Her Grief Yields Help for Others

M. Susan Sanders grew up in Nashville, attended graduate school in St. Louis and eventually moved to Kansas City, Mo.
An Oakland, Calif., native, Katherine R. Neal ended up in Kansas City as a flight attendant for TWA when the city was one of the airline�s hubs.

Sanders and Neal met in 1989 and began what Sanders describes as a glorious relationship. Sanders worked as a psychotherapist, and Neal was an artist of some renown. For more than 21 years, the couple enjoyed their partnership quite fully � traveling and loving their busy lives.

At the end of October 2008, Neal was feeling tired and had some blood work done. She didn�t look ill. Nevertheless, doctors diagnosed her with a form of leukemia, and 14 weeks later, she was buried.

At the time of Neal�s diagnosis, the couple was not out as lesbian partners, and for the first few days of hospital visits, Sanders claimed to be Neal�s cousin. She feared for the quality of care should they acknowledge the true nature of their relationship. But after about a week, they stopped the charade. The pretense was too much work.

Neal returned to the couple�s home and relied on Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care nurses to help with a PICC line, blood transfusions and the administration of oral medication, among other things. After the burial, Sanders did not know what to do. Even with her training as a psychotherapist, she felt lost. Surely no one else had even felt this devastatingly horrible pain.

Neal�s rapid passing left Sanders in a space where she had never planned to be. She was grieving not only for the person she lost but the life they shared, and the future that would never be. She felt like she had no hope and she thought she would die.

Remembering the kindness of the hospice nurses, she decided to give the organization a call after receiving one of its newsletters. Susan Hutchison of Kansas City Hospice told her that grief groups were forming, but that none were specifically for LGBT people. Hutchison came to see Sanders weekly for a year solely out of her personal concern.

Sanders decided that Kansas City needed an LGBT-specific grief-management group. Before Neal�s passing, the two had formed the Mary Susan Sanders and Katherine R. Neal Foundation to fund things such as mental health, art and education. This new group was an ideal beneficiary.

When she wanted to talk to Kathy after her passing, Sanders would write. She and Neal had discussed a future memoir and its title, Quicksand. While riding her bike one day, a frustrated Sanders asked, �Give me a sign.� Around the bend she spotted a license plate that read QKSAND and she knew that was her signal to move forward on the book. Published on the one-year anniversary of Neal�s burial, the full title of Sanders� memoir is �Quicksand, A Love Story.�

Sanders is now retired from her practice of psychotherapy and writes radio scripts for KKFI-FM (90.1) � comedy for Shots in the Night Production Co. You might hear her dulcet Mid-South tones if you tune in to local community radio. Neal�s work is on display in several venues. Some of her woodcarving will be shown with similar works in a future Mattie Rhodes Center exhibition.

For information on Quicksand, A Love Story, contact Sanders at rudyruth@kc.rr.com.

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