Stop it!

My maternal grandmother suffered a stroke yesterday morning – just over 12 years since another stroke left her with short-term memory loss. She was transported to a local hospital and given a drug that will hopefully lessen the effects of the stroke, but so far things aren’t looking very good. She is having a hard time communicating (sometimes not at all), and the right side of her body has been affected.

Yesterday afternoon, after sitting in two different hospitals all day, my nerves were frazzled. I was also starving, since the call came early in the morning before I had a chance to eat anything. Several family members were gathered in the CCU waiting room, and to say there was a wide range of individuals would be an understatement. There were young and old, Pentecostal and Baptist, black and white, married and divorced, straight and gay, smokers and nonsmokers.

Although things are always a little awkward around my extended family because of the whole religion/gay thing, you can imagine my surprise when one of the women I thought was the least judgmental struck up the following conversation with me after a brief group discussion about Obama.

Her: I am very conservative.

Me: No! You are probably the least conservative person in this room.

Her: No, really. I am very conservative.

Me: What makes you conservative?

Her: I don’t believe in abortion.

Me: I consider myself to be pro-choice, but I would never have one if I were female. However, I believe a woman should have access to a safe abortion if she wants one.

Her: I also don’t agree with all the gay marriage stuff.

Me: Why?

Her: Because I think we need to follow God’s plan.

Me: Do you think people are born gay?

Her: Yes.

Me: Then why shouldn’t they be allowed to marry if God made them that way?

Her: We are all born into sin. There are many different sins, but the Bible says men will leave the natural use of a woman and turn to other men.

Me: But I didn’t do that. I wasn’t attracted to women before I was gay, so I didn’t leave women and turn to men.

Her: I know, but the Bible also says he will turn people over to a reprobate mind in the end times. Brian, I believe that if you would truly get saved, Jesus would change your mind.

Me: You actually think I would become attracted to women?

Her: I believe Jesus would change your mind.

And with that, I simply stopped talking. I also declined her invitation to join several of them for dinner.

Many years ago, Maya Angelou gave some excellent advice for people who feel like they are being attacked. She said people who cut you down are trying to “kill” you by tearing you apart bit by bit. She recommends that whenever you encounter a person trying to tear you down, you simply look at them and say “Stop it.” I think there could be great power in that, and I intend to start putting it to use.

Words from Dad

My father posted this on Facebook a few days ago. I was deeply touched by his words and wanted to share them here.

This post is FYI to give you a little bit of insight on how I feel and why I avoid strong opinions on some issues..this is a subject I am very touchy on so if you chose to read on you might keep that in mind..I will ask God’s forgiveness in advance if these words are out of line..some of you know but many of you don’t..my Son, Brian, is gay..I was 18 when Brian was born..he was my baby boy..his mother and I had a rocky relationship and I was too young and immature to be a good husband or father..I didn’t spend as much time at home with my little family as I should have..I detected he was different early on and I would sometimes try to toughen him up and try to force him to be manly..to be honest..at that age I didn’t really know what it really meant or involved to be gay..(I actually didn’t but I found out soon enough to became the typical homophobe)..but I thought daddys were supposed to teach their sons to be manly and that is what I tried to do as years passed..this caused some distance to come between us as he was growing up..he was treated differently by some..a few students and adults along the way were a bit hard on him at times because of his “difference”..Brian was sweet, smart and fun..his friends loved him dearly..they still do..he’d scream like a girl if startled..he can dance like all get out and will do so with complete abandon at the drop of a hat.. and he has a voice as pure and sweet as any you will find on stage..he loves people young and old..he loves God..he loves deeply and completely..he cannot stand to see anyone mistreated..his word is pure gold and if I had a trunk full of gold I would trust him with it..I never could nor can I now detect any speck of dishonesty in his make up..one Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1994 (he was 18) I spoke harshly to him..He and my son-in-law had ridden up to the neighbor’s to look at some livestock and the old man had mistakenly thought he was a girl..he told me about it and for some reason I reacted harshly..much too harshly..some of you will say “some times tough love is required”..(we do not have the qualifications to exercise tough love..that is God’s business)..later on that evening he overdosed on some of his mom’s prescription meds..we were able to get him to the ER in time to save him..he was required to attend counseling and was able to find the courage to tell us a couple months later about his sexuality..I was deeply impacted..changed forever..if you have similar experience you know..if not then you don’t..if you don’t then you need to either choose your words carefully or keep them to yourself..I love Brian..I respect him as no other human..he is now 2 years older than I was when I found out he was gay..38..I never caught him in a lie..I never doubted his word..I never had a reason..I look up to him..he has taught me more than anyone..now just ponder this a moment..you say it is a choice..he says it is not..whom am I going to believe?..he is gay..you are not..and if you insist that it is a choice then you must tell me when you made your choice..and how did it go?..did you look at the menu and think..hmmm..same sex?..opposite sex?..tough choice..if you are truly honest and truly believe it is by choice then you must have had to make one yourself..hopefully that is all I will have to say on this subject..

Mrs. J

Several evenings ago, we cooked dinner and took it over to share with Mrs. J and her son. I am very thankful we did, because we had no idea how different things would be within a few days. We went back to visit her on Good Friday and were shocked to see the change that had taken place.

Mrs. J can no longer remembers basic things, like the number of grandchildren she has or that her siblings have passed away. She sits and rubs or smacks her head while trying to get her thoughts together. She keeps asking what she is supposed to be doing, getting up to go to another room and then sitting down again, and trying to pay us for coming to see her. It is heartbreaking to watch.

Mrs. J has always told us that she wants to die before going in a nursing home, so you can imagine what we felt when her son told us he had already been communicating with a local facility about taking her. Apparently Medicare will only kick in some money if she is placed in a home within a month of leaving the hospital, so she must be admitted by April 18th.

Honey was so devastated after our visit on Friday that he began asking if he could bring her to live with us. I didn’t know what to say, but knew he didn’t have a clue of what he would be getting himself into. After he talked it over with some of our other friends and we went for another visit with her yesterday, he began to realize a nursing home might be the best option at this point.

Mrs. J seemed normal enough when we arrived yesterday, probably because she had just gotten up from a nap. She quickly returned to a confused state, and wound up going back to bed before we left. It is obvious that her son is weary from worrying about what she is doing every minute of the day. He had to take over her medication several days ago, because he noticed she had incorrectly placed it in her pill organizer. She has even been asking about the handgun that she normally kept hidden under her mattress, but he has been unable to find it.

Although it is very painful to watch her decline, I know she has had a long, happy life. She is months away from her 94th birthday, and she has outlived her husband, all of her brothers and sisters, and many of her friends. We have done our best to make her elderly years as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, even though much of what happens to her is out of our control. Honey recently sat with her all night, every night while she was in the hospital for almost two weeks. I know he will cherish that time spent together for the rest of his life.

We have tried to make every birthday in recent years as special as possible, often taking her out for a meal at a restaurant and surrounding her with gifts, balloons, and friends. Her last birthday celebration was slightly more subdued, but we still had pizza, cake, and presents galore. We have spent many evenings with her over dinner, watching movies, or sitting in the emergency room while she gets checked out after a fall. During her nursing home stay after hip surgery a few years ago, we sat with her almost every evening for three months.

None of this is being recounted to make us appear like saints. We weren’t always happy to visit the nursing home with its various unpleasant smells and scenes. We didn’t enjoy checking her water meter every few weeks for a leak that never materialized. We might have even grumbled when we had to take her to the emergency room after a fall. But we did those things because it’s what you do when you love someone.

Mrs. J isn’t just a friend, she’s family. She always tells hospital staff that we are her grandsons. She often explains how she loves us so much that her real grandsons get a little jealous. She is more accepting and loving than many of my own relatives.

It would be easy to let this situation become overwhelming and depressing. I’m going to try to focus on the many wonderful memories we have accumulated over the past 15 years. How happy she was while working outside in her flowers. The awesome fried chicken she used to make. The smiles, the hugs, even the tears. The way she loves so fully and unconditionally.

Yes, life is cruel, but it can also be excruciatingly beautiful. Even as Mrs. J is robbed of her own memories, I will still look at her, remember that beautiful smile, and thank God for allowing our paths to meet.

Catching up

We have been very busy over the past month. It all started when our former neighbor, Mrs. J, went in the hospital a few weeks ago. We went to see her as soon as we found out, and Honey wound up spending the next 10 or 11 nights with her. No one else in her family was able or willing to do it, but he knew her well enough to know she couldn’t be left alone. She had to have constant help getting up to use the restroom, she was disoriented and didn’t know where she was, and she even yanked out her IV and tried to leave the room.

A few days before Mrs. J was dismissed from the hospital, my grandmother was admitted to a hospital about 20 minutes away. Her older brother was already in the same hospital recovering from a heart attack, so family members were able to visit both siblings quite easily. He passed away on the evening of the day she was allowed to go home.

My grandmother and her older sister are now the only living siblings. She lives near Indianapolis, IN, but was unable to get down here in time to see her brother before he died. My sister helped get her here for the funeral, then Honey and I drove her home this past weekend.

Great-Aunt Frances is such a hoot. A gentle, loving soul who never stops talking. I swear she talked for the entire trip home (several hours). She seemed most excited about her new accommodations – a assisted-living facility she moved into late last year. She had lived alone until falling, and her children decided she needed to be somewhere safer. She raved about the food, the building, the gardens, and the company. I think she probably likes having companionship and someone to talk to more than anything.

When we arrived to drop her off, she wanted us to come in so we could see her new living quarters. The place was quite beautiful, but had a depressing feeling about it. A nursing home was right next door, and she explained that residents of her facility are usually moved over there at some point. The beautiful main entrance was decorated with flowers from the funeral of a resident who had just passed away. Aunt Frances noticed them, but quickly ushered us into the elevator and onto the third floor to see her apartment.

Her apartment turned out to be more like a small hotel room. It had a kitchenette and a bathroom attached to a main sleeping area. Although she moved in this past November, she still doesn’t have a bed and has been sleeping on a sofa. It was quite depressing to see how all the contents of her home had been reduced down to what she could manage to fit into the small space. She has an overhead photo of her previous home hanging on the wall, which I am sure is a constant reminder of the happy years she spent there with her deceased husband. She also has a photo of herself looking like a Hollywood star when she was around 20 years old.

She wanted to take us out to dinner as thanks for bringing her home, but decided to introduce us to one of the other residents first. The lady we met was using a walker due to a recent fall, but quickly invited herself after finding out where we were going to eat. We got her in the car before figuring out her walker wouldn’t fit in the trunk, but she insisted she wouldn’t need it at the restaurant. She was wrong.

We had to walk on either side of her to and from the restaurant in order to keep her from falling, but there were a couple of times when she almost went over. We were tired and ready to start the return trip home, but realized how much simply getting out of the facility meant to these women. After taking them back to their home and saying our goodbyes, I tearfully realized it could be the last time I saw my aunt alive.

Aunt Frances is Catholic, even though most of her family is protestant. My grandmother’s mother died when the children were very young and their father died a few years later. The kids were passed around from family to family – often separated – until Aunt Frances wound up with a Catholic family that she adored. She decided to convert and has lived the rest of her life devoted to her faith.

Even though she is a devout member of a very conservative denomination and 82 years old, Aunt Frances never judges people. She is ordained and able to give communion during services, and she recounted how people who technically weren’t supposed to receive communion would choose to receive communion from her instead of the priest who was imparting the sacrament next to her. “Who am I to refuse those people?” she asked, “I don’t have the right to judge anyone.”

On the way to Indianapolis, as Honey slept in the back seat, she turned to me and asked how long we have been together.

“Seven years next month,” I said.

She smiled. “I told Tiny (Grandmama) you must really love that boy. And I know he loves you too.”

Cremation

During Christmas celebrations at my sister’s house this past weekend, someone brought up the issue of cremation. I could instantly tell that my mother thought the practice to be something akin to suicide, and that anyone who chose that route would be committing a mortal sin. After I argued for a few moments, I asked my mother if she would honor my wishes if I specified that I wanted to be cremated (I don’t, but that’s not the point). She emphatically said no.

While recounting the conversation to my father yesterday, he laughed at the absurdity of it all… before informing me that he also would have a problem with cremating my body.

Honestly, I don’t like the idea of it either, but I would put my personal feelings aside if I knew a loved one wanted to be cremated.

A bright, sunshiny day

I loved today. It was one of those extravagantly beautiful days where the temperature is just perfect and there is nary a cloud in the sky. To make it even more sublime, I was given the day off with pay by my superiors. In case that sounds like the result of disciplinary action for misbehavior, it was actually a gesture of appreciation. Knowing today’s weather forecast, I certainly didn’t argue when it was offered.

For some reason, when I don’t have to get up with an alarm, I tend to wake up earlier than normal. My eyes pop open and my mind begins to ponder all the things that I should be up doing. I’m extra-tired this evening because of that, and also because I stayed up late last night thinking I would be sleeping in this morning. No such luck.

Anyway, I spent most of my day working out in the yard. It’s my form of therapy, and (depressing thought ahead) one of the few things in my life that I actually enjoy doing. I’m thrilled to report that some of the flowers I worried about surviving the frigid winter are beginning to poke their heads above ground. Seeing them feeds my spirit and I often take a moment to send a “Thank you” to the nice guy in the sky.

My sister and her kids stopped by this afternoon, and I sent them home with day lilies, irises, surprise lilies, and forsythia. Bessie smiled so brightly that I got a tan.

We are still trying to get our window problems resolved. Right now, we have plastic covering the outside of the windows that leaked during last week’s storm. The installers admitted that they covered the drain holes on the windows, so we no longer trust that they know what they are doing or that they won’t only make things worse if we allow them to try to fix the various problems. It looks like we will be having these windows removed and new ones installed by a different company. Wish us luck.

Regardless of the home improvement problems, I feel happy and content. I love this house, this land, and my wonderful partner. One year here, six years with him. I am a blessed man.

It’s complicated

Several years ago, my mother’s brother married a black lady. His parents (my grandparents) were racist, so whenever the family would get together for Christmas or birthdays, she was never welcomed. My uncle attended these family functions for awhile, but eventually got fed up with the way his wife was being treated and stopped coming altogether.

I was just a young’un when this was happening, but I was already old enough to recognize that it was wrong to treat another person that way – especially when that person was so nice and loving themselves. Although my mother worshiped the ground my grandfather walked on, my memories of him are somewhat muddied by recollections of his bigotry and intolerance for anything different than himself.

As the years passed, my grandparents eventually seemed to figure out that if they wanted to spend quality time with their son, they would have to also invite their daughter-in-law, but years of painful rejection had already hardened her heart to the point that she had no interest in a relationship. It was only after the health of both of my grandparents had failed that she was able to truly become part of our family.

Although my grandfather passed away and the years have marched on, things can still get very uncomfortable in my family. While my uncle may have been the proverbial “black sheep” a few decades ago, the position has apparently fallen on my shoulders. Now, I’m the one who can’t bring his significant other to most family functions.

Since becoming an adult and having romantic relationships, Christmas has always been difficult, complicated, and painful. My immediate family runs the gamut from an accepting father to a non-accepting sister. Mom seems firmly lodged somewhere in between.

Every year, my dad has to wrestle with how to handle Christmas get-togethers. He knows if he invites me and my partner that my sister and her family won’t attend, yet he also realizes that asking me to come alone isn’t the right thing to do. This year, he decided to have two gatherings; one for us and one for them. This would mean that my sister and I would have to get with Dad and his wife an additional time to give him the presents that are coming from both of us. After talking it over with my partner, he told me that I should just go alone and be with my family.

For the past several years, I’ve also went alone to my sister’s on Christmas Eve, spent the night, and gotten up the next morning to watch the kids open their presents. While no one has ever specifically stated that my partner isn’t welcome, it’s more than obvious. Once again, my partner insists that I spend this time with my family, explaining that he wouldn’t feel comfortable there even if invited.

I am terribly torn in both of these situations; torn between wanting to spend the holiday with my lover, remaining true to my beliefs, and spending time with family members. I know without a doubt that discriminating against others is wrong, regardless of the reason, and I feel like I’m letting my partner and myself down when I cave to peer pressure from relatives. I also realize that spending time with family is important, and that depriving them of my company in an attempt to pressure them into doing the right thing would be futile. There just doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.

It’s tempting for me to blame Christianity, or at least my family’s interpretation of Christianity, as the root of their intolerance. I could have titled this post something like “Christianity: Destroying Families for 2,000 Years” and ranted about all the hypocrisy in the pro-family rhetoric that fills Christian radio, but I know it isn’t so simple. Christians might be tempted to blame my sexuality for tearing my family apart, but, again, too simple.

The truth is, this type of thing is happening to families all across the world. Being religious isn’t synonymous with bigotry, and fear of what is different can arise anywhere and at any time. What separates the bigots from the rest of the crowd is how they react to that fear. Do they recognize it, study themselves for a sign of what caused it, and try to get beyond it, or do they let fear paralyze themselves to the point that they shut out the very people that they should be having meaningful relationships with?

I hope against hope that my family will eventually see the light and open their arms and homes to the man with whom I’m privileged to share my life. Only then will I have a truly merry Christmas.