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Man fights partner?s family over gravesite


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Man fights partner?s family over gravesite

Parents want gay son?s body moved to family plot

By JOSHUA LYNSEN, Washington Blade

Kevin-Douglas Olive still remembers talking to his partner Russell Groff about his grave.

Groff wanted to be buried in a cemetery along the gentle slopes outside Knoxville, Tenn. It was a reasoned choice. The land is close to where both were raised and large enough to accommodate a second plot.

?We had this romantic notion of being buried next to each other,? Olive said. ?Forever and ever.?

But that dream is now in jeopardy. Groff?s parents, Lowell and Carolyn Groff, are trying to overturn their son?s will and move his body to the family cemetery in Severe County, Tenn.

Groff?s parents, who could not be reached this week by the Blade, have argued in court that the 26-year-old man didn?t know what he was doing when he completed his will. Olive said Groff had been estranged from his parents when he died.

Olive, a 34-year-old Baltimore resident, disagrees. He said Groff knew precisely what he was doing. And to move the body now, nearly two years after Groff?s death, is something Olive can?t bear to imagine.

?Moving him is not honoring who he was,? he said. ?It?s really ? it?s really disturbing.?

A Maryland court, which has jurisdiction over the dispute because Groff?s will was signed in the state, heard the case Sept. 25 and 26. A ruling is expected in October.

Olive said he?s hopeful, but increasingly anxious about the case that?s cast a shadow over his life.

?You just don?t know,? he said. ?You never know how a judge is going to rule. And we won?t know for three more weeks.?

No matter the ruling, though, the case isn?t expected to end in October. Olive said if he loses, he?ll appeal, and if he wins, Groff?s parents will appeal.

And even after the appeals are exhausted, the case could continue. Groff?s parents would have to overturn separate burial instructions before they could move the body.

Olive said the legal redundancy was intentional, and encouraged by Groff.

?We drew these up because we knew if he died before me, that we would be fighting like this,? Olive said. ?These documents were to protect me from his parents.?

Instead, the documents triggered a prolonged legal battle ? one that has left Olive with no time to mourn the passing of the first person he ?really loved.?

?I miss him so much, and I wish they would leave me alone,? he said. ?I wish they would go away.?

?He was the wisdom?

Olive and Groff met the week after Valentine?s Day in 1998, when Olive was 25 and Groff was 20.

?He was amazing. He was brilliant,? Olive said. ?I was the voice, he was the wisdom.?

Their relationship bloomed, and the two moved to Baltimore together in July 2000. Three years later, they were married according to local Quaker tradition.

Olive said the blissful marriage was interrupted in 2004 when Groff, who was HIV positive, fell ill.

Groff was hospitalized in October 2004, but seemed to recover. Olive said Groff was transferred to another facility to help his recovery, but soon developed new problems.

Groff was transferred to another hospital, where Olive could only watch as his partner faded.

Olive said Groff became so weak that he couldn?t leave his bed to urinate. To best help the man he loved, Olive would hold the bedpan for him.

?This is my soul mate, so I just did it,? he said. ?You don?t even think about it. You just do it.?

Eventually, a staph infection that originated in Groff?s gall bladder spread throughout his body, and on Nov. 23, 2004, he died.

?I just collapsed on the floor of the hospital, face down and shrieking,? Olive said. ?Part of me knew that was entirely inappropriate, but part of me didn?t care.?

In keeping with the burial instructions signed Nov. 18, Groff was interred in the West Knoxville Friends Cemetery outside Knoxville, Tenn.

Olive said the grave, located about 30 minutes from Groff?s childhood home, was to remain simple and clean. But Groff?s mother, Carolyn, made changes.

?She made it into this shrine that really offended the sensibilities of the Quakers,? he said, ?because we?re all about simplicity.?

Olive said Carolyn routinely decorated the grave. At one point, she posted a picture of Groff with his female prom date, plus a poem Carolyn wrote wherein her son essentially apologized for being gay.

?I was so insulted by seeing this,? Olive said. ?She was trying to paint him as this repentive person who was heterosexual, really.?

After seeing that picture and poem, Olive said he could tolerate no more and cleaned his husband?s gravesite.

?When I cleared the grave, that was the final straw for her,? he said. ?She filed the caveat and challenged the will.?

Not of sound mind?

The petition to caveat, filed in July 2005, says Groff didn?t know what he was doing when he signed his will.

It says Groff?s will was ?not read to or by him, or known to him? before it was signed. The petition also says Groff was not of sound mind when he signed his will.

The petition, signed by both of Groff?s parents, asks the Maryland court to invalidate the will.

Olive said he initially thought the legal challenge was baseless, and posed no threat.

?Everything was valid, and I thought that would be enough,? he said. ?But it wasn?t.?

Groff?s parents initiated a substantial legal challenge in an effort to move their son?s body to a Baptist cemetery.

Olive said he attended mediation with Groff?s parents, but the meetings served little purpose.

?They kept saying that Russell should be buried in their family plot,? he said. ?I kept saying ?It?s on paper.? They kept saying ?It?s not valid.??

At one point, Olive said Groff?s parents offered to end their challenge.

?They believe they came halfway because they said they?d move him to their plot and then allow me to be buried next to him,? he said. ?That?s all well and good, but that?s not what Russell wanted.?

As the dispute dragged on, a trial was scheduled and Olive was deposed. He said that step, in which an opposing attorney grilled him, was a difficult one.

?It really was hard,? he said. ?They were making me feel like I was a liar and a thief, and that I manipulated my partner. It just made me feel low.?

And the focus of the discussion, Olive said, was entirely inaccurate.

?It was made into my wishes versus their wishes,? he said. ?The fact that this was really Russell?s wishes was being ignored by everyone.?

At the trial this week in Baltimore, Olive twice took the stand. But even so, he said he didn?t get the opportunity to say everything he wanted.

?I didn?t get to talk about the relationship at all,? Olive said. ?It was all about the will.?

Case shows consequences of marriage inequality

Several people are helping Olive defend Groff?s will in court.

One of the witnesses, Rebecca Pickard of Baltimore, submitted a letter saying Groff was of sound mind when he signed his will Nov. 20, 2004.

She noted the will?s contents were read to him, ?and he acknowledged full understanding of it before signing the document.?

Groff?s brother, Walter Groff of Salem, Ore., also has sought to protect the will. He submitted a letter saying Lowell and Carolyn never accepted Russell?s relationship with Olive.

?It is my fear that this litigation has been brought about from the emotional distress that my parents have experienced with my brother?s untimely death,? he wrote, ?and problems between them that were never resolved.?

Olive said the letters have helped him defend the will and burial instructions.

?If I didn?t have all this stuff, I?d be screwed,? he said. ?I?d be totally screwed.?

But even with the paperwork, Olive said the court battle has been difficult.

?I?ve learned that just because you have the documents,? he said, ?it doesn?t mean too much.?

Olive said the experience has given him a new appreciation for activists seeking full marriage equality for gays.

?Our relationship was supported by so many,? he said, ?but it never occurred to me how important it is that the law supports us.?

If the couple had been legally married, Olive said, he wouldn?t be talking about a court battle. He?d be talking about how much he misses his husband.

?He took care of me,? Olive said. ?He really did take care of me. And I hope I gave him something equal, something close.?

? 2006 | A Window Media LLC Publication

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I know what to say, but I'm too polite to say it.

On a related note: I've read several times that one should video tape a statement to go along with your will, particularly if there could be an 'issue'. Have it witnessed and left with the will for reading. It goes a long way to proving what is wanted.

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There should be no place in society for their brand of hate mongering or total lack of acceptance that we, humankind, are all different in one way or another. It wouldn't surprise me if they began to say that left handed people are the spawn of the Devil next.

IMO, this unnamed "preacher" is the spawn of the devil. Like they taught me when I went to Catholic elementary school: God = love. Devil = hate. :icon13:


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