Grieving mum gets to the heart of marriage equality

Lara with Ivy, 4, and baby Skylar.
Lara with Ivy, 4, and baby Skylar. Photo: Supplied

Elise Ryan was the happiest she had ever been at the beginning of February. Having given birth to baby Skylar just three weeks earlier, she was looking forward to spending her maternity leave enjoying life as a family of four with partner Lara and their older daughter Ivy.

But the Sydney family's life was torn apart when Elise was hit and killed by a car while crossing a pedestrian crossing just metres from home, minutes after dropping four-year-old Ivy at the local daycare centre. 

Inquiries are continuing into the cause of the crash, and no charges have been laid.

Lara and Elise with their daughter.
Lara and Elise with their daughter.  Photo: Supplied

Now Lara has been left to care for the two little girls, one who is not yet two months old, and the other who is old enough to question why her mum is no longer with them but not really old enough to understand why.

"The support I have had from the community, my friends and our family has just been amazing," Lara told Essential Baby.

"People have been looking after us every day, making sure we eat and sleep.

"Women have turned up with donated breast milk for Skylar, I have two freezers full of donated milk. One delivery even turned up from Newcastle, where Elise grew up. It's incredible how generous people have been."

However, despite the support, Lara says her grieving process has been made more difficult due to the fact she same sex marriage is not legal in Australia.

In a Facebook post that has now been shared more than 50,000 times, Lara explained how she battled to be acknowledged as Elise's wife in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

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This is why.Because having lost my partner in a horrible pedestrian accident this month I had to ask policemen if I was...

Posted by Lara Ryan on  Monday, 29 February 2016

"I had to yell out in a busy, crazy emergency room 'She is my wife, I know it's not legal but she is my wife!'" Lara wrote in the heartbreaking post.

Elise and Lara had a wedding ceremony in front of 100 friends and family on the NSW north coast. Although the marriage was not legally recognised, Lara changed her surname, wears a wedding ring and considers herself Elise's wife.

The couple with Ivy.
The couple with Ivy. Photo: Supplied

Lara explained her relationship with Elise was respected by all the people she came into contact with in the hours and days after the accident. However, dealing with the legal processes necessary following the death of a partner had been made more painful than it would have been if she had been able to provide a marriage certificate. 

"The police officers, doctors and nurses were all fantastic, I can't fault them. Once they realised I was Elise's partner, they made sure I was never overlooked," Lara said.

"But when it came to ringing the banks and Centrelink, it was very different.

"Making those calls and saying 'my husband has passed away' is not easy for anyone, but it would be less distressing than having to explain my relationship over and over again ... 'yes we're the same sex, yes she was my partner, no we weren't legally married, yes she was the legal parent of both children, no I gave birth to the first child, yes she gave birth to the second child'.

"Going over everything again and again is awful and it wouldn't happen if we just had a marriage certificate."

Despite the popularity of her Facebook post, Lara is adamant she does not want to be seen as the political face of marriage equality.

"I am happy to be seen as the heart of it though," she said.

"I can't speak for all gay people, some gay people don't want to get married and that's fine.

"However for us and our family it was important. Elise and I both have parents who have had very happy marriages that have lasted their entire lives, and we wanted that too.

"I know that we can be recognised as a de facto couple and that I won't be left high and dry like I would have been if this had happened 20 years ago, but why should I have to tick the box saying defacto when that's not what I wanted? 

"It's not what I chose. I chose to be her wife and that is important to me, and I should have that right."

Lara's time will now be spent focussing on the needs of her daughters.

Ivy is doing the best she can to understand the death of her mother, but her young age makes it difficult.

"Elise always told her to stop and look both ways, she was really big on road safety, which is why I'm sure the accident could not have been her fault," Lara said. 

"So now Ivy is saying 'didn't Mumma stop and look both ways? Mumma always said if I looked both ways I would be safe. Why isn't Mumma safe?'"

Baby Skylar is too young to understand her loss, but Lara and Ivy are working on a memory book about Elise to read to the little girl as she grows up.

Meanwhile, finances are also a concern for Lara.

"We have gone from having two full-time wages to the possibility of no wages, as I will probably need to take unpaid maternity leave to care for Skylar," Lara said.

"With living expenses the way they are in Sydney, that has left me in rather dire straits.

"I'll get through it though, I'm a resilient woman and I'll work it out.

"All I want is for our girls to have a safe and secure and happy future."

Anyone wanting to help Lara, Ivy and Skylar can visit the GoFundMe page set up by family friends.

For details of a fundraising event for the family in Sydney on Sunday March 13 visit the Ryan Family Fundraiser Facebook Page.