After a long break, I feel like I should whip out a new post. It's been a ridiculously long time since I've written anything not related to school, and I'm not sure if I know how. So if this reads like a business report, I apologize in advance (I finished my last paper for school on Thursday. It was a fifteen page report on strategic compensation...riveting stuff (I'm pretending to be all suave and disinterested, but strategic compensation actually does get me a little excited...) ).
This actually isn't a new new post per se. It's more of a journal entry that I wrote in early February. I was emotional, and raw, and it's not even a little bit funny, so if that's what you're on the hunt for, move along to the posts about cat butts.
Here goes nothing...
My grandfather passed away yesterday morning. Mike. My wonderfully intelligent, impeccably dressed, impossibly polite Grandad. For the past few weeks, his body has been hanging out in the palliative care room, while the rest of him (soul, being, essence, stardust, etc.) was walking a tightrope between this world and whatever comes next.
Everything feels heavy, and I feel horribly sad, but I also feel grateful. I feel grateful that I was gifted with many visits with him and my grandmother in the final months of their lives. I feel grateful for the love in the room as he lay dying. I feel grateful for the opportunity to get reacquainted with family members as we spent time with Mike over the past few months. I feel grateful for the support offered by the many wonderful individuals whose lives my grandparents affected in various ways.
And I feel grateful that my grandparents got to know me before they left. I came so close to not sharing important parts of myself with them, and missing out on some powerful moments.
A year and a half ago, I watched Ash Beckham’s video on empathy, openness, and coming out of our closets. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Here’s the link, go watch it.
At first, I felt smug while I watched, feeling like I had at least this one small aspect of my life under control. I am a gooey love-seeking empath, with no closets to exit. I pride myself on my honesty, and on confronting those hard conversations.
But later that week, I was sitting at Hava Java writing a letter to my grandparents, and Beckham’s words came back to me suddenly.
I had been carefully crafting my regular correspondence to Grandma and Grandad, sharing news of my Newfoundland adventures with my “roommate” and fantastic “best friend”.
The truth was that my “roommate” Lisa and I were newly engaged, with plans to build our lives in BC in the spring. And my grandparents, who had been loving and supportive influences my whole life, had been left out. Because of my own insecurities, I hadn’t offered them the chance to celebrate my happiness.
I had intentionally chosen, with the input of other family members, not to tell them. I was afraid of their reactions, afraid they would love me less, afraid to see them disappointed, or uncomfortable. So I danced around it in my letters. I wanted so much to please them that I hadn't thought about the implications of not coming out to them. When it came right down to it, not coming out was implying that there was something shady, something "off" or wrong about who I am and what my life looks like. And that I was guilty of exhibiting my own special brand of internalized homophobia.
My grandparents were English, dignified, very private people. We had never talked about relationships, love, or sexuality. When I spoke with my grandmother before I left for Newfoundland, she had shared with me her hopes that I would meet a “lovely boy” in St. John’s, and we would settle down and start having babies after my “nice little adventure”. I had choked on my tea, and flushed, but had ended up nodding and changing the subject.
When Lisa and I were new, and I didn’t know if it was something real or simply a grand experiment, it seemed unimportant to share with my grandparents that I lived with a woman. But as weeks with Lisa turned into months, and months turned into years, it started to feel like maybe I should tell them. And that feeling grew stronger when we decided to move back to BC.
Lisa and I had planned to go home to BC for three weeks over Christmas. I so wanted to be able to bring her to meet them, for her to feel included in our gatherings, to be recognized as family. After several conversations with my parents, I had decided that I would avoid confrontation, and write them a letter. Once I’d decided how I was going to do it, I procrastinated for at least a month (naturally). When I finally started writing, I agonized over each draft. Twelve handwritten pages. I used all fifty pages of my new ocean-themed stationary in the process.
When I’d finished, I carried the letter around with me, sealed, addressed and stamped, for at least a week before I sent it. I waited for it to ripen in my bag, for the niggling “I should send that letter sometime” feeling to coincide with a moment of bravery.
Finally, in a brief spurt of exercise afterglow-induced courage, I managed to force myself to shove the letter in a mailbox (and successfully resisted the urge to shove my arm back in to immediately retrieve my words).
I sent the letter at the end of October, and when I hadn’t heard back by mid-November, I started to feel like I’d made a mistake. I muddled through days at work, distracted, fumbling through routine tasks, unsure of what the next step would be… was I going to have to pretend I’d never sent it? Did they even get it? It was out of character for my grandparents not to respond, and surely even Newfoundland postal service wasn’t slow enough for a letter to take a month. And even worse, for the first time in my life, I hadn’t received a birthday card from my grandparents.
Lisa was away in Quebec during this time, so I was all by myself in a poorly insulated house in a frigid city with two elderly, sickly felines. One evening, feeling particularly dejected, I got home from the (fiftieth?) visit to the vet, and decided to practice some hard-core self-care. Sometime while I lay in the bathtub soothing myself with tequila, coconut milk ice cream and the latest issue of People (it was an extra lame day, okay?), I heard my phone ring in the bedroom.
A little drunk, much cheerier and significantly warmer, I got out of the tub to see whose call I had missed. When I saw my grandparents’ number, my hands started to shake a bit. The voicemail was brief, my grandfather simply saying that he’d gotten my letter and I should call him back. No clues as to whether the call would be good or bad, I took a deep breath and pressed “call” before I could change my mind.
Grandad answered on the first ring. He knew who it was from the caller ID, and before I could say anything, he said,
“Now, I got your letter, and I just have one question for you.”
Gulping, I mumbled, “Ymmmhmm?”
“Do you think of yourself as a typical 25 year old? In your attitudes and values?”
Unsure whether it was a trick question and feeling like this conversation could go either way, I squeaked,
“N-no? Not really?”
“I don’t think you are either. Now I have one more question. Do you think of me as a typical 92 year old in my attitudes and values?”
He laughed then, a baritone chuckle that made me spontaneously smile. All my tension thawed as he continued,
“Lisa sounds like a wonderful person. I so look forward to meeting her in a few weeks when you bring her round for tea over Christmas”.
I was smiling so hard my cheeks hurt as he finished with,
“I am so happy you have found someone to love you well. We love you, no matter what”.
And that was that. Powerful, to the point, classy. Just like him. I was unspeakably relieved, but I could have kicked myself for waiting so long.
Lisa came with me to meet them over the holidays and her and Grandad immediately connected. Two of the most charismatic people I have ever met, in the same room, directing that charm at each other. Phenomenal.
My grandmother was a different story. While she was kind and warm towards Lisa, she persisted in calling her my “nice friend”. To be honest, for most of the last year of her life, I had no way to know if she had read the letter, or even understood that Lisa was a romantic figure in my life.
My grandmother passed away a month before my grandfather. It was sudden, she was ninety five and went peacefully, in her sleep. Two weeks before she passed, while I was visiting, she pulled a blue envelope out from under the couch cushion where she sat, and held it up in front of her.
"Do you know what this is? It's your letter. That long one you sent. I keep it next to me. We should always keep important letters close to us" she told me. And that was all. She tucked it back down beside her, and started talking about how active the birds at the feeder had been that morning, and what that might mean for the weather.
I blinked my eyes quickly a few times to dissuade the tears that were sloshing behind my lashes. Though I'd sent the letter many months before, it was the first time she had admitted that she'd read it. I hadn’t been sure if my grandfather had made its contents clear, even. My grandma was acknowledging my words, and by extension, acknowledging me.
I have the letter now. I took it from her things before anyone else could find it. I haven't reread it. I might never be brave enough. But I know what it says: I know it is the sixth and final draft of the hardest thing I've written, and the most honest, real and uncomfortable piece of myself I've ever put on paper.
And I am so glad I wrote it.
The most important gift we can give is the opportunity to share the uncensored, vulnerable, many-sided version of self that we instinctively keep secret. What a worthwhile experience to meet our loved ones’ eyes and to see and be seen.
That’s what it’s all about, folks.