girlfriend never seems to get quite the same rights or even respect as a grieving widow. And yet, she was, for all intents and purposes, his significant other. They were engaged. They'd made a commitment.
I can't imagine what she's going through. She's a woman who was living quite an ordinary life, only to have extraordinary circumstances crop up and sweep away everything she knew. As Gabe's father, Ross Zimmerman, told reporters, "For the moment, at least, Kelly has lost her future." I bet there's nothing she'd wouldn't give to get that "ordinary" life back.
It's a situation that's made me think long and hard about my own personal connection to the state of "marriage." I've never been one to push it on others, never judged other people's decisions to "shack up" or simply be common law spouses. A piece of paper, I'll readily admit, does not beget commitment -- hence the suppositions that 50 percent of married men will cheat.
But that grey area of the "not-spouse" that Kelly O'Brien is stuck in makes a case for other couples to have some sort of piece of paper; if not a marriage than a certificate, a legal decree, something! It also adds yet another facet to the gay marriage debate. If two people love each other and are willing to commit, but the government is standing so pigheadedly in the way, what happens when one dies and the other is left behind? They've been refused marriage, and hence they're refused the rights to mourn that are automatically afforded a spouse.
Love should be a pure thing, but unfortunately legalities muddy it. Do you feel an extra bit of sympathy for someone who loses their betrothed, knowing they have more hoops to jump through?
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