Utah is a hard place to be "different." If you're not Mormon, it can be hard to make friends and be accepted, until you find the right religio-social pigeonhole for yourself. And if you were raised Mormon, but can no longer conform for some reason, it's even harder. If your family rejects you, but your partner can't legally marry you, it's much, much worse if you become incapacitated with a fatal illness.
Some of this article may be a little hard to read without a box of Kleenex handy.
Friends gave comfort, but in grappling with death, Jody also sought out spiritual sustenance. Tucked between the recliners cushions was a handmade rosary, a gift from a cousin.
Jody, originally from Southern California, had been raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But she came out as a lesbian just after serving a mission in Chicago and felt she was no longer welcome. She took the embrace of West Valley City's St. Stephens Episcopal Church, where she was baptized in May 2005.
Because Jody was homebound, the Rev. W. Lee Shaw of St. Stephens brought the parish to her. Volunteers made weekly visits. Shaw came to offer prayers and Holy Communion. After he consecrated the bread and wine, Jess ground the wafer, mixed it with the wine, and by way of her feeding tube, Jody was blessed.
But visitors said they were blessed even more. "Just being with the two of them . . . added to my life, and I needed it," said Dan Herron, 60, a former Catholic and soon-to-be Episcopal deacon. "Here I was the minister being ministered to."
As a same-sex couple living in Utah, Jody and Jess weren't stupid. They knew they needed protection if their love was to count in the eyes of the state. So years ago, they met with an attorney to churn out legal documents. Jody gave Jess power of attorney and named Jess her representative after death.
Jody died early Thanksgiving morning. She was 47.
Jess removed the catheter, the feeding tube and "got Jody looking more like Jody." She then sat there, alone with her partner, and said goodbye.
It was Pam who offered to call the mortuary that morning. The response she got left her, and Jess, stunned.
"They wouldn't even pick up her body," Jess said between tears. "I was so . . . angry, I couldn't breathe."
After all they'd done, legal documents didn't seem to matter. The mortuary required permission from "a blood relative" to retrieve Jody's body, Pam was told.
Fortunately, Jody's brother was available to call. And her mother, days later, faxed a consent form giving Jess full control of arrangements. Had Jody's mom insisted on a traditional burial and LDS service, all their plans would have been for naught or required court action.