As a naive, shy, 24-year-old from the New Jersey suburbs, Greg Stych fell hard when he met 39-year old Paul. Paul was mature, handsome, and fun. Within a week of their first encounter, they knew they were meant to be.
In 1988, eight months after their first date, they flew to Florida to purchase a house in New Port Richey. As two gay men, they were surprised by the open arms they received and the inclusion they felt in Florida.
“Our house quickly felt like home as we realized how loving and caring the world could be,” recalls Greg of their first few months in their new place.
Over the next decade, the two would bond over many things, but especially their mutual love for education.
“As a retired teacher himself, Paul was wholly supportive when I decided to go back to school to become a teacher in 2000 after struggling for many years to find my life’s purpose.” Greg smiles, remembering his late-life career transition.
To Greg and Paul, life was near perfect. Or so they thought.
In 2012, at the age of 63, Paul’s health started to decline. He was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis in 2012, and eventually Parkinson’s Disease.
“But it didn’t stop us from living or loving one another,” Greg says.
On January 10, 2015, twenty-eight years after they first met and following the legalization of gay marriage, Greg and Paul were legally wed. “It was a beautiful ceremony. We were surrounded by loved ones.”
The two were married on their front lawn, on a beautiful, sunny January day to the song Love’s Divine by Seal. “Our friends planned the entire event. We did nothing but step outside and say ‘I do’.”
But by 2016, their home became a place of hospice for Paul. A Gulfside Hospice nurse attended to Paul on a daily basis until he arrived at his place of peace on May 3rd, 2017.
During the last few months of Paul’s life, Greg played the role of nurse, chef, financial planner, primary caregiver, husband, lover, and friend.
“His final days consisted of myself administering comfort medications around the clock, wiping his mouth, washing his body, and giving him a kiss each time I gave him comfort,” says Greg. “When we had his final celebration of life, we played the song Angel by Sarah McLaughlin to send him away to peace.”
Greg is grateful for friends who supported him throughout the process. “I was never alone. I was surrounded by the most incredible friends one could ever have asked for.”
Greg continues to teach middle school, but now feels alone in the world save his friends.
“Now, as I face life alone, my new normal is beginning to come to fruition,” says Greg. “Paul taught me so much about life, loved me unconditionally, and I cherished him the same way.”
“Waking up alone, coming home from work to an empty house, and not having him to care for has been so difficult,” admit’s Greg. He says that he has experienced a roller coaster of emotions “wrought with floods of tears, bouts of crying, and small smiles at happy memories.”
Greg has advice for gay widowers. “It will be a hard, long path to recovery; one I am just beginning. Surround yourself with love and take time to care for yourself. You are not alone.”
And to his partner, Paul, “To my soul mate who is now with the heavens above, I await the day we can be together again.”
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