Leaves of a family vs. family leaves
The Gratton’s are my biological father’s side of the family, so I have just begun getting to know them as my boys have. For cutting my biological dad out of my life at a young age, followed by his early death, when I was 17 years old, I inadvertently, cut the rest of the Gratton’s off as well. We get together for funerals, weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays after the age of 60 or so birthdays become ‘reunions’, because people are so busy these days they no longer attend or go to ‘family’ events or holidays anymore. So, it’s been three years since the last time I’ve seen many of them…in that time my marriage had ended, because I learned my husband of more than 18 years was gay. Therefore, the question was bound to be brought up by someone…eventually.
“Where’s your husband?”
Now, before this event they had a reunion and my grandma Gratton’s 85thbirthday, which I did not attend. I did not attend largely due to the fact that I had just learned my husband was gay and my elder siblings, who are much more familiar with the Gratton’s than me and my boys, felt as though it would not be ‘appropriate’ for me to take away from the celebration by showing up with my ‘drama’. Doing so would seem to distract or ‘take away’ from the real reason we were all being assembled together, and to be honest, I couldn’t agree more. After all, the last thing my boys and I wanted was to face everyone and the looks of pity, disdain, disgust, sorrow, etc. and or the inevitable questions we knew that would follow upon discovering where their dad/my husband, was and why he would no longer be in attendance of any future gatherings. Now here we were at my aunt Denise’s funeral, and as per the first event, I was again reminded that this was neither the time nor the place to discuss or bring up or make this about “us”. Once again, I couldn’t agree more, nevertheless, the first question was indeed, "Where is your husband?"
It’s been 3 years and my family still didn’t know about the status of my marriage or any of the ‘drama’ that is my life. I tried just saying we were no longer together, but the question as to what brought about the divorce immediately followed, as we knew it would…I whispered it to my Uncle George and Aunt Cindy.
“What the hell you whispering for?” My Uncle George stated boldly. “You didn’t do anything…it’s not your fault.”
“Well I know that.” I laughed through tears. “But this is not exactly the time or the place to be discussing this/us…this is Aunt Denise’s funeral…”
He cut me off mid sentence. “Well, when the hell is a good time to discuss or talk about it? We are family; how the hell can we love and support you and see you through trials and hardships if we don’t know what’s going on in your lives?”
I got this same exact response when I sent an e-mail to my aunt Denise when she asked why we had not attended my grandmother’s birthday.
“I was an emotional wreck.” I tried explaining to her. “I was not exactly at a place in my life where I felt I could be the ‘life of the party’ and I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me or for my kids. We knew we were going to be okay, we just wanted to get past the awkwardness of it all, the embarrassment, the shame…or at the very least, be able to talk about it without falling apart.”
“That’s the part I don’t understand,” My aunt Denise, wrote in one of the last e-mails she sent before I received a call she had passed away from pancreatic cancer.
“We’ll respect your wishes if you choose not to talk about it, but don’t not talk about it or anything else you want or need to talk about because you think we don’t want to hear it or help you through. We lost many years with you as a result of your mom and dad’s divorce and his alcoholism and the circumstances that arose as a result of his illness. We can’t get those years back, but we can make the best of the time we have now, not only with you, but with your boys as well. You and your boys needed and still need to know your family is there for you and support you in everything, in all ways, always. Not talking about the situation or what you’re going through or your feelings about it all makes it seem as though you are on your own, and you’re not. We may not know what to say or how to help you get through this, but allowing us to be there for you in your time of need is what family is for.”
This is the complete opposite of what my immediate family has continually stated.
“No one wants to hear your ‘drama,’ it is what it is, deal with it, talking about it is dwelling and feeling sorry for yourself.”
I have news for those that think what my boys and I are looking for is sympathy when we boldly state their father, my ex husband, is gay…we’re not. We just would rather get it out of the way, right away, and move onto the next subject.
Keeping quiet about it and not talking about it should be our choice or option, but if our choice to talk about it makes people uncomfortable or uneasy, that’s their problem.
The embarrassment and shame is not ours, we should not be ashamed or embarrassed, we did not change, our circumstances changed, and for us, he changed, but we did not. Perhaps other members of our family seemed to be embarrassed or ashamed, and or perhaps thought we should have been or should be, and because we’re not, or because we make jokes or make light of it, perhaps many view this as a sign we must have known or suspected it all along. Trust me when I say we did not, and it has taken time to get to the point at which we are now, for believe me when I say, this was not all a joking or humorous matter upon first learning their father, my husband, was gay. We were devastated and felt completely and utterly duped. How to break the news to our extended family has been the most difficult part of it all, our friends and a few select members of our family have been a huge support, but other than that, we just made the best of a bad situation.
Should we just send out an e-mail or draft a memo, or perhaps just include it in our Christmas letter as a p.s.? This way those that wish to talk to us about it can feel free either to talk about it openly with us, or whisper behind our backs, and or talk about it amongst themselves when we are not in attendance. Either way, we don’t really care, because the truth is, it is what it is, and we cannot change it, and the fact that we have made our peace with it, and with their dad, my ex husband, and use humor and jokes as a way to cope with our feelings and emotions should be a sign we are not seeking sympathy or feeling sorry for ourselves. If there is a book on etiquette as to how, when, and with whom we should share this news with, or some type of support group where other people that find themselves in similar situations such as ours, that can recommend or suggest or advise us on how they dealt with it, we obviously did not read it or have not found one. We’re just doing what we do, and moving on the best way we know how, by being real and keeping it real. We remain a family, a ‘modern family’, but a family nonetheless, for I remain friends with their father and we share holidays and celebrations with him and his boyfriend, and his boyfriend happens to be an amazing ‘step-mom’ to both my kids.
My uncle George said,
“It’s kind of like my brother, your uncle Ramen. He’s Down syndrome, people seem to fear him or feel sorry for him, and because they don’t know how to act or treat him, they stay away from him, or avoid him all together. Then there are those that just love him once they accept him and see he is human just like everyone else. Not that your husband being gay makes him ‘retarded,’” he said with a wink. “But because people don’t know what to say to you or your boys they avoid you or steer clear of you. People fear that which they do not know or understand. Maybe we can’t understand or know what you and your boys have been through or are going through and we may not have the words to help ease your pain, but we got a lot of these,” he said grabbing my son and me and hugging us tightly.
My eldest son came home and shared the experience and relayed the message to his brother, my youngest son, about how receptive, loving, and accepting this part of our family had been.
“They were so cool about it,” he said excitedly. “I felt so comfortable with mom’s Uncle George and Aunt Cindy and Aunt Joanne. You should go next time and get to know them.” Hearing and seeing my boys talk about getting to know their family and wanting to go to family events and gatherings may not seem like a very big deal to some, but for me, it says so much, and means even more. Fitting in, and finding your place in this life, is hard enough when you’re young, and still figuring things out, but when you feel like perfect strangers amongst your own family members than you do amidst your peers…it can really be detrimental to your self-image and self-esteem. After all, if the people that are genetically bound to you, or that are part of your family tree, cannot, do not, or will not, accept, love, forgive, and support you, what kind of legacy can we hope to leave behind if our first experience with relationships, which generally take place amongst and within family, are unable to take root? I want my sons to know and learn about their family leaves not that family leaves...