triumph over tragedy: the Langbehn-Pond Family’s story

Today, we bring a very touching guest post by our friend Janice
Langbehn. She lost her partner, Lisa Pond, while they were waiting
for the February Rosie Cruise to depart. In her own words, here is
her story:

On February 18, 2007 my partner, Lisa Marie Pond, died from a brain
aneurysm. On that day, our family was dreaming of white sandy
beaches and blue waters as we were getting ready to set sail on the
RFamily Vacation cruise out of Miami to the Bahamas. Instead, Lisa
who was very healthy collapsed while watching our children play
basketball on the top deck. The kids were brave souls and carried
Lisa down to the stateroom where I took one look at her and knew it
was very serious, she couldn’t talk at all and had no ability to
stand. I will always have to live with the memory of the trauma our
children endured by watching as their “other” mom was dying
before their eyes. Fortunately, Lisa and I knew sign language
because we have had many foster children who had language delays.
So I signed and asked her if she hit her head and she replied very
sternly in sign language “NO”. That is when I thought it was a
stroke or some other serious brain event. The ship porters helped
me get her to the Ship’s doctor who called for Miami Fire and

The kids and I packed all our belongings and hurried off the boat
while Lisa was intubated and taken to local trauma hospital in
Miami . The kids and I waited and waited for word about Lisa,
finally when someone appeared nearly 2 and ½ hours later – Dr.
Garnet Fredrick, a social worker, was very blunt in telling me that
I was in “an anti-gay city and state” and that I would need a
health care proxy before I was allowed to see my partner of nearly
18 years or know of her condition. After getting his fax number I
immediately called Kathy Bowen our closet friend in Olympia who
went to our house, found our legal documents including our Power of
Attorney, Living Will and Advance Directive allowing me to speak
for Lisa in the event she couldn’t. Kathy went to our house
within minutes of my frantic call, faxed our legal documents to the
hospital in Miami. I then waited and waited – going on three
hours when I finally called our family physician at her house in
Olympia. WA on a Sunday and asked for her help because I was being
barred from seeing Lisa and still was being denied the information
on Lisa’s condition. Halfway through the call with our family
doctor a neurosurgeon appeared to tell me that Lisa had suffered a
massive and fast bleed in her brain and they needed to place a
pressure monitor in her head and that other surgery may be needed.
I consented. It was only then I realized that they had received the
documents Kathy had faxed to them nearly an hour ago, yet I was
still not being allowed to see my partner. I also never saw that
social worker, Dr. Frederick again. He never came to me to say that
he was sorry for his comments or that he received our legal
documents and they were sufficient.

Another hour passed before two more neurosurgeons appeared to talk
with me and Lisa’s parents who were listening in via my cell
phone. It was during this meeting that they initially said that one
of Lisa’s pupils was fixed and not responding but there may be a
chance. Seconds later, the surgeons got a page, stepped out of the
family room and then re-entered to say that both of Lisa’s pupils
now were blown and she was essentially brain dead and they would do
the flow study in the morning to confirm. It was only after this
meeting that I learned that our Lisa was essentially gone, that no
surgery could save her brain from the massive aneurysm. After the
doctors left the room, I brought our children in to tell them that
their “other” mom had died and that she was in Heaven now. I
explained that we would keep her on a breathing machine so that she
could donate her organs so that others could live just as Lisa
wanted it.

More than one tragedy occurred that February day in Miami: I lost
my partner, my love, my life, our kids lost their “other” mom
and what makes all these tragedies more horrible is how I was
treated by the Social Worker and receptionist at that hospital in
Miami by telling me I couldn’t see Lisa nor make important
decisions about her care. In those 3 hours, desperate for
information about Lisa, I paced and watched other families being
brought back into the trauma center, yet my family waited, with no
word about Lisa’s condition. Our children Danielle, David, Katie
and I all lost the ability to be with Lisa in her last moments of
consciousness, to hold her hand and to say goodbye and that is
something that can never be given back to our family. When I
finally was allowed to see Lisa it was with a Priest to perform her
Last Rites.

So our family grieves for what was. We grieve for the immeasurable
loss of Lisa and we grieve for all the other GLBT families who face
discrimination on a daily basis. Lisa and I never set out to change
the world or change how others accept gay families, we just wanted
to be allowed to live equally and raise our children by giving them
all the same opportunities their peers have. I believe we achieved
that and in no way deserved to be treated the way we were in Miami.
To this day, I am unable to receive Lisa’s death certificate
directly from Miami or the State of Florid. Instead I have to ask
the funeral home to request them for me because we were not a
recognized couple. This may seem insignificant but without a death
certificate, our children’s social security and life insurance
benefits were held up. In addition, I have been unable to receive
her medical records from Miami though I have requested them
numerous times. I also filed a formal complaint about 1 month after
her death regarding the Social Worker, the receptionist and our
family’s treatment – yet I have heard nothing until this week
past week (7/10/07) when the hospital said that they had “lost
the complaint”.

There was brightness in this tragedy of how we were treated, when
the organ donation individuals took over – who are separate from
Jackson Memorial Hospital. The air in Lisa room turned to one of
love and light. They allowed me to sign all the consent forms to
donate Lisa’s organs – just how Lisa planned it. They allowed
the children to visit whenever and for as long as they could and
allowed me to stay by Lisa’s side until organ matches were made.
We are thankful for the many individuals who have been there for
our family over the past several months including Rosie and Kelli
O’Donnell, the incredible individuals at RFamily vacations
including Gregg and Colleen, Cindi, Ross and Adam from GLAAD and
most importantly Kathy and Bob Bowen who have taken me and our
children under their wing to see us through this horrible loss.

Shortly after arriving back home after Lisa’s funeral Mass in her
home state of Connecticut , I wrote this in the memory of Lisa.
Thank you.

Her smile and love of life is left with all who knew her
Her simple wish was to be a mother and A Girl Scout Leader
She was both and so much more
As a mother she nurtured so many
Some for only a few days
Four became her forever children
They now look up to the heavens to see her star shining
As a Girl Scout Leader her troop swelled to over 30 girls
She never said “no” to a girl
Wanting to help as many as she could
Even the adults who “discriminated” against her
Her loss is felt now by too many to measure
Her sons, her daughters, her partner and her friends
Even in her death she gave to others
By giving life through organ donation – as young as a 12yo
She left this earth happy and content
Dreaming of blue waters and white sandy beaches
Signing “I Love You” to her kids in their palms
when she could not speak
She was a partner, a beloved mother to many,
troop leader to many more
She will not be forgotten

by: janice

To read more about Janice and her family, visit
her blog at Thank you, Janice,
for sharing your story with us.