Would that we could all go this way …

I started this post on Sunday evening September 21st knowing the next day would be the last time I would see my mother.

It hasn’t happened yet. Mom hasn’t left us yet. But I was awakened this morning with thoughts that I wasn’t expecting; namely, will this mean that I will be an orphan? Can you be considered an orphan at 70 years of age? I know, it seems absurd to have a thought like that at a time like this, but there it was. Mom has never not been there for me … Never! But, sometime in the next few days that will be the reality of my life and I just can’t imagine what it will be like.

I realize that we all feel that our mothers are unique, and they are. After all they are the mothers of uniquely individual human beings, but my mom is uniquely … unique. Would that we could all go this way. And what way would that be? Would it be in your own home, in your own bedroom with family coming and going? Would it be peaceful and without pain? Would it be with a balanced life ledger; owing life nothing and life owing you nothing? That’s the way it will be with Mom.

Ask yourself these questions about your own life. “Have I ever indulged in self-pity?” I have … way too often. I’ve never heard Mom express anything resembling self-pity. It just hasn’t been who she is. The closest she’s come to that is her stock answer when each evening in our daily talk I would ask how she was. Her answer was inevetably “Oh, old aurther (meaning arthritis) has been botherin’ me today.”

She was born on Christmas Eve 1917 in the Panhandle of Oklahoma, the eve of The Roaring ‘20s, but by the time she was old enough to appreciate the good times, they were gone; swallowed up by The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl. As if that wasn’t enough to dishearten a young girl about life, her father died when she was 14. And yet, I never heard Mom utter one word of self-pity about her youth, or any of her life for that matter.

The fact is that Mom has lived a charmed life. I don’t mean that she has had fortune and fame, not in the least, but that her life has been charmed by graciousness and sufficiency. I’ve known many women that have married men who provided an abundant life for them who seemed to think that it was because their uniqueness dictated it. That Dad provided an abundant life for himself and Mom was to Mom a blessing, not a debt owed to her because of her uniqueness, and that has been a part of her unique, uniqueness.

Mom has never kept a blessing to herself; at least not that I’m aware of. Every one of her blessings has been shared with others. Her home was often more of a guest residence than anything. Anyone who has ever known Mom has known that if they needed a place to rest their head on their journey it was there behind that Dutch door. And that brings me to another facet of her unique, uniqueness.

Every home that she and Dad built had one pre-requisite feature. The front door was a “Dutch Door” and for most of my life the top half of that door was open, meaning, “Welcome!” That feature save her life once.

I have known people who were, what I would call generous to a fault, but not Mom. She was very generous, but not to a fault. I cannot remember a time when she shared with someone she felt was not genuinely in need. Her personal blessings were far too precious to her to share indiscriminately with those who created their own misery.

September 24, 2014

So, today Mom left us. I don’t feel like an orphan yet; not yet. I was able to say goodbye to her on this past Monday, the 22nd. In fact both of us said goodbye. The night before I left I sensed the importance of her son saying goodbye to her and I’m so glad I did. In some ways her response to seeing her oldest son sit down next to her bed, was painful. She was more loving and alert to his presence than she was to mine. I can’t tell you why he cried as he did in her presence, but the fact is that he was totally overcome by grief. I, on the other hand, was far more reserved in my reaction, a fact that I find both disturbing and curious.

Frankly, I’m fearful of the gathering of the family and friends for her farewell. My brother has made his absolute hatred of me quite clear. As a result, in the interest of avoiding a scene, I have made the decision for George to attend the funeral and subsequent gathering … but that’s it. It leaves me with a lump of resentment. If our brother chooses to take issue with that he will have to deal with the fallout. It saddens me that on this occasion there is such an unpleasant undercurrent and I’m certain that from Mom’s current view that she is not happy about it.

There were occasions when we were growing up when brother and George were fighting that Mom would set us down at the kitchen table facing each other and make us sit there until we were laughing at each other’s antics. I would love to have that happen now … with me. Of course it’s not going to happen and that is so sad.

At this moment my head is filled with scenes from numerous movies where one half of a couple has crossed over previously and then, at last, the remaining lover makes the final journey. The scene is one of the couple in their youthful bodies greeting each other in a scenario that is meant to convey what heaven might be like. I can see Dad, the Long Tall Texan, I know from the pictures of him in his youth. He’s has his signature Stetson like the ones LBJ wore, a plaid shirt and his beloved bolo tie. His hat is in his left hand as he reaches out with his right hand to take the hand of his bride, our mom.

She is dressed just as she was in the picture taken of her at the time of their wedding. It’s a dress I don’t know how to describe because I’ve never had one like it, though I think Donna Reed was usually dressed in one in her television shows of a similar era. She takes Dad’s outstretched hand and they turn and walk slowly off into eternity … Together again forever at last.

Goodbye my Dear Mom and Dad …

The Time has Come …

I have been fortunate in life to have to deal with a very limited amount of death. Marilyn’s death was the first death of real consequence that I was forced to confront. The aftermath of that death lasted for what seemed an eternity.

When Dad passed away I felt an odd sense of relief. I believe the relief came from the feeling that I no longer had to face the shell of a man that he had become and as a result didn’t have to deal with ghosts of our past relationship. A short time after his death I wrote that I felt there were two possible reasons for God inflicting him with Alzheimer’s.

The first reason was that it was so all the people he had cared for all those years would be forced to care for him for a while. The second reason was that Dad had, for years, been a cyanide carrying member of the Hemlock Society as a means of controlling the time and place of his own death. That led me to believe that Alzheimer’s was God’s way of wresting that control away by removing that thought, and the cyanide from Dad’s memory … he simply forgot about it.

All that aside, even though Dad’s passing was sad, it was also a relief and easier to live with because he had lived a long and successful life. Marilyn’s death was anything but that. It was tragic. It came way too early. She was supposed to outlive me, grow old and live in the basement of Peter and Heather’s home and teach her grandchildren dirty words.

But now I’m faced with the impending death of my mother. Her health has deteriorated dramatically in the last 2 week and precipitously in the last 5 days. While it’s true that, like Dad’s death, it will be at the end of a long productive and comfortable life, it means a final end to the longest relationship of my life. There are so many facets to a relationship like that of a mother-child, especially one as old ours. Considering gestation, we’ve been a part of each other’s lives for well over 70 years.

I have no idea what to expect when she’s no longer here. That thought serves up a cocktail of emotions that is difficult to swallow. Since Dad’s death eight and half years ago, I’ve spoken with Mom nearly every day. We’ve talked about what our day was like that day; what was going on in our lives. I wonder how long it will be before I stop looking at the clock each night at eight or nine and thinking, “Oh gosh, it’s time to call Mom.” I didn’t feel that way when Dad died, but I will when Mom is no longer there answering the phone with, “Hello, Phoenix A Z!”

What will the remainder of our family become? As siblings, my brother, sister and I have never been close. In my sister’s case, she was so much younger that by the time she was four, I was out of the home. In the intervening years we have developed a comfortable though not close relationship, but close enough to list her as my next of ken on any documents requiring that kind of information. The reality of our mother’s death has had an adhesive effect of sorts. At the close of our last conversation this evening she said something to me that she has never said, not verbally anyway. She said, “I love you.” The closest she has ever come to that is “Love, Sal” on the humorous birthday cards she is known for.

When I was writing the original draft of Dear Mom and Dad I realized that the memories I had of our brother were for the most part unpleasant. We fought frequently long into young adulthood, and they weren’t all just verbal altercations either. Our personalities were nothing alike. The original draft of Dear Mom and Dad contained detailed descriptions of those altercations, but I elected to delete them because I felt they added nothing of value to narrative of my life. In addition I hoped that by deleting those portions I would keep open the possibility that someday in the future we would be able to live in harmony and love as siblings should. Sadly that has not happened.

Last week our sister sent an e-mail to “me” and him about our mother and her deteriorating condition. I replied to “all”. The following day I received a nasty and vicious reply telling me that I was a “perverted figment” not fit to be a part of our family. All the feelings of the past, the anger, the disappointment, the hurt came in a flood of emotion.
So … I realize that with our mother’s passing there will be nothing left of hope for a family united in love. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m left to believe that when that time comes it will be the end of our family unit and our parents would be grief stricken to see it. My brother would be quick to say that all I have to do is to live according to his parameters for a “brother” and all will be fine. I of course would reply that , “all he has to do is live according to my parameters for a brother and all will be fine.” The difference is that I have lived with his nature and loved the good, discounted the bad but still accepted him the way he is, “full of bullshit, but lovable in a strange sort of way.” In keeping with his character, he will love you only as long as you are what he thinks you should be and only then.

I’ve tried to justify and accept that I am partially to blame, but in the face of that nasty tirade I simply cannot. Short of a complete repudiation of his attitude this is the last time I will speak of my brother. The time has come. As our sister responded when she saw his e-mail, “That’s so sad.”

Lemonade anyone?

Someone close to me; someone who is gay, told me once that I didn’t understand what it was like to be gay because he had no choice about being gay, whereas I had a choice about whether to be George or Georgia. He may be right about being gay. I assume he is, but he is only half right about our choices … in both cases.

We always have choices. Frequently we don’t like the choices that we’re faced with. So what else is new? I believe my friend was correct when he said that he had no choice about being gay and he was correct when he said I had a choice as to whether or not I was George or Georgia, but what he totally missed was the fact that we both have a choice about our visible expression … what we share with the world.

Being trans- or dual-gendered or gay is not a choice. We are what we are. But, we all have a choice about whether or not we express it visibility. We all have a choice when it comes to when, where, how or if ever, we express on the outside what is on the inside. If you could ask one question of anyone in my corner of the world, that question should be, “When are you happiest?” You might think the answer would be, “When I’m expressing who I am.” But, you would be wrong in most cases. The answer would most likely be, “When I’m accepting of who I am.” And it’s always visible in the fortunate few who are able to reach that level.

They’re happy … and it shows in their smile.

How many times have you seen someone who exudes happiness? Happy people smile … a lot; in fact nearly all the time. You want to be around them, to be in their circle. On the other hand people who are unhappy are like social porcupines. They walk around with personality quills sticking out all over their beings. When I see people like that I want to run, but then I’m nearly overcome with a desire to walk up to them and say, “I’m sorry all of your puppies died.” Or more the point most likely … “I’m really sorry life didn’t turn out like you wanted it to. Did your lover leave you for someone who smiled a lot?”

Dad was fond of saying that when life gives you lemons it’s lemonade time. Early on in our lives sexuality and or gender identity is like a whole bushel basketful of lemons. It’s our choice as to whether or not we choose let them sit there and first get moldy, then rotten, then dry up into a hollow shell like the lemons on the roof of my carport which fell from my lemon tree. That bushel basket full of lemons still on the tree has the potential of making gallon upon gallon of very tasty lemonade if we will just take the time to squeeze them, and add a bunch of sugar and lots of water.

The issue that most us of deal with is trying to explain ourselves, especially to people we love, people who share our lives on a daily basis in hope that they will understand. The fully accepting family is rare. A wife, for instance wants the man she fell in love with, not some wanna-be girl with a five o-clock shadow. Children want a dad; a dad who protects his princess and comforts her when Prince Charming turns out to be a gremlin. A boy wants a dad who can pitch a ball, throw a pass, or enjoys a rodeo. It’s really hard, if possible at all, to make lemonade out of that bucket of lemons.

When I’m speaking to a college class about what life has been, and is like for those of us who are gender-variant, the closest I can come is this: For the boys in the class I draw attention to their natural likes and dislikes. I point to the clothes they wear, the beards on many faces, the shaved heads in just as many cases and the fact that they can sit there like slugs, slouching in their chairs and feel perfectly comfortable. Then I ask them how they would feel, if in spite of possessing all these natural traits society said, “We don’t care how you feel inside we don’t care what makes you feel whole and comfortable. You have to shave your legs, your armpits, wear makeup, skirts and high heels because that’s what our society dictates.”

Then for the women I turn the table and ask them what life would be like for them if society said, “We don’t care what makes you feel whole or feel inside. You cannot wear makeup, cannot shave your legs or armpits, wear makeup and let your hair down. In short, you have to be a slug, drag your knuckles, burp and belch, because that’s what our society dictates.”

If you can put yourself in that frame of mind for even a moment, you might have some notion of what it’s like for gender-variant individuals most of their lives. And … that is where our experience differs greatly with the gay and lesbian community. You see, who they sleep with is not a visible part of their lives. They can go about their lives unaffected by their sexual preference because for the most part, gay men especially, is not vividly apparent in their appearance. In other words, it doesn’t take as much sugar to make lemonade out of their predicament.

There was a point when I was transitioning and it was looking as though I may have to make 4-5 day visits to Mom’s every other week to help out when I said. “Okay, it will be Georgia, not George who is there helping. If there are brief occasions when Mom really needs her son, okay.” My openly lesbian sister called to tell me that maybe that would be okay but she didn’t want to see Georgia at Mom’s funeral when the time came. My response to her was, “Fine. In that case I will expect you to show up in a black dress accompanied by a loving man.” The subject hasn’t been broached since.

The bottom line to this diatribe, which some will see as belly-aching, is that yes, life has planted a lemon tree in our yards, what we do with the lemons is entirely up to us. Personally I like mine with an extra slice of lemon, a sprig of mint and lots of ice, kind of like the ice tea my neighbor is drinking.