Today marks the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. Here is an entry from my private diary from one year ago. I wanted to publish it as a blog post back then, but I wasn’t ready to blog openly about being gay then. Now I want to share this. The first half is a poem and the second half is an unsent letter to my grandpa.
My grandfather died last night
He passed away
His spirit left his body
The man who gave to bring my mother into the world
The man who labored to give my mother food and shelter, comfort and support
The man who rejoiced to labor on the farm, in the university, in the Air Force, at the institute, at Habitat for Humanity
I was sitting with a textbook open
Just finish my studies for the night
And my cellphone lit up with a call from my grandparents’ home
It was past midnight
I knew it could mean only one thing
My mother’s voice
My mother’s tears
“Grandpa passed away tonight”
My mother’s father
My mother’s father
A man who always found a way to fix things
Now overcome by the cancer he couldn’t fix
A man who strove to focus on the family around him
Now joining the family he lost before him
A man who always tried to see the good in others
Now faced by the occasion of having his own good tested
My earliest memories of you are fond memories…and so are my last. I almost always saw your love for my mom, your daughter, when you’d greet her, spend time with her, or say goodbye. I also received lots of love from you too. My memories of you include you giving me and my siblings and cousins rides in the little wagon you’d pull behind your lawn tractor, you taking us to Lake Erie, you teaching us how to make a simple solar water heater, you building and letting us help you build a giant play house in our backyard, you building and teaching us how to build a swing set, you helping to remodel my parents kitchen and attic, you going on hikes and even several-day backpacking trips with me and my brothers, you taking my siblings on several-day bicycle trips. You always gave big hugs and often a kiss on the head or cheek. You always supported me in my pursuit of higher education, treating me like an adult when I became one. Thank you! You’re awesome!
I’ve heard from my brother that one of your last conversations about me included the statement: “Stephen’s not the athletic-type, is he?” While this was definitely a very fat-ist (prejudiced) statement, but I smile and laugh because it assures me in a bizarre way that you were still you even as your body began to fall apart and stop working.
A happier memory of mine that is especially meaningful to me right now is this conversation about LGBT people that you once had with your sister and me and two of my brothers almost a decade ago. This was a very non-prejudiced moment where you declared, “I’ve never met a gay person I haven’t liked,” and said something about how you didn’t really understand the political and religious arguments against LGBT rights and marriage equality for sexual minorities. You told stories of how, when you were in the Air Force under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” you had to sit on a panel of some sort to decide what to do with an airman accused of homosexual behavior or something. You told about how in this situation you tried to be lenient, generous, and understanding because you felt like the military’s policies against LGBT people were stupid and unfair.
Your opinion and your kindness meant so much to me back when we had this conversation because I was a frightened young man who in his heart was pretty sure he was gay but who had very few people in his life who were loving toward LGBT people. Your comment—“I’ve never met a gay person I haven’t liked”—has stayed with me throughout the years as a flame of affirmation and hope. I wish I could have told you that I am gay before you passed away—though honestly I was afraid that you might forget all of your experience and be a bit homophobic; you had a way of being incredibly prejudiced at times and then alarmingly non-prejudiced the next moment. Makes me smile and shake my head just thinking about that part of your personality.
I love you grandpa! I know you made mistakes in life and sometimes hurt the people you loved the most, but I also admire how you were often quite humble to learn from your mistakes and always determined to carry on, to become a better person, to better understand the world, and to make the world a better place. I know your faith in God was challenged by your passion for science and by your unusual ability to be strong, independent, and helpful to others. My faith is weak too. I have my own doubts. But I know that your faith fueled your desire to do good and to leave a legacy of generosity. Thanks for being a hero!
I love you!