Like many couples, Kelly Glossip and Dennis Engelhard regularly attended church. They argued over making large purchases like whether to buy a new car or new furniture. They slept better at night together. They liked to just hold each other, standing in the kitchen of the house they shared for five years in rural Robertsville, Mo.
And like many couples, they had their own Christmas traditions.
But Christmas Day 2009, Glossip answered the phone, and a normal, shared life went to pieces.
His partner of nearly 15 years, Dennis Engelhard, was dead. A Missouri State Highway Patrol corporal, Engelhard was helping a driver at the side of Interstate 44 north of Eureka, Mo., when another driver hit an icy patch, ran off the road and hit him. He was pronounced dead within the hour.
The Highway Patrol news release listed Engelhard as single.
“We were one person, then half of me died,” he said.
Over the next few days, Glossip tried killing himself. He closed the garage door, hooked a tube to the end of his car’s exhaust and ran it into the car’s window. But before he passed out from the carbon monoxide, he had the sense of Engelhard there telling him not to do it.
Later, he asked members of his immediate family to stay with him for emotional support. They said no, they were too busy. They have not been supportive. In fact, Glossip’s own brother is the reason Glossip now owns a gun.
“I always said I’d never, ever own a gun,” he said.
He feared for his life after his younger brother threatened to kill him for going public with his story about his and Engelhard’s relationship. The story had been in St. Louis news outlets.
“I never heard so much anger in his voice before,” he said. “It scared the hell outta me.”
The pain of his loss has consumed Glossip’s life. He’s lost 40 pounds. He doesn’t sleep much at night; he’s lucky to get four hours. But then, during the day, he’ll fall asleep standing up or sitting on the couch. One morning, he fell asleep in the bathtub.
Many nights when he can’t sleep, he goes into the garage where he has created a shrine of Engelhard’s Highway Patrol portrait, his license plate and a plaque honoring him. He talks to him, and then, sometimes, he’s able to sleep.
He hasn’t worked since mid-March. He was a senior patient accountant for Select Medical, a physical and occupational speech therapy company that works with Medicare and Medicaid. But a back injury has kept him at home. He’s applied for disability and lives on Dennis’s life insurance payout, which he split 50-50 with Dennis’s brother, Dan.
He may soon begin to receive pension benefits, but that could be challenged. The Highway Patrol pension doesn’t cover domestic partners. And the two weren’t married because of a 2004 Missouri Constitutional Amendment that restricts marriage to unions between a man and a woman.
Glossip attends church for support. His church — the couple’s church — Christ Church Cathedral, a gay-friendly Episcopalian church in downtown St. Louis, has given him a public outlet for grieving. Glossip’s fervent love for God has held him up through the pain. Provost Mike Kinman has been a moral support for him, too. It’s because of relationships like Glossip and Engelhard’s that Kinman has become a proponent of same-sex marriage.
“When they were together, their relationship had an obvious tenderness. It was wonderful being around them,” he said. “They were quietly faithful — to God, to each other and the community — they were never people who drew attention to themselves. They were very loving and caring people.”
Glossip also has a group of friends that comfort him. On April 24, 2010, which would have been the couple’s 15th anniversary, he invited six close friends to dinner at the Olive Garden in Chesterfield, Mo. It was Engelhard’s favorite place to eat. The group laughed and shared memories of Engelhard. And when Glossip broke down in tears, he got hugs and comfort.
Glossip has also found comfort in buying things. He bought a living room couch and art for the walls. He purchased a new car. He also bought a bedroom suite, which included a bed frame, two nightstands, a dresser, a mirror and a chest of drawers. Afterward, Glossip had buyer’s remorse. But these were things Engelhard wanted. Glossip had argued they should wait. Now he feels guilty.
Glossip has cut off all contact with his own family. That, coupled with not having contact with Engelhard’s family, has created more pain in his life. He sees the losses as deaths, too.
Glossip says the Engelhard family wasn’t fond of their relationship. But he would like a connection with them nonetheless. When he sees them, he sees Dennis.
“I wish they saw Dennis when they see me,” he said. “But they can only see the gay thing.”
On May 1, 2010, Glossip went to Jefferson City for the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial Service held at the Capitol. He didn’t want to go, fearing he’d be completely overwhelmed with pain, but he found the courage. As Engelhard’s name was read from a long list of officers killed in the line of duty, Glossip and his 17-year-old son from an earlier relationship were escorted by Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson and Lieutenant John Enderle.
Glossip and his son placed flowers on the memorial wreath. They were the only family members present to honor Engelhard’s memory.
Still, Glossip wasn’t mentioned as a surviving family member in the memorial book.
After the service ended, Glossip quickly left for home. He said he nearly collapsed from the emotion. As he walked to his car, he said he wasn’t sure he could attend the national service in Washington D.C. on the weekend of May 15, 2010. Unlike the state event, the national one would be a weeklong event. Again, he was afraid he’d break down.
But after not seeing Engelhard’s family in Jefferson City that morning, he reconsidered. He tapped the same strength he found to go to Jefferson City.
“I would’ve felt horrible if Dennis’ name had been called and no family members were there,” he said. “If you love someone, you’ll do anything.”
Glossip planned to attend the 29th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service on May 15. He knew the grief would be completely overwhelming, but he says it’s something he needs to do.
Despite a lack of family support, Glossip doesn’t let negativity consume him.
“A horrific tragedy will make you either a bitter person or a better person,” he said. “I refuse to be bitter. I’m going to be better.”
And to be better, Glossip says he has a calling to help the gay and lesbian communities. He wants gays and transgendered people to have equal rights and the same protection as straight people. When a loved one dies, he wants them to receive the same rights.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to ever go through what I had to go through,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to take extra steps for [rights].”
He also wants more people to see a normal, less stereotypical image of the gay community.
“We were a normal couple that went to church,” he said. “An everyday, average couple.”
Though Glossip has a long road ahead of him, he has been getting better each day. He loves his two dogs — a beagle and a Jack Russell terrier. He smiles and laughs when he reminisces about the life he and Engelhard shared.
He’s no longer suicidal, but he doesn’t fear death, either.
“I look forward to it, whenever it might be,” he said. “Like looking forward to a dream.”
A dream in which he will be reunited with Dennis.
Three years later, Kelly enlisted the help of the ACLU to present his case to the Missouri Supreme Court, to overturn the restrictions for same-sex partners to receive death benefits from the state’s pension system.
However, on October 30, 2013, the Missouri Supreme Court denied Kelly’s request for spousal benefits, because he and Dennis were not legally married.