Eight years ago, this February 10, my mother passed away. It was a monumental milestone in my life because she was probably the one person who really knew me. The person that I never really had to tell them how I felt, she just knew. No matter where I was, if either of us needed to talk we instantly knew and would pick up the phone. She was an amazing person that shaped my life in many ways and some I didn’t fully understand until later in my life. I try to honor her daily and celebrate the good times of her life.
I guess, for me, the reason we are so close is the amount of time my mother spent beside my bed for various events in my life. That started at my birth when I was born blue due to oxygen deprivation, after which I spent the first few weeks of my life in an incubator due to other complications. Mom told me that it was rough the first few weeks and the doctors were watching my condition closely. From childhood, it was diagnosed that I was allergic to almost everything in the environment; dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, and bees, being the largest of those. Beestings were and are the worst for me, it turned out I had a very severe allergy to bees. There were three events of me being stung that I almost died, and Mom was there, in my ear, telling me to get myself together and stay with her. Once, my blood pressure and heart rate were so low that I remember the doctors telling her they would be shocked if I made it. Being the mother, she was, she simply whispered words of encouragement to me, reminding me that I was stronger than this.
There were times when I was a child that I had some very dark thoughts. I had written her letters telling her how much of a freak I thought I was, that I should run away, or that I didn’t deserve to be alive. Parents today would freak out, my mother remained strong and simply talked to me about my issues. She listened to what I had to say, crying along with me. Her words of strength filled me with such light that I felt I could endure anything. She stood by me when I needed an ally and she kicked my ass when I needed motivation. She sat with me through school when I could not understand what I was being taught and showed me new ways of looking at problems and understanding, recounting stories of her adversity to show me that strength is more than physical prowess, it is the ability to adapt and overcome.
She gave me room to grow to become my own person and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. She took me to college and was there to help me when I came home. She never gave up on me, no matter how much I thought my world had ended. I had done the best I could, as a child, to hide that I was different. To now show that I was gay. At times I dated women, even if they were the wrong choice, to make my mother feel that I was the son I thought she wanted. In the summer of 1995, I knew I couldn’t hide myself any longer. My mother and I worked in the same mall and I would often go and have lunch with her. On one summer day in July, I decided I would finally tell her the truth. For the last year I had been going to the only LGBTQ in a two-hour distance and thought it was time to finally be free. While we were eating lunch, I told her that we needed to talk, not taking my eyes off the sandwich I was eating. She was working on the schedule for her job and only replied “Ok.” And I started it like so many cliched movies by saying “You know how people are different, they do different things, try different things, and love different people?” She only replied “mmmhmm.” My nerves quickly kicked into overload and thought I was going to swallow my heart in telling her something that would destroy her. I fumbled back and forth over trying to explain it in a way that would make it seem the most natural thing in the world. My mother put down her pen and looked over the rim of her glasses and stated quite simply and elegantly, “I love you no matter what and I have known you were gay since you were a kid. Nothing has changed.” I choked on my own breath thinking how she could have known, I hid it so well. This can’t be. I waited for an explosion of anger that never came.
It was seven months later that I told her about the man I met and how he made me felt. How I had never known love like I feel with him. She never judged nor sneered, she never said anything derogatory or hurtful. The only words she said was “As long as he treats you well and I meet him for my approval, it is fine.” Even when I went on further to explain to her that he was HIV+, her only concern was about us being safe. Looking back, I know that it must have terrified her to know that I was in love with someone that was HIV+, this was the mid 90s and HIV was still pretty much a death sentence. The stigma of being gay in our small town was bad and add that with HIV and you were almost a guaranteed outcast or worse. Two weeks later, I introduced her to Shawn and she instantly fell in love with him and became like a son to her.
When Shawn passed on February 28, 2003, she was the first person I called. She stayed on the phone with through all of my hysterical, sobbing fits, comforting me and calming me into some form of sanity. She and my sister sat beside me at his funeral while his family made a mockery of his life, never once even acknowledging that I was a part of it. Eight years we spent together, and they claimed he hated being gay, that he felt he had been led astray. All of which was not true, Shawn loved being a gay man and had an immense pride in the LGBTQ community. My mother sat beside me recalling seeing him do drag and how he often called her for strength. As they tore him down, she built him back up for me.
It was five years later that my mother’s health started to decline. I moved back home to be near her, but I in no way had the strength she had shown me. It was hard going to the doctor visits with her and hearing how they could not explain the things she was going through. It weighed on me every time she went back into the hospital for more unexplained internal bleeding. I watched her very being change as I sat beside her and I constantly wondered how I was not as strong as she was with me during similar times. My fear often turned to anger because I knew the time was coming in which I would be without her and I was afraid of how I would deal with it. The person who had been my rock through my life needed me and I could only worry about not having her with me anymore. Why did I not have the strength that she so often showed me, why was I so weak. And when she passed February 10, 2011, I was angry at myself for not being more present with her. She was not gone from my life and I was left with the regrets of not being a rock for her.
It has taken me eight years to learn that she still teaches me things every day. The lesson I still struggle to learn is she probably had the same fears that I was going through as her health decline. The difference is that she showed the strength to not let them control her and she became the strength that I and others did not have. That is what made her a mother and it is the same strength that I hope to still have. While you may be gone from my life, Mom, you will never leave my heart. Thank you for building me up and providing the foundation to be a strong person. I Love You!