It was the Friday before Mother's Day. I had published a blog post on the nature of Mother's Day and the celebration of all who feel motherly love running through their souls. I was at work, finishing up a high-tech piece at my desk, when my work associate, Kathleen, approached. She politely interrupted me to ask a favor. "I may need to work altered hours on Monday, if that is OK," she started. "I have a memorial service that I need to go to."
I must have looked a little startled at the request, because she said, "Oh, no, it's nothing. Well, it isn't nothing; it was a very distant cousin of mine, one I hardly knew." And then, almost under her breath: "It was a suicide."
With that, my chair spun around, and I said whatever feeble words one can say in response to that kind of news. My friend's eyes filled with tears as she told me the story of her cousin, whom we'll call "Grace."
Grace had been a bit of a rebel and a free thinker. Having been raised in a conservative Catholic family, she'd spent time running with a wild, artistic crowd. The days with that crowd had left her with independence, and a pregnancy. Her single motherhood was yet another contentious issue with her conservative family.
Now that she had a daughter in tow, Grace started living responsibly. But the rift with her family did not start to mend, as it became progressively obvious that Grace's daughter, "Glory" (not her real name), was a lesbian. In the central California region where Grace and Glory lived, it was not only the homophobia of a distant family that they had to contend with; it was also the homophobic mob mentality of their immediate community. Glory was taunted, abused and verbally assaulted constantly. She was open about who she was, with the support of her loving mother, but her coming out only intensified the hatred perpetrated toward her.
Glory finally reached her limit. One evening Grace came home at dusk and turned down the path toward their cozy home. There she found Glory, who had hanged herself from a large limb of their prized oak tree.
As a parent, I cannot fathom the hurt and devastation that must have slammed Grace. I freely acknowledge that I love my sons on a deeper level than I ever imagined possible. They have connected me to a selflessness that has altered all the values I've ever held dear. Whenever I empathize with the story of a parent's loss of a beloved child, I find myself facing a cold, debilitating darkness, a thought that if such a tragedy were to befall me, I might never recover.
And so it was with Grace. She went to that place immediately. Her family kept their distance from the tragedy, not wanting to deal with the "lesbian issue." That night Grace set her home on fire, hoping death in an intense heat would offset the frigid state of her grieving soul.
Grace did not die. She was saved from the fire, but not from her pain. She returned to the lot, which now held the shell of her former house, a dilapidated fence, an old shack... and an oak tree. She took up residence in the shack.
A family friend came by every once in a while to check up on her, to make sure that she was eating. One evening at dusk, the week before Mother's Day, he found her. She had hanged herself from the branch of the oak tree in the same spot where Glory had taken her own life.
My friend and I sat and looked at each other as she concluded the story. "My family is actually only distantly related to Grace, but her family won't do a thing," she explained. "No funeral, nothing."
"You take all the time you need," I said. "Whatever you need, let me know."
The story haunted me all weekend while mothers around the country were glowing in the love of their families. I could not help but be in awe of the horrible force that homophobia still exerts in our world. It is the force that inspires a mob to destroy a teenage girl. It is the force that drives a family to abandon a daughter at a time when she needs them most. Worst of all, it is the force behind the hatred that can turn the brightest, most unconditional love a human being can experience in on itself and into a dark and evil grief that devours every iota of life. It is a black hole that dissolves the spirit into nothing, turning Mother's Day into an evil night.
I saw my friend that Monday morning, the day after Mother's Day. She was not supposed to be there. She was supposed to be at a chapel honoring her cousin Grace. She saw my quizzical look, and she sighed angrily. "I know, I am at work," she said. "They wouldn't let us do it. Her family put their foot down. There will be no funeral, no memorial service for Grace."
"No memorial? " I asked, as irritated as she was. "No memorial? Oh, yes, there will be a memorial." With that, I opened a notebook and wrote these words across the top: "Homophobia's Cruel Mother's Day." I lifted the page and showed my friend what I was going to do. She nodded. As she started to walk away, she turned and said, "Just don't use their real names."
Dedicated to Grace and Glory. Your lives will not be forgotten.