One night, a couple of years ago, I was sitting in my car waiting for my son to finish his karate class. It was a beautiful late spring evening. I was reading an interesting biography and reflecting on how comfortable my life had become. Finally, after a number of years, my mother had accepted the fact that I’m a lesbian, my children were making excellent progress toward the alphabet, and my partner was enjoying her work. All was well with the world. Then, my cell phone rang. To make a long story short, it was my mother calling with her own coming out. Now, let it be said that wasn’t entirely suprising to me. I had spent many nights wondering about that very question as a teenager. Of course, I wasn’t really upset at this news, just suprised. That evening my mother told me about her need to find out who she really was. I encouraged her, telling her that self examination was a part of human nature. I also assumed this wouldn’t really affect my life very much. Sure, the family would have to get use to this new girlfriend at Sunday dinner, but other than that, things would probably stay exactly the same. How wrong I was.
The next few weeks were eye opening. Still being quite young, it had not occured to me that my parent was also an adult sexual being. As my mother pressed for more and more information, I felt more and more like crawling under a rock and dying. Having my mother ask even general sexual questions on topics that apply only to lesbian woman was completley embarassing. So, I did what any self respecting, educated individual would do. I bought her about fifteen books on the topic, and left them on her bed the next time I visited. Now, this wouldn’t be much of an article on the emotional support of older parents if my methods had been effective. Indeed, that was only the beginning.
Two days later, she calls. And she began to explicitly describe the things that she had been reading. I interrupted, telling her that she was my mother and avoiding this conversation was the whole reason I had just spent over two hundred dollars on the literature that I had bought her. And then she started to cry. I realized that I was handling this like an adolescent and I needed to get myself together. She had no one in which she could discuss these matters. So, for lack of a better phrase, I had to suck it up. My mother pointed out to me that when I was eight years old and just finding out what sex was, I asked some pretty explicit questions myself. As she said that I realized that it wouldn’t be that many years until my innocent babies were putting my through this as well. That thought rather disturbed me. At that, I went out for a drink. Maybe two. Talking to the bartender, I realized that this was just the place for my mother, who had probably had a total of two drinks in her sheltered life. (She’s also allergic to cigarette smoke. Hey, nobody can be right all of the time.) So, I went back to carefully answering her questions and seeking out resources that would be useful to her.
At this point let me say that she probably was just as sick of these awkward questions as I was. Thankfully it was about this time when it stopped. Was I ever glad! She had found herself a girlfriend, not only that, she had found an outgoing girlfriend who was helping her become more bold, and more eager than ever to embrace her new lifestyle. Wonderful! I was so excited for them. Within months, my siblings and I were calling this woman mom. My children were calling her grammy. And for the first time in my life, I was experiencing what it was like to have two parents instead of just one.
Days and weeks started fading into months and years. “Grammy” was becoming a larger and larger part of our family. Often, she and my mother would take the kids on trips, daytime adventures, and various other activities. My partner and I thought this was great for everyone. My mother finally had someone to spend her time with, someone to love that loved her also. My kids loved having two grandmothers. (They even seemed to understand that this was much like having two mommies. ) Dana and I thought it was fantastic for many reasons, including the fact that we had a little extra time to spend on more adult activities.
Suddenly as quickly as my mother had come out and meant this woman, it ended. Just like that. For no apparent reason. I realized that everything up to this point had been nothing but practice on how to deal with an emotional, hurt, older lesbian woman. Again, my mother came to me for support. Having previously been through a couple of particularly nasry breakups, I did what good friends do. I sat, I listened, I got her drunk. None of these things ever really help, of course. The only the thing that really helps at all is time. And you can’t rush time.
Now, being emotionally supportive to someone that you love isn’t ever easy, and it gets harder and harder with every front that you are giving it on. The children needed to understand where grammy went, and why they couldn’t see her anymore. They loved her too. This was as bad as divorce, and in some ways worse. This woman dropped out of all of our lives as quickly as she had dropped in. This was bad for us, worse for my mother, and horrible for her grandchildren.
Last September, we learned why she had left. She was trying to make a selfless gesture, I think. Grammy had Cancer. It was movng quickly, and she would be dead in a matter of months. My mother, who had never quite gotton over losing her love, suddenly realized that she was dead. Then she fell apart. Really fell apart. Really losing the one person she had truly loved was devestating her. No longer able to function on her own, she moved in with us.
Things are starting to get better for her. Through therapy she discovered that she wasn’t only mourning the woman’s death, but she was also mourning the loss of her love, and the loss of her best friend. Quite a load to bear, I think. The kids love having grandma in the apartment downstairs. And grandma loves being there. Through hours and hours of conversation with her therapist, a couple of friends, and me, she has made enourmous progress. I am so proud of her.
The one thing that I would stress to someone with an aging parent dealing with a large load of grief would be to just be there. Listen. Use your resources to help that person. Find activities for that parent to enjoy with people their own age. It’s tough when you come to the conclusion that you aren’t just a parent to your own children, but to your parent as well. The key is to never, ever, let your parent know that you know this. I think that we all have it in us to do what needs to be done for those that we love.